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Introspection That Edifies: Part 1

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The role of introspection in the Christian life has always been fascinating to me because of the role it has played in my Christian experience. There have been countless times where I have read the Word or listened to it preached, and I have been challenged to look deeply at the patterns of my own heart and life. The Spirit exposed things that needed to change, and by God’s grace I was able to move in a godlier direction. But there have been other times that improper introspection has wreaked havoc on my walk.

For example, as a child I went through several periods of serious doubt regarding my salvation. I didn’t look outside myself at the cross, the promises of Scripture, and the biblical marks of saving faith for assurance; instead I looked inward and sought assurance from how I felt. I obsessed over whether I had enough faith and whether my faith was sincere. It was a dark and unsettled time in my Christian walk. There were also times when I allowed intense introspection to overwhelm my experience of the Lord’s Supper. As a teen, I understood 1 Corinthians 11:27 to mean that I needed to dig up every possible unconfessed sin before I could be worthy to observe the Lord’s Supper. Therefore, as the elements were being distributed, I would frantically review my past and confess as many sins as I could remember. Sadly, I would never get around to remembering the Lord’s death, and I walked away from an ordinance that ought to bring assurance feeling discouraged and distant from God.

Maybe you can identify with my experiences. Introspection is a touchy subject for you because it has often led you down a path of discouragement and doubt. Or maybe my experience sounds foreign. I know you are out there, because when I tell my stories, some people look at me like I’m an alien. And I’ve observed enough Christians to know that some of them need a lot more introspection. They are high on grace (or so they think) but low on holiness, and their relationships are a train wreck of careless conduct.

Therefore, depending on your personality or theology, you may be prone to one of two errors related to introspection. I’m going to call these errant positions the pragmatist and the perfectionist. If you don’t fall into either category, you will certainly live and minister with them in your family or church.

The pragmatist is a big picture thinker, and he isn’t naturally concerned about details. This tendency extends to how he lives the Christian life. It’s not that he is looking to rebel, but he doesn’t think seriously about the finer details of obedience. He tolerates the “minor” sins. He doesn’t worry about whether or not what he said was appropriate or if he said it with the right motives. He wants to honor God, but the little things don’t bother him. As a result, confession of sin (to both God and man) is a minor part of his Christian experience.

Some will attempt to give a theological defense for this pattern. They argue that we are under grace, not law; therefore, a Christian shouldn’t concern himself with “minor offenses.” Some would go so far as to say that any guilt I feel over my sin and any effort I put into eradicating it is necessarily legalistic. Instead of confessing my sin and striving for holiness, I should simply rest in the gospel and wait for God to change me. Others won’t go that far, but they certainly don’t emphasize the importance of holy living. They will talk and talk about our standing in grace but talk very little about discerning the difference between holiness and worldliness. They rarely discuss the broken fellowship sin creates or the need to be grieved over sin.

It sounds really great to declare that grace has rescued me from a life dominated by law, except that grace isn’t actually intended to rescue me from pursuing holiness. It is true that Romans 6:14 states, “You are not under law but grace”; however, in context, law actually means the dominion of the sin nature, not biblical commands. To understand this verse as meaning that I don’t need to aggressively battle sin is a horrible example of eisegesis.

Rather, God has given us many commands regarding matters that we sometimes deem unimportant such as the motives of the heart, how we must treat others, etc. David prayed that God would expose faults that David hadn’t even recognized and move him to a place of greater godliness (Ps 139:23–24). The Bible also urges us to carefully examine our own walk, and to respond when we recognize sin. God commands us to examine our motives before participating in the Lord’s Supper to make sure we have a worthy reverence (1 Cor 11:27). And when we recognize sin, we must deal with it. A Christian must guard his conscience (Acts 24:16; 1 Tim 1:5). The Lord’s Prayer includes confession of sin (Matt 6:12), and John goes so far as to say that confessing sin is a mark of a true believer (1 John 1:9). The Scriptures are clear that we must pursue holiness in every area of life and that we must work to maintain a pure relationship with God.

In conclusion, introspection is a necessary part of pursuing holiness. The Christian who is walking by the Spirit will pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Ps 139:23a). Therefore, if you are not naturally an introspective person or if your theology downplays the role of introspection, you need to align your thinking and behavior with the Scriptures. Make it a daily habit to reflect on your actions and thoughts and to confess your sins to God. And then “exercise yourself toward godliness” (1 Tim 4:7).

But maybe you identify more closely with my testimony. My next post will speak to your challenges and summarize for all of us an edifying approach to introspection.

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