For the past several weeks, I’ve been praying over making a resolution list like Jonathan Edwards had so famously written at 19 years of age and later published. He promised himself that he would read these resolutions to himself every week and keep himself accountable to humble & Christ-exalting standards. Inspired by these heavenly commitments, I myself endeavored to do such a task. As time goes on, and I think about the things I’m about to hold myself to, I sometimes wonder whether it will blossom into legalism. However, the Lord grants us peace every day, and I rest in his omnipotence. He has assured me that it is in fact Biblical and ultimately a God-give mandate. So, for me to not keep myself accountable through reflective resolutions renders me disobedient.
I was awakened by this just this morning in reading Galatians. This led me into a thicket of information regarding self-accountability. In Galatians 6:1-5, Paul asks his brothers if they have any fellow Christians among them who are caught in a spiritual sin. Then, those who are spiritually strong and able to fight temptations, should enter that battle—ready to fight—and gently rescue that man from those chains of death & decay! And, in anticipating any objections, he says “But are there those of you who think themselves too high to enter such a fight? Do you think you are worth too much to stoop to the low level of a brother who is caught in a sin and associate with him?” Thankfully, Paul reminds those who think in such a way, “Do not forget that you yourself—by yourself—are worth nothing! You have a zero value on your own standing” With much satire, he says essentially, “Want to see how much you can boast in yourself? Go ahead and examine yourself.” Once again, anticipating any objections, he says, “And don’t examine yourself by looking at those around you and say ‘o, well, I mess up here, but at least I’m not like that guy!'”
Side Note: this reminds me of an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. In the fourth season, there is a point where Deborah and Ray are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary and Deborah wants to watch their wedding VHS with her husband. So, they begin and behold! What comes up in the middle of their wedding? Some fuzzy white noise that then becomes the 1991 Super Bowl! Ray had taped over his wedding and recorded the Super Bowl! This of course really upset Deborah. But, Ray’s father said, “Now men everywhere all over the country, can say, when their wives are harping on them for their shortcomings, ‘well at least I didn’t pull a Ray Barone.'”
So Paul is saying, don’t pull that liner! Don’t say to yourself, ‘well at least I didn’t pull a Ray Barone.’ Paul is calling us to remind ourselves of our natures, and our states, and our real identity by testing our work. The Greek word is δοκιμαζω (dah-kih-mahd-zo; to examine or test). So, this is a call do an examination. Take a hard look at ourselves and to examine our work. This then he says, will give us reason to boast in ourselves.
What does that mean? Some could take it that Paul is using irony again. In other words, “after examining yourselves, you can boast in yourselves—if you find that you have anything about which you can boast!” Or, one could take it, as does John Calvin in his commentary, that this boasting will be the type of boasting that Paul does in his good conscience. In several places Paul glories in his right standing with God, which is in itself a humble celebration being he knows that he cannot take credit for his reconciliation with the Lord. I personally think that Paul intends a little bit of both understandings here in Galatians 6. The end result of self-examination should lead you to see that you are worthless on your own standing, and that the only thing you can boast in is the cross (as Paul says in verse 14) and in your right standing with God (Acts 23:1; 2 Cor 1:12).
“But let each one test his own work”
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”
—2 Corinthians 13:5
“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.”
—2 John 1:8
“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
—1 Timothy 4:16
“See that the work of saving grace be thoroughly wrought in your own souls. Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim to the world the necessity of a Savior, your own hearts should neglect him and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits.”
—Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor
“We must search ourselves very anxiously and very thoroughly, lest by any means after having preached to others we ourselves should be castaways…It is of the next importance to the minister that his piety be vigorous. He is not to be content with being equal to the rank and file of Christians; he must be a mature and advanced believer, for the ministry of Christ has been truly called ‘the choicest of his choice, the elect of His election, a church picked out of the church.’”
—Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students