Sincere Christians regularly pray and examine themselves throughout the year to ensure that they are “walking worthy of the Lord” (cf. Colossians 1:9–10). But no matter how sincere we are, as mortal flesh we occasionally fall short and sin (Romans 3:23; 7:17–21). This is one of the lessons of the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread—times of extra and intense, prayerful self-examination, repentantly acknowledging that we need Jesus Christ as our Passover and our High Priest and that we also need to continue to draw closer and closer to Him.
This concept of self-examination is nothing new for those called and faithful. But, leading up to each annual Passover—that time when baptized, repentant Christians intensify our self-examination—do we really examine ourselves with increased diligence, zeal, yearning, and craving to better understand where we fall short, where we need to grow, and where we can draw closer to our Lord and Savior? As Hebrews 11:6 explains, we must “diligently” seek Him. “Diligently” here is the Greek word ekzēteō meaning “to crave,” “to beg for,” “to demand” and to “diligently seek for as for something very important.” So we do not approach the Passover lackadaisically. Instead, we approach the Passover diligently seeking Him, and diligently examining ourselves, knowing that our High Priest is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. “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” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
The purpose of this diligent self-examination is for us to fulfill our part in becoming God’s holy people. As Dr. Roderick Meredith wrote, “The New Testament reveals that God is now forming, within the people He calls holy, His righteous and perfect spiritual character as a prerequisite to the precious gift of eternal life in His kingdom. The basis of that perfect character is absolute yieldedness to obey God’s perfect spiritual law—revealed by the Ten Commandments and spiritually magnified in the New Testament” (“You Need Salvation!,” Tomorrow’s World, May-June 2007). This is foundational to the salvation process.
Salvation begins with God calling us, our answering in faith, and our repentance, baptism and willingness to follow Christ. We show our willingness to follow Christ in many ways. One of those ways is in keeping God’s Law, keeping His Sabbath holy, and keeping His annual Holy Days. Another way we show Him that we are willing to follow Him is by taking seriously this command to examine ourselves. Since self-examination is so important, we know we can look to Scripture for tools and examples to help us.
Five Specific Examples
Before discussing five specific things God has given us as examples, let us remember that self-examination is intimately connected to preparing for the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread. The Passover pictures the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the “Lamb of God” who was with God and was God from eternity (John 1:1–3). His sacrifice made Him the Lamb and Savior for us and the entire world (John 1:29—36). His purpose was established before the world was formed (Revelation 5:6; 13:8). The Being who instituted the Old Testament ritual of the Passover is the same Being who became Jesus to live in the flesh 2,000 years ago and establish the New Testament Passover with the symbols of bread, wine and foot-washing (1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:3–10).
The Passover is immediately followed by the seven Days of Unleavened Bread; of which the first and seventh days are Sabbath days of holy convocations (Exodus 12:16). The Days of Unleavened Bread picture us purging the leaven of malice, pride and wickedness out of our lives and partaking of God’s nature, which is symbolized as the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6–13). During the seven days of Unleavened Bread we are to eat nothing leavened (Exodus 12:20), no leavening is to be found on our premises (Exodus 12:15), and we are to eat unleavened bread daily (Exodus 12:15–18), symbolic of putting on Christ’s righteousness.
In 1 Corinthians 10, God uses Paul to remind us that He “was not well pleased” with our ancestors, the nation of Israel, and thus “their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (v. 5). Then, in verse 6, God begins to give us examples from which we should learn: “Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.”
These “things” we are given as examples can help us examine ourselves as we prepare for the Passover. They are exhortations not to lust after evil things, not to practice idolatry, not to commit sexual immorality, not to tempt Christ and not to murmur.
I. Not to lust after evil things
As Mr. Richard Ames wrote in a Tomorrow’s World article, “Instead of coveting, be thankful for all the blessings God has given you. After all, God promises to provide all your godly needs. That promise is in Philippians 4:19. We need to understand that covetousness is a form of idolatry. We can desire a person, position or possession so strongly that it becomes an idol to us. Remember this admonition: ‘Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry”’ (Colossians 3:5)” (“Seven Satanic Deceptions,” November-December 2006). We sin if we set our desires on anything above our desires for God or godly things. It is entirely good and appropriate to desire good things as long as that desire does not turn to covetousness, but it is never good or appropriate to desire “evil things.”
True Christians “walk in the Spirit,” meaning that they do not lust or covet (Galatians 5:16) and true Christians well understand that Satan is the prince of the power of the air who tries to entice us by lusts—broadcasting his thoughts not only spiritually, but also through media including television, the Internet, music, movies, books and other means. Is Satan’s broadcasting a danger to Christians? What about “mature Christians” or those of us who have been “in the Church a long time”? From 2 Peter 2:18 we understand that if we are not diligent in seeking God daily, we can be drawn back into lust.
There are lusts or desires that are clearly evil and sinful, such as the “works of the flesh” listed in Galatians 5:19–21, including “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like…” but there is also a danger of desire turning to covetousness where even if what we desire is not evil per se, we may still sin if we put our desire for it above God and His righteousness. James warns that Christians can fall victim to lusting for what we do not have (James 4:2) and Paul gives the famous example of the danger of lusting for money (1 Timothy 6:10).
II. Not to practice idolatry
Idolatry—a practice common to both Old Testament and New Testament times—is plainly prohibited by the First Commandment, which forbade the Israelites from worshiping any god other than the Lord (Exodus 20:3). Even before the prohibition against worshiping graven images, the First Commandment forbade worship of any false gods in any form. The Second Commandment then forbids worshiping the Lord God of Israel in any material form, such as an idol or picture or image (Exodus 20:4–6). Idolatry was a chronic problem in Israel, against which God intervened time and time again (cf. Deuteronomy 7:25–26). Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God asked: “To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him?… Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the circle of the earth and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in” (Isaiah 40:18–22). It is easy to look down on ancient Israel’s tendency to worship little pagan idols and statues, but how many billions of people—some professing Christians, as well as Hindus, Buddhists and others—have fallen into this same sin even in modern times?
The New Testament continues the same prohibitions against idolatry. Romans 1:22–23 calls people “fools” who attempt to change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image of a man, animal or creeping thing. But especially in the New Testament we see an added aspect to idolatry. Ephesians 5:5 compares idolatry to covetousness and decrees that no “covetous man, who is an idolater” will inherit the Kingdom of God. Here we see that coveting is another form of the idolatry that God hates. So, if we ever consider anything more important than God, then according to Ephesians 5:5 we are committing idolatry and are spiritually no different than ancient Israelites secretly worshiping a little idol in their tent. Let us learn from this second example, and if we ever find ourselves tempted to covet, “which is idolatry,” then let us understand what a serious sin that is and put that temptation to death (cf. Colossians 3:5).
III. Not to commit sexually immoral acts
Whether the physical act or the lust of the mind, sexual immorality is sin. In the world, fornication and adultery… and increasingly homosexuality and other sexual deviances are not only tolerated, but they are even taught in the public schools, upheld in the courts, and those who brazenly practice such things are often esteemed as the movie and entertainment “stars” that people should supposedly idolize. However, none of this reflects God’s attitude on sexual immorality.
1 Corinthians 6:9 warns that we are not to let ourselves be deceived regarding those who will inherit the Kingdom of God. Those who commit various kinds of fornication and adultery and do not come to true repentance of those sins will inherit eternal death (Romans 1:26) The sexually immoral will not be granted entrance into eternal life (Revelation 22:15).
In another Tomorrow’s World article, Mr. Ames writes: “‘Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge’ (Hebrews 13:4). Marriage is a blessing, and sex is God’s great gift within marriage. Yet how many millions will receive God’s judgment for their fornication and adultery? If you are engaging in sexual immorality, you need to repent. You need to confess your sin before God, then change your behavior and quit sinning! God will forgive you, if you truly repent and accept Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for your sins! When ancient King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan convicted David of his sin. David did not try to justify his sin; he confessed it, and prayed: ‘Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving-kindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin’ (Psalm 51:1–2). Too many men and women today are not seeking God to help free them from the temptations of sexual immorality” (“America’s Moral Meltdown,” July-August 2006).
Modern society should heed the example of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude reminds us that these cities were destroyed as an example for us, because of their people’s sexual sins (Jude 7). And even if we do not commit the overt acts, Jesus Christ made it clear that to entertain sexually immoral thoughts is also sin (Matthew 5:28). Dr. Jeffrey Fall wrote about the dangers of what he termed “visual immorality” in a January 6, 2005 commentary at TomorrowsWorld.org, quoting Matthew 5:28: “But I say to you that whoever looks after a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Dr. Fall explains that one of the consequences of “visual immorality” is that, “Almost inevitably, one level of visual immorality leads to another level. As a person fulfills one level of lust, they become used to the initial ‘rush’ or ‘high’ and in time need a greater level of stimulation just simply to maintain the same ‘high.’ Initially, the level of visual immorality may be simply looking at others in revealing clothing. That thrill or lust only lasts so long, and then it is on to the next step: adult movies, adult magazines, adult bookstores and even adult nightclubs.”
Those struggling with sexual immorality of any type need to heed this third lesson given to us as our example, and can take courage that Jesus Christ will give them strength to overcome. In the “model prayer” our Savior taught us to pray in His name to the Father, “do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). We must heed this example.
IV. Not to tempt Christ
Paul’s fourth example of what not to do is to try to tempt Christ. Scripture is unambiguous that God cannot be tempted to sin (James 1:13), so what does this warning mean? James explains that there are actual progressive steps that lead one to sin. First, one is drawn away from his or her relationship with God (James 1:14). That separation from God is caused by one’s own sinful desires and carnality (v. 14). Second, the sinful desire takes root and gives birth to sin (v. 15). And third, sin grows and brings forth death (v. 15).
We know that Jesus was subject to temptation by people and by Satan—but not to the point of sin. He was in all points tempted (or tested) but “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus was able to withstand the most severe testing because He remained continuously close to God. Herein is the key: the more intimate our relationship with God the better we prevent temptation from taking root. The more intimate our relationship with God the more we resist sin. Thus we may be tested… but not tempted to sin.
God will test us. Abraham’s faith was tested by God (Hebrews 11:17). Peter says that God will test our faith to prove it (1 Peter 1:3–8). But God will not cause us to sin. So what is the answer? Why did Paul write that we are to learn from the example to not “tempt Christ”? How could we even attempt this? The answer involves understanding Hebrews 13:5.
As we examine our minds and our conduct, we believe, in faith, the promise found in Hebrews 13:5 that our Lord has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Our Savior and High Priest will never forsake us. But, if we become unrepentant, hardened and lawless, then we can become unworthy, defiling our conscience, becoming reprobate (Titus 1:15–16), and then becoming “defiled” (Hebrews 12:14–15) quench the Holy Spirit in us (1 Thessalonians 5:19). This hardened, unrepentant attitude will lead to rejection of the Holy Spirit and will not be forgiven (Mark 3:28–29). This attitude will drive us away from God. If we fall into this attitude then we depart from Christ because Christ will not dwell with one who becomes blasphemous regarding the overcoming and saving power of God and His Spirit.
When we are tempted, we at least momentarily desire to yield to the sin—there is at least a momentary inclination or desire toward that sin. This was not the case with Jesus Christ. He did not progress toward sin, was not inclined toward sin, and as such, He triumphed over sin and is then equipped, qualified and has the understanding to be “able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). Satan is the prince of the power of the air and he works in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2). How wonderful it is to know that through our High Priest we can overcome Satan and any temptation to sin because, “For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
V. Not to murmur
Israel’s murmuring against God was incessant. Psalm 106:23–25 records that Israel’s complaining became so commonplace that they even murmured and complained against God privately “in their tents.” In the New Testament we are warned not to “grumble” against the brethren lest we be condemned and, “Behold the Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:9). Jesus Christ, our High Priest and our Judge, is well aware of our thoughts and our words. He hears us when we murmur against the brethren, against the Church or against Him. Jesus Christ condemns hardheaded stubbornness and murmuring as “rebellion” and as the “sin of witchcraft.” As 1 Samuel 15:23 records, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness (Hebrew patsar: insolence or arrogance or presumption) is as iniquity and idolatry.…”
It is all too easy to fall victim to murmuring. As Mr. Dibar Apartian wrote, “Here is a challenge for you: Make up your mind that for twelve consecutive hours, you will not complain. Do not allow any gripes or murmurs to enter your words or your thoughts, no matter what happens. Say to yourself, ‘All things work together for my good.’ You may be surprised at the result and the sudden wonderful change in your life. In all probability, you may find this challenge rather hard to meet, because complaining could very well be a part of your daily life—a routine you follow, whether consciously or not. But try it—force yourself to try it. Set your mind, your eyes and your thoughts on the ultimate goal—on the purpose of your existence, and on the opportunities you will have in God’s Kingdom to help and serve” (“The Most Common Sin: Are You Guilty?,” Living Church News, May-June 2009, p. 13).
Neither God nor His Church teach us to be “blind followers,” nor that we cannot express our opinions respectfully and in love. Murmuring is different. It involves how we express ourselves—often imputing motive and judging others, not practicing Matthew 18:15 and other tools to seek reconciliation and a right resolution—and it displays an underlying lack of faith. We may put up a façade to fool others and we may justify our murmuring… but God knows our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10; Romans 8:27) and our motives. And regardless of how long we have been in the faith or what we think we know about doctrine or people or situations, God requires us to build and demonstrate faith to trust Him to lead us, provide for us (Romans 10:17; Hebrews 11:6), and to direct His Church (Ephesians 4:11–13). Faith is the “gold” that all of God’s people must “buy” (1 Peter 1:7), and is what our Lord criticizes Laodicea for lacking (Revelation 3:18). Indeed, we demonstrate a lack of faith when we murmur, contrary to this fifth example Paul has given for us.
The Faith of Christ to overcome!
Let us examine ourselves, having confidence and peace, knowing that God will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus and that we can overcome (Philippians 4:4–7)!In 1 Corinthians 10, God reminds us through Paul that ancient Israel followed the same Rock that we worship and obey today. That Rock was Christ (vv. 1–4). Christ was not pleased with ancient Israel because of its many sins. The Israelites continuously lusted after evil things, practiced idolatry, committed sexual immorality, tempted Christ and murmured. God then instructs us to look at these examples to learn from them (v. 6). As we examine ourselves throughout the year, and especially as we approach Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, it is crucial that we learn from these examples, but also that we have confidence and peace knowing that through the faith of Christ we can overcome!
As Dr. Meredith has reminded us many times, God has called us to be overcomers. As he not long ago wrote, “Together—if we are truly overcomers—we will become those kings and priests who will assist Christ in ruling this entire world within the next few decades (Revelation 1:6; 5:10)” (“Our Church Family,” Living Church News, November-December 2013). Yes, we can be overcomers. We can prevail through having the very faith of Christ living in us (Galatians 2:20)!
Converted Christians self-examine in faith and with diligence, zeal, yearning and craving—knowing that our High Priest is a rewarder of those who diligently(ekzēteō) seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Converted Christians are confident because they know that Christ lives in them. Converted Christians strive to obey God’s law, because in doing so we show God that we love Him and belong to Him (1 John 5:2–3). Converted Christians understand that while they are not saved or justified by works, they can do great things through Christ in them, and that it is the living faith of Christ in them by which they are justified (Galatians 2:16). As we examine ourselves and strive to live up to the examples God has given us in His Word, let us be thankful beyond measure for the “redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24) our Passover and the Lamb of God.