“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified”. (II Cor. 13:5) Are you disqualified? Have you done enough, behaved good enough? Many infer that you are to look to your good works and righteous living to prove (to yourself and others, I guess) that you are indeed saved (Qualified). But questions arise; “How many good works do you have to do and how righteous do you have to be?” How does one measure those things?
I wrote about this verse in my book, Assurance of Heaven. Following is an excerpt from the chapter explaining the proper interpretation that will help those who have believed in Christ to be secure in their faith.
Understanding II Corinthians 13:3
‘At one time, I used this verse out of context. “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.” In other words, make sure you are persevering as evidence you are a “true” believer. A fellow brother in the Lord told me that he tells his adult children this. But, how many times do you have to examine yourself to conclude you are indeed in the kingdom? It seems to me that a better solution would be to have a conversation about the Lord. In doing so, it would be easier to know what they have trusted to save from the penalty of sin. If they have placed their faith in the person and work of Christ, then it would be better to reassure them that they are saved, because Jesus says they are. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
When well-meaning folks tell others to examine themselves, they are only training them to look at their works (religious activity) and behavior. This results in only two possibilities. I am in because I think I’m a good person, or I am not because I’m not living righteously enough. It leads to the road of self-righteousness or the road of despair. In my case, it could have led me to despair, except that I weaved through all the erroneous teaching by comparing it to God’s Word. In the end, examining your works doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. When it comes to being delivered from the penalty of sin, has one believed on the Lord Jesus Christ? That is the issue.
No one is ever told in Scripture to look at your works to determine whether you’re saved or not. (Not even in the book of James as we will see in Chapter 14.) It may be good for believers to do so to determine whether they are in fellowship with the Lord. Do I need to confess some sinful way and forsake it, to be delivered from the power of sin, so that I am glorifying God with my life and have his hand of blessing on me? That should be a continual practice, but not to determine whether one is saved or not from the penalty of sin.
So what does this verse mean? Well, first of all, trying to understand any verse out of context will usually lead you to a wrong understanding. The background here is that the Corinthian church questioned the proof of Christ speaking in the apostle (2 Cor. 13:3). In the three chapters before this, he is defending his apostleship (10-12). He appeals to the signs of a true apostle that were accomplished among them, “in signs and wonders and mighty deeds” (2 Cor. 12:12).
Back in chapter three, he wrote they were “an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, the heart” (v. 3). From this you can see the apostle is not questioning the sincerity of their salvation. However, they questioned his authority to speak on behalf of Christ: “since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me” (2 Cor. 13:3).
He tells them to examine themselves to see whether they were in the faith. If they answer yes, then they are the proof that Christ is speaking in the apostle, because Christ saved them through Paul’s ministry of the gospel (Acts 18:1-11). Thomas Stegall points out, according to the grammar of the verse, Paul assumes the Corinthians are not “disqualified,” but are truly “in the faith” and “Christ is in [them].” In other words, the apostle expected them to respond positively that they were in the faith. Thus, ironically by affirming they were saved, they were also affirming the truth and proof that Christ was speaking in the apostle.’
This verse has nothing to do with looking at your performance to judge whether you are in the faith. Anyone who has believed on the Lord Jesus Christ is saved and has eternal life.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9)
Find out more about the book, Assurance of Heaven. It weaves through common erroneous teaching today that causes believers to doubt their salvation.