A Study of 2 Corinthians 13:5-14
One day while George H. W. Bush was president, a woman slipped into the White House wearing an elaborate disguise. She made it all the way to the Oval Office, where she briefed Bush, the CIA director, and the national security advisor. Then to their astonishment she grabbed her lifelike face and peeled it off, just like in the movies. The woman’s name was Jonna Mendez, the chief disguise expert for the CIA. She was showing the President how thoroughly the Agency can disguise agents when needed. During the Cold War, Mrs. Mendez went to Hollywood to study the techniques of the best makeup artists and magicians, and today her work is displayed at the National Spy Museum in Washington.
In most churches, people show up every week disguised as Christians. But they are deceiving us; maybe they’re even deceiving themselves.
Sometimes I’m haunted by the thought there might be people in my church who think they’re saved and going to heaven when, in fact, they are lost and hell bound. This was on the mind of the apostle Paul as he finished his letter to the church in Corinth. The congregation there was troubled with a lot of issues, and Paul grew concerned that perhaps some of the people were not truly saved. He ended his letter with an appeal to them in 2 Corinthians 13:5-14.
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus in in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.
Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. We are glad whenever we are weak, but you are strong; and our prayer is that you may be fully restored. This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come, I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down.
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
Great one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Some in the Corinthian church had been very critical of Paul. They had been examining him and putting him under the microscope. Now at the end of his letter, Paul turned the tables. He said, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”If we do this today, we’re apt to find there are groups in any church.
1. People Who Are Saved and Know It
First, there are people who are saved; they are born again; they have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ; and they know it. They are fully assured.
First John, chapter 5, says: This is the record. These are the facts. God has given eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life…. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Romans 8:16 says: The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.
In John 10, Jesus said no one is able to snatch His children out of the Father’s hand. God’s children have been sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption.
Paul said, What can separate us from the love of Christ…? For I am persuaded that neither life nor death nor angels nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth no anything else in all of creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Our salvation doesn’t depend on how we feel. It depends on what Christ has done for us, and if we confess with our mouths Jesus Christ as Lord and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead, we are redeemed by His blood and kept by His power. We can know for certain we’re going to heaven.
2. People Who Are Saved, But They Aren’t Sure About It
But that brings us to the second group: Those who are truly saved, redeemed, committed to Christ, and heaven-bound, but they don’t feel sure about it. If someone asks them if they know for sure they’re going to heaven, they say, “Well, I hope so.” They need to find confirmation and security of their salvation.
As a child, I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t trusting Christ as Savior. I grew up in a home and church where it was natural for me to pray and read my Bible and walk with the Lord from infancy. I’m blessed in that way. But when I was eleven or twelve, an evangelist came for a revival meeting. He challenged us about whether we were truly saved. His message caused me to worry I wasn’t really a Christian, especially because I didn’t recall a specific time when I had asked Christ to be my Savior. I was too shy to talk about it, but when we came home I went in the bathroom, locked the door, knelt by the bathtub, and said something like this: “Lord, I believe I’m a Christian, but if I’m not I want to become a follower of Jesus right now.”
The same thing happened to my wife, Katrina. During the last few months of her life, I found her distraught in bed one day. She was weeping. I knelt beside her and said, “Honey, what’s wrong?” She said, “I’m afraid I may not really be a Christian.” Well, that was just the devil plaguing her through the weakness of her disease. She was converted to Christ at a summer camp on Cape Cod years ago. I lived with her forty-three years, and she was a powerful person of faith and prayer. But I said, “Well, let’s just rededicate ourselves to Christ.” And we prayed together and we recommitted ourselves to the Lord, and her peace and assurance returned full force.
For both Katrina at the end of her life and for me as a child, we had a momentary fear about our salvation, which we dealt with immediately by rededicating ourselves to Jesus. It’s not that we’re saved a second time. It’s just resolving a moment of doubt. But some people live in an ongoing state and condition of insecurity. They go to bed at night wondering whether they are truly saved and on their way to Glory. There is no reason for that at all. In fact, it is an insult to the power of the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God as we’re doubting and discounting the very last verse of 2 Corinthians, which talks about the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
3. People Who Are Not Saved and They Know They Are Not Saved
There is a third group of people in the church—those who are not saved and they know it. Sometimes a person comes to church to observe, to see what’s going on, maybe to make fun, maybe because someone has invited them. They know they’re not a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ. But some of those people have a spiritual hunger.
I recall one Sunday night many years ago when we were observing the Lord’s Supper. A man had been attending for several weeks. He was a learned man, but he had never really been exposed to the Gospel. Week by week, he had listened to the preaching of. Scripture and that evening just as we were about to share communion, he got up and came to the altar. I prayed with him and he was wonderfully saved. He got up from his knees and his first act as a Christian was partaking of the Lord’s supper.
Maybe there’s someone like that here today. You know that if you died today, you’d drop into hell like a pedestrian falling into a manhole. But you’re closer than you realize to making a decision to receive the Lord Jesus Christ into your heart and making Him the Lord of your life.
But there’s a fourth group of people, and they’re the ones I most worry about.
4. People Who Are Not Saved But They Think They Are
In virtually every church in America there are people are as lost and hell-bound as they can be, but they don’t realize it. They think they are Christians. This is the group Paul is addressing when he said, “Examine yourselves to see if you are in the faith.” When you grow up in a culture where going to church is something of a national custom, it’s easy to think you’re saved because you attend church regularly. But I remember hearing someone say years ago that being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a mechanic.
Some people think they’re Christians because they grew up in church, or because they were baptized, or because they read their Bibles, or because they give their money, or because they try to do good works and to be a good person. All of those things are good to do, but none of them can save you.
Only the cross of Jesus Christ can save you. Only His shed blood can redeem you. The Bible says, “Not be works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy.”
Recently I read the testimony of a woman named Dominie Bush. She lives in Florida where she is an editor and also a church musician. She battles disability, and she has quite ministry to others who face chronic illness. Her testimony illustrates what I’m talking about.
I was born into a Christian home and attended church faithfully. I was baptized by immersion when I was twelve. I made straight A’s and was active in school organizations. I could quote many Bible passages. As a college student at UCLA in 1968, I became involved in campus Christian groups. I later attended Bible college and served as a missionary. Then I began teaching in a Christian school and playing the piano for various churches. However, there was one problem: I was not born again.
How could this be?
When I was growing up, I thought that sins were things like drinking, dancing, smoking and playing cards. I did not know anything about having a loving, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. When I was a 16-year-old college freshman, I heard the words “God loves you”“ for the first time while attending Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and Campus Crusade for Christ meetings. This was unusual and refreshing to me, because I had always thought of God as a stern taskmaster in the sky with a big stick, ready to hit you if you did anything wrong. Many of my college friends seemed to have a close, warm relationship with God. When I was around them, I felt like an outsider. I was with God’s family, but not part of the family.
After college, I discussed this feeling of not being saved with two Christians whom I respected. They said that I was a good person and just needed the assurance of my salvation. That didn’t satisfy me. I still had doubts. People couldn’t see the hidden sins in my life, particularly unforgiveness toward people who had wronged me. I had no joy in hearing of the salvation of others. I felt that I knew more than new believers because of my knowledge of the Bible and deeper life teachings. I guess you could say that my Christian experience was all in my head.
At the age of 36, I was a busy career woman. On May 11, 1988, I was attending a revival service at Temple Baptist Church in Tallahassee, Florida where Evangelist Al Lacy was holding meetings. I sat in the back of the auditorium on the ground floor under the balcony. In front of me were a row of rough-looking men from the rescue mission that our church operated downtown. The evangelist spoke on “The Contrary Christ” – how Jesus had defied every law of nature. He was born of a virgin, He healed the sick, He walked on water and He even ascended into heaven, defying the law of gravity! I noticed that the men from the rescue mission were saying a lot of enthusiastic “Amens” and “Hallelujahs.” In my heart I looked down on them because of their unkempt appearance, and some even had needle marks on their arms from long term drug use. But I also observed their joy and obvious connection with God, something I did not have. I had an intellectual faith and didn’t like emotional Christians. They made me uncomfortable.
As we stood to sing the invitational hymn, the Holy Spirit suddenly and powerfully gripped my heart with the absolute conviction that I was not saved. I could hardly breathe! There was no denying it…. I was NOT SAVED! The thought went through my mind that if an explosion were to destroy the building we were sitting in, the men from the rescue mission would go to heaven and I, “Miss Goody Two Shoes,” would go to hell.
I nearly ran down the aisle to the front of the church. I was crying. A lady met me at the altar and asked if I knew Ephesians 2: 8 and 9, “For by GRACE are ye saved THROUGH FAITH; and that not of yourselves: it is the GIFT OF GOD, NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast.”
I told her that I had learned those verses as a child but had never understood them until just then! I realized for the first time that I couldn’t get to heaven on my own merits. I needed a Savior! Right there I made a “business transaction” with the Lord. I gave Him my sins and He gave me His righteousness. What a great deal! As the old hymn states: “‘Tis done, the great transaction’s done; I am my Lord’s and He is mine!”
My life was forever changed! I now belonged to Jesus! I was eager to tell others! I shuddered at how close to death I had come several times (car accidents, major surgery, etc.) before I was saved. I loved the Lord and wanted to obey Him in every area of my life. I wrote to the evangelist and asked him if I needed to be baptized again, since I had already been baptized as a child in order to join a church. Al Lacy wrote back with a thundering “YES!”
He said it is BELIEVER’S baptism, and now that I was a believer, I needed to be baptized! He said that I had been RELIGIOUS BUT LOST, and that he had met many people like me.
It took some convincing to get my pastor to baptize me, but one night I wrote down ten things that changed in my life from the night of my salvation. I read these to my pastor on the phone, and he said joyfully, “Sister, you’ve been saved!” I said, “I know!”
I was baptized by my pastor in September. I now felt ready to serve the Lord, and I loved Him so much for saving me!
It continued to amaze me that I could have been in church all my life and not been saved! I had many questions about this. I told my pastor that I could have died and gone to hell on a number of occasions, and it was frightening to contemplate! My pastor said that God knew I would live to be 36 and spared my life.
I now understood how others had testified to being saved after years of Christian service: a youth pastor at my mother’s church, a prominent deacon, a seminary student, and a man in our church choir. All were saved when the Holy Spirit moved upon their hearts during a church service. What I learned is that we can’t save ourselves. We are born again “not by the will of man, but by the will of God.”
On Christ, the Solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”
If a person is depending on anything other than the atoning blood of Jesus Christ to get to heaven, he is not born again. The Holy Spirit can open a person’s eyes to their need of a Savior, just as He did with me – when I was religious but lost!
The Bible that says, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” I don’t want to bypass that verse, because it’s so serious, so vital.
Eternity is forever. Our lives here on earth are brief, and we’re all subject to sudden death at any time. We don’t know if we’ll live another day, and that’s why the Bible says, “Today is the day of salvation.” We have to peel away the mask, drop the disguise, and come to the Lord just as we are.