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Test Yourselves to See If You Are in the Faith:
Assurance Based on Our Works?
2 Corinthians 13:5
By Bob Wilkin
Examine yourselves as to whether you are
in the faith. Prove yourselves. Do you not
know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless you are
John Calvin taught that one should not
look to his works for assurance of salvation.
He said we should look to Christ, the object
of our faith. However, his followers departed
from him on this point, calling people to look
to their works for assurance. One of the
verses often cited in this discussion is 2
According to some Paul taught in 2
Corinthians 13:5 that believers are regularly
to examine their lives for the purpose of
finding out if they are truly believers or not.
One recent author cited this passage to prove
his point that "Doubts about one's salvation
are not wrong so long as they are not nursed
and allowed to become an obsession. Scripture encourages
must be confronted and dealt with honestly
and biblically." Then, after quoting 2
Corinthians 13:5 he concludes, "That admonition is largely
ignored--and often explained
away--in the contemporary church." (John
F. MacArthur, Jr., The Gospel According to
What evidence is there that such an interpretation is correct?
The verse indicates that
the Corinthian believers were to test themselves for the purpose
of seeing if they are in
the faith and if Christ is in them. At first
glance this seems clearly to be talking about
assurance by self-examination. However,
when the exact nature of the purpose of this
self-examination is carefully considered, we
find that assurance of salvation is not in view
at all. Several observations support this
First, Paul was writing to believers, not to
unbelievers. All through the letter of 2
Corinthians Paul asserted this. Notice the
following examples. "To the church of God
which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are
in Achaia" (1:1). "Now He who establishes
us with you in Christ and has anointed us is
God, who also has sealed us and given us the
Spirit in our hearts as a deposit" (1:21-22).
"You are our epistle written in our hearts,
known and read by all men; you are manifestly an epistle of
Christ, ministered by
us, written not with ink but the Spirit of the
living God" (3:2-3). "Do not be unequally
yoked together with unbelievers" (6:14).
"You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ"
(8:9). "Finally, brethren, farewell. . . . The
grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of
God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all" (13:11, 14).
Paul did not question the salvation of his
readers. He repeatedly affirmed it. Whatever
understanding we adopt for 2 Corinthians 13:5
must take this into account.
Second, the church at Corinth had been
filled with divisions, strife, envy, drunkenness, and
immorality(1 Cor. 1:11; 3:1-3; 5:9-6:20; 11:21, 30) when Paul
wrote 1 Corinthians. And yet he affirmed rather than questioned
their salvation in 1 Corinthians as well
(cf. 1 Cor. 1:2; 3:1; 6:11,19-20). In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 and
6:19-20 Paul referred to their
carnality and yet called them "babes in Christ"
and those whose "body is the temple of the
Holy Spirit." First Corinthians 3:1-3 and
6:19-20 cannot be reconciled with the view
that in 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul taught believers to look to their
works for assurance.
Third, Paul taught in Romans that believers can be sure that
they are saved (Rom. 5:1;
8:31-39). However, if one looks to his works
for assurance, he can never have absolute
assurance since no one's works are flawless.
My final objections to the Reformed understanding of our verse
concern the actual
wording of the verse and those which follow.
Paul does not tell the Corinthian believers
to examine their works in order to see if they are saved, or to see if they are a part of God's
family. He has in mind another purpose for
their self-examination. Let's carefully consider the two phrases
Paul uses to indicate
what looking to one's works is to show.
In the faith. While this could refer to
salvation, it could equally as well refer to
sanctification. Paul could be asking the
Corinthian believers to see if they are abiding
in the faith in their experience. If not, they
would be backsliders, out-of-fellowship believers. In this
context and in light of the
objections already raised, it is certain that "in
the faith" refers to sanctification, not salvation.
Christ in you. This, too, could refer to
salvation. Christ lives in all believers.
However, it could also refer to sanctification.
As Munger's booklet "My Heart Christ's
Home" points out, Christ is only at home in
the lives of believers to the degree we obey
Him. In light of the context and above-stated
objections, it is clear that Paul is asking the
Corinthian believers to examine their works
to see if Christ is in them experientially. Are
their works Christlike? If so, the Lord Jesus
is indeed active in their experience. If not,
they are not in Christ in their experience.
There is a key piece of contextual evidence
which confirms the sanctification interpretation I have laid out.
It is a term which occurs
in verses 5,6, and 7. The term is disqualified
(adokimos in Greek). This is a term which
elsewhere in Paul's writings and in the NT is
used exclusively of believers. Indeed, Paul in
1 Corinthians 9:27 used this exact term in
reference to himself. He said that he buffeted
his body and pressed on in his service for
Christ so that he might not be disqualified
from the rewards which will go to faithful
believers. God will only approve of the deeds
of faithful believers. Those who fail the test
Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 13:5 will be
disapproved for rewards. However, they will
be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3:15).
A related noun and verb of the just cited
term further support the sanctification view.
In verse 3 Paul indicates that some of the
Corinthians were seeking proof (dokim�n)
that Christ was speaking in Paul. Then in
verse 5 Paul turns the tables on them and
challenges them to prove themselves
(dokimaz�). What some of the Corinthians
questioned was not Paul's salvation. It was
his sanctification. They questioned whether
he was a true spokesman and apostle of Christ.
Likewise, when he turned the tables he questioned their
sanctification, not their salvation.
Nowhere do the Scriptures call believers to
look to their works for assurance. We are
called to look to Christ and find our assurance
in Him. However, repeatedly in the Scriptures believers are
called to look to their
works to find out how they are doing in their
walk with Christ. Second Corinthians 13:5 is
one such verse. Yes, as believers we are to
examine ourselves regularly. The purpose is
to ensure that we are doing our best in our
service for Christ.
Bob Wilkin is the Executive Director of
Grace Evangelical Society.
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