Some time ago I came across a list of questions used by George Fox for regular self-examination in order to identify sin in his life and apply the fresh grace of God, in Jesus. Then, I came across similar lists by John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards. I thought, "These guys are on to something here." So, over time, I have merged, added-to, subtracted-from and, in turn, created my own list of questions for gospel-fueled self-examination.
Because our hearts are like gardens (see Jesus' parable of the soils in Mt 13). Gardens don't "arrive"; neither do our hearts. Gardens need careful tending, cultivating, and pruning. Our hearts need the same. This isn't self-absorbed introspection. This is looking for the thieves in your heart that aim to steal your joy in Christ - and then bringing them to him. This is why Proverbs warns us to, "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Pr 4:23) In other words, our life flows from the inside out, not outside in. (cf Lk 6:45; Mk 7:21) Therefore it's of primary importance to keep tabs on the status of your heart.
“The greatest difficulty in conversion is to win the heart to God. The greatest difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God.” John Flavel
Yet, self-examination alone is, at best, works-based religion, and, at wost, self-centered humanism. Our self-examination must be gospel-fueled. Why?
First, our self-examination must be gospel-fueled or we will become proud (when we're doing well) and despairing (when we don't). The gospel gets us off that turbulent, emotional, unhelpful roller-coaster. The good news of Jesus reveals our righteousness is not found in this list - or any other! Our righteousness is found in Jesus alone (Phil 3:9). That means our standing before God is the same, regardless of how we answer these questions. Therefore, gospel-fueled self-examination is not about justifying ourselves but revealing what is potentially hindering our ongoing experience and enjoyment of God.
Second, our self-examination must be gospel-fueled or we will not see our sin nor grace rightly. Sin without grace will only lead to self-loathing, despair and hopelessness. Similarly, for grace to be grace, there must be something in view for which that grace needs to be exercised. The gospel won't permit us to talk about grace without talking about sin, nor will it allow us to talk about sin without talking about grace. There is a direct connection between the awfulness of our sin and the awesomeness of God's grace. The more we see the former, the more we'll see the latter. Jesus said it this way, "He who is forgiven little, loves little." (Lk 7:47) Therefore, gospel-fueled self-examination is an opportunity to be humbled (by the awfulness of your sin) and encouraged (by the awesomeness of God's grace).
Third, our self-examination must be gospel-fueled or our hearts are not going to change. Only the radical, free, unceasing, overwhelming, eternal grace of God will change us. Without question, it is the greatest change agent in the universe. This is why puritan John Flavel said, “We are as able to stop the sun in its course, or to make the rivers run backward, as by our own skill and power to rule and order our hearts.” By ourselves, we do not bring about the change our hearts so deeply need. Deep, profound change is only brought about by the deep, profound grace of God (Titus 2:11-14). Therefore, gospel-fueled self-examination is an opportunity to see God's grace afresh and, in so doing, change.
Questions for gospel-fueled self-examination
With all that in view, the following are some questions to consider for the use of gospel-fueled self-examination. There are no rules on how to use this list. The first question alone may give you enough to prayerfully consider for a week - it often does for me. Some ideas: (1) Consider reviewing a couple questions every day. (2) Review them during a monthly retreat or slow Saturday morning. (3) Work through them with a friend, spouse or community. (4) In order to keep these questions in front of me, I've placed the list on a 3x5 card and inserted them into my deck of prayer cards. Here's the current list of questions:
Is Christ real to me?
Is Jesus my deepest joy and glory? Am I attempting to find joy anywhere else?
Am I proud (comparing), vain (boasting) or enviable of others?
Am I creating the impression that I am better than I really am?
Do I thank God that I am not as other people, as the Pharisee to the publican?
Did the Bible live in me today? Do I give it time to speak to me?
Am I enjoying prayer? Have I taken time to give thanks?
Do I disobey God in anything? Confessed all sins? Violated my conscience?
Do I consider how my conversations/actions may tend to God’s glory?
Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
Am I honest in all my acts and words, or do I lie, gossip and/or exaggerate?
Am I defeated in any part of my life?
Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
Am I recollected and temperate in everything (eating, drinking, sleep)?
Am I zealous in undertaking and active in doing what good I can?
Am I meek, cheerful, and affable in everything I say or do?
Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, distrusting or complaining?
Is there anyone I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, or hold resentment toward?
What am I doing about it?
When did I last speak to someone else about my faith?
Have I been diligent in studies? How do I spend my spare time?
Q: What else would you add?