19th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Corinthians 13:5-8
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, I have a little test for you: Number 1: If you are following a school bus and it’s lights come on and the stop sign comes out, at least how many feet behind the bus do you have to stop: A. 15 feet, B. 20 feet, or C. 30 feet? Number 2: What are you not allowed to do at a reduced conflict intersection? A. Make a u-turn, B. Make a left turn, or C. Make a right turn. Number 3: Motorist service signs are what color? A. Brown, B. Green, or C. Blue. Number 4: At what point do you need to switch your headlights from bright to low beam when you meet an on-coming car at night? A. 750 feet, B. 1,000 feet, or C. 1,500 feet. Answers? 20 feet behind a school bus, you don’t make a left turn at a reduced conflict intersection, blue signs give motorist service information, and you must switch your lights at 1,000 feet. When my wife and I moved to MN from WI one of the first things we had to do in order to get a MN state driver’s license was take the knowledge test of the driver’s education program. Anybody who moves to MN from out of state has to take the test. We didn’t have to take a test when we moved to TN or when we moved back to WI. I remember skimming over that little driver’s manual book and thinking, “Come on, I’ve been driving for over a decade, my part-time jobs involved driving truck regularly in both big and small cities, this will be a breeze, no way will I fail.” And when I took the test I think those were some of the questions. And I feel a little ashamed to admit this but I didn’t pass the test with flying colors. I probably got like 5 wrong and that’s not too good when there’s only 30 questions! But what’s the point of such an examination? The state of MN recognizes that driving a car on the road is not only important to know, it’s also something that can be very dangerous. So, for your own protection and the protection of your fellow citizens, the state requires a driver examination.
Tests and examinations serve a purpose. Well, today in our text the Lord tells us we need to do another kind of examination, a personal, spiritual examination. And how are most examinations conducted? They’re conducted by asking questions, aren’t they? So, here’s the question: There are two kinds of Christians, fake ones and real ones. Which one are you? Which one am I? That’s an important question especially when we consider the implications: real Christians go to heaven and live with the Lord forever, fake Christians don’t. Take the lady who filed for divorce. She grew up in a split home, she hated it, she told herself that would never happen to her, she would absolutely make her marriage work. In fact, she was so confident that it would never happen to her that she didn’t bother with the tools to sustain a marriage, completely ignored the warning signs, and ended up getting a divorce. “I can’t believe this happened to me,” she said. Her never happened. “I could never be a fake Christian, no way! Not me!” But nevers do happen, don’t they?
But the point is: they don’t have to. Nevers don’t have to happen to people. That’s why examinations and evaluations are so valuable. They can help us evaluate ourselves so we can get help before the “never” begins to happen. Fake Christians don’t start out as fake Christians. They start out as real ones, truly loving the Lord, truly acknowledging their sin and trusting in Jesus. But then after a while they don’t care anymore, they fall into a sort of “ehh whatever” attitude about faith, about hearing and reading God’s Word. And we don’t have to look much further than the Corinthian congregation for a prime example. Paul had founded the church in Corinth and spent a year and half there. But after a few years those who had received the gospel with joy were slipping. The church had a bunch of divisions among members, one man was committing sexual immorality with his step-mother and it was condoned, members were taking other members to court over trivial matters, there was abuse of the Lord’s Supper, and people were even getting sick from their abuse of it.
So, in response to all of these problems that were going on Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. After they received Paul’s letter they thankfully corrected some of the problems that were going on. However, they didn’t fix all of them. In the meantime Paul sent Titus to check up on them and then changed his plans. He had planned on stopping in Corinth but instead traveled elsewhere. Then a new problem developed in the Corinthian congregation. Some began to attack the apostle Paul. “See, he changed his plans, he’s not reliable. He’s not an impressive speaker, not incredibly dynamic or charismatic, why should you trust him? How do you know he’s speaking the truth, speaking Christ’s words?” And so they were looking to “examine” Paul. And there were certain false apostles who came into the congregation and were claiming superior authority, “Paul, he’s just a second class apostle, we’re top-notch apostles, we’ve got the credentials, the dynamic and charismatic talents and he doesn’t, etc.” And what was the problem? The Corinthians were heading down the path of fake Christians because who was getting lost in all of this? Christ. They were allowing themselves to be steered away from God’s Word by the false prophets based on what felt good to them or not.
So what does Paul tell them? “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” Take a look at your own heart, what’s inside there? Take a look at yourself? Am I on the path to becoming a fake Christian? Am I doing what that first son did in Jesus’ parable: saying all the right stuff but not meaning it or living it? It’s easy to become comfortable with sin. Am I allowing myself to get sucked into a sin, saying with my mouth that Jesus is my Savior, but by the way that I live my life I’m denying my Savior?
What is the path to becoming a fake Christian? Perhaps it begins with a failure to regularly confess my sins to the Lord. Then I fail to see the enormity of my sin before God. I then begin to think that I don’t really need a whole lot of help from God. Soon I begin to rely on myself for strength. God’s Word and the Sacraments become less and less important to me. After that my thinking is not shaped so much by what my God says, but by what my sinful nature or the sinful world around me or what the devil says. My decisions become less and less based on what God says is right and wrong and more and more based on whether or not it feels right to me or not. We need to continually examine ourselves: Am I relying on myself or God? Am I relying on myself for spiritual strength or am I being nourished by God’s Word? Am I serving God or am I serving sin? Am I on the path to becoming a fake Christian?
How am I living my life? Am I living in a way that is consistent with the gospel of Jesus? Am I living as a person who was on a path to destruction? Am I living as a person who was headed for eternal death? Headed for an eternal sentence in the horridness of hell? About to be cast into the pit of fire forever? Facing sure death, but then apart from any of my doing, was fetched from the flames, plucked from destruction, caught stuck in the burning house of my sins when out of nowhere the Savior rescued me with His perfect life and complete payment for our sins on the cross. Am I living in a way that is consistent with that? Does my life reflect a perfect zeal for God due to the fact that I was lost and headed for death but was rescued and am now, thanks to Jesus, headed for the paradise of heaven that is far greater than anything I could ever dream of or imagine? How’s your examination going?
If we truly examine ourselves, we probably see inside of us some good, but a lot of bad. If eternal life was left in our hands we’d fail the examination, fail the test and there are no do overs. But Jesus didn’t fail any test or any examination. He came as the perfect Lamb without blemish or defect. The devil tested Him but Jesus stood firm, people tested him by trying to pin a sin against Him but couldn’t. For every trial, test, or temptation we’ve failed, Jesus didn’t, He remained perfect for you and me. And for every trial, test, or temptation we’ve failed, Jesus took our failures upon Himself, on His own body and paid the penalty with His death on the cross. And miracle upon miracle God worked faith in your heart to believe it.
All for what purpose? So you could answer this question, “Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you?” That’s not a multiple choice question, it doesn’t have to be, in Greek it’s a question that expects a yes answer. Yes, I know Christ lives in me! God says so! Through faith Jesus lives in you. You see, you’d never believe in Jesus if Jesus hadn’t taken up residence in your heart. And anyone in whom Jesus lives is not a fake Christian.
Think about that! Jesus who lives inside of you is fighting for your faith! He hasn’t given up on you. He died for us so often failing people and he’ll stick it out. He still forgives us and loves. He’s in us. And what else does that mean? That means he gives you the strength to change, live in better ways. Jesus- the Lord, the one who came back from the dead and has all authority – isn’t just near you, but is in you!
So what kind of Christian are you? Of course you’re a real one. Jesus lived and died for you! Jesus lives inside of you. But that examination question is good because it causes us to live in repentance. To confess our sins, to be strengthened by Jesus’ forgiveness who lives in us and to clear out the bad thinking, to change bad behaviors and pursue what is right and good. That’s the Christian that you are. Amen.