On the night of the 1912 presidential election that put Woodrow Wilson in the White House, a group of Princeton University students dropped by to congratulate Wilson on his victory. They were excited because Wilson was once the president of Princeton. It had been a hard-fought, three-way race between Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft, and there were a lot of tough challenges ahead… and maybe that’s why Wilson told the students, “I myself have no feeling of triumph tonight. I have a feeling of solemn responsibility.”
If someone had congratulated Paul on his powerful letter for setting the record straight in Corinth, his response might have been similar to Wilson’s. Paul’s attitude wasn’t triumphant… he wasn’t saying to the Corinthians, “I guess I showed you.”
Instead, the great apostle’s heart was burdened for his spiritual children living in this decadent city. Some of the believers in Corinth reflected their culture by their lifestyles, and that was definitely unacceptable in the eyes of God because Corinth was known for its moral depravity. Even among the pagan world it was the “Sin City” of the first century. It was these same believers who had been deceived by the false teachers about the integrity, genuineness and power of Paul’s ministry. So Paul was concerned that he was going to have to exercise severe discipline when he arrived in the city on his third visit.
But that’s not what Paul wanted to happen. His deep desire was that the church would discipline itself, so he could avoid the use of harsh measures of authority and discipline. He said in verse 10 of chapter 13, “I am writing this to you before I come, hoping that I won’t need to deal harshly with you when I do come. For I want to use the authority the Lord has given me to build you up, not to tear you down.” (NLT)
So as he wraps up this letter to the church, he gives a final warning for them to get ready because he plans on coming back.
Follow along as we read the first six verses of 2 Corinthians 13
1 This will be the third time I am coming to you. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.”
2 I have told you before, and foretell as if I were present the second time, and now being absent I write to those who have sinned before, and to all the rest, that if I come again I will not spare–
3 since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.
4 For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.
5 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.
6 But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified
The first time Paul went to Corinth was to plant a church and he stayed with the people for a year and a half, teaching them and helping to get the church established. You can read about it in Acts 18. Later on he came a second time, evidently between the writing of 1 & 2 Corinthians, but this time it wasn’t a very pleasant experience for Paul or for the Corinthians because he had to deal with some serious sins that were being committed by church members and had been allowed to continue without any of the local church leaders doing anything to stop it. Remember he told them in chapter 2, “But I determined this within myself, that I would not come again to you in sorrow.”.” (2:1) One sorrowful visit was enough for Paul but now as he thinks about coming again, he wants to give fair warning to those who have refused to reckon with their sinful behavior and attitudes. They continued in their sin, they rejected Paul’s apostleship and were taken in by the false teachers. In our text this morning, he’s saying, “Get ready ‘cause I’m coming back… and there’s two things I want you to do in anticipation of my return.”
First of all in verses 1-4 he says,
1. Prepare yourself (vs.1-4)
It is imperative that Paul returns because of the nature of what has been going on in Corinth. He is concerned for their spiritual welfare but also for the honor of Christ. He doesn’t want unbelievers to get the wrong idea about what a Christian is. There were sinful behaviors and attitudes that should have been eliminated from the lives of these Corinthians and since they weren’t, Paul finds himself in the unpleasant position of confronting them with it. He said at the end of chapter 12,
“… I am afraid that when I come to visit you I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfishness, backstabbing, gossip, conceit, and disorderly behavior. Yes, I am afraid that when I come, God will humble me again because of you. And I will have to grieve because many of you who sinned earlier have not repented of your impurity, sexual immorality, and eagerness for lustful pleasure.” (12:20,21 NLT)
In addition to the possibility of dealing with those believers who are disobedient and unrepentant, he will also have to confront the false teachers.
But he quotes Deut.19:15 to assure them all that his actions will be justified according to God’s Word. The NASV says, , “Every fact is to be confirmed by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” The word “fact” is “rhema”, “allegation” or “accusation”. In other words, Paul is saying, “Every accusation will be substantiated by the proper testimony of at least two or three witnesses… no one is going to get railroaded by false allegations like those that were made against me. And if the allegations prove to be true… if you’ve committed sins of immorality or any of the other things I have mentioned… or if you have rebelled against me as God’s divinely appointed authority and have not repented,” then he says, “I will not spare you!”
Paul has been loving, gracious and patient… but now he says it is time to put a stop to their foolishness… “if you will not repent then I must discipline.”
One of the more controversial but serious failures with many churches today is that church discipline isn’t practiced anymore. It is most certainly one of the hallmarks of the contemporary seeker sensitive churches today… we don’t want to talk about sin… we need to encourage people… sin is too negative and we need to be positive and uplifting.
If you don’t believe that then just listen to Joel Osteen for five minutes. Better yet, listen to five different messages and see if he doesn’t say pretty much the same thing every time. He wouldn’t even say on Larry King that people without Jesus are going to hell. Why? Because he doesn’t want to offend anyone. Things like sin and hell just offend people… let’s just love them into the kingdom. Well sure we need to love them but dear people, we must also be courageous enough to tell them the truth!
And of course, part of the thinking is that if you start pointing out someone else’s sin then you’re being judgmental… you’ll be accused of self-righteousness and legalism. Just listen to the critical rhetoric of those who like to attack Christians… or even some church leaders who call themselves Christian, like the Rev. Willoughby who loves to write scathing letters to the Ledger, just ripping Bible believing Christians to shreds.
Let me give you a couple of examples: If you say homosexuality is a sin… or if you confront someone about pre-marital sex or adultery… or if you have to rebuke and correct someone because they are seeking a divorce from their spouse without biblical grounds, then you’ll be seen as the bad guy… you’ll be the hypocrite who should mind his own business. As a matter of fact, they may even use the Bible and throw Matt.7:1 at you which says, “Judge not lest you be judged.” Or they’ll quote Jesus when He told the Pharisees, “he that is without sin let him throw the first stone.” (John 8:7) And then there are some who are even more vicious and go so far as to say that you’re not much different than the radical, fundamental Islamic jihadists who want to impose Sharia law on the rest of the world. Isn’t strange how their desire for tolerance stops with biblical Christianity?
But beloved, Paul isn’t dealing with the rest of the world… he’s concerned about the condition of Christ’s church. He’s not trying to be mean or judgmental… he’s not throwing stones… he’s not looking to castigate someone because they have a different view of sin than he does. He is engaging in the unpleasant responsibility of judging sin in the life of people who call themselves Christians because they themselves have refused to do so.
Just like a parent who corrects his child when he rebels, Paul, as an apostle, and church leaders are given a solemn responsibility to promote holiness in the church and to correct and discipline those within the church whenever necessary.
God is holy and righteous and He wants His children to be obedient, holy and righteous. He doesn’t expect us to be sinless… but He does demand that we be “holy and without blame.” (Eph. 1:4). He expects us to hate sin and love righteousness and the problem with some of the Corinthian believers was they weren’t all that concerned about either.
And please get this too… Paul is not basing his actions on his personal opinion of what’s right and wrong… he is standing on the authority of the Word of God! That’s the standard and the issues of sin in the Bible are not open to “your interpretation”. I heard a lesbian pastor in a debate saying that we’re interpreting those passages wrong but listen to me… when God calls something “sin” He is not vague or ambiguous. He doesn’t leave things open to someone’s private interpretation. He is crystal clear when He identifies and deals with sin! Paul stood on God’s Word.
That’s why he says in verse 3, “since you seek a proof of Christ speaking in me…” They didn’t think Christ was truly speaking through Paul but Paul was saying they better think again. D.A. Carson comments on this when he writes:
They were so sub-Christian in their thinking that Christ-like gentleness and meekness meant little to them. They preferred manifestations of power, however exploitative and arbitrary they might be (11:20). Paul’s gentleness they therefore misjudged as weakness, preferring the triumphalistic pushiness of the false apostles. Paul responds by saying that if it is power they want to see as the absolute criterion of genuine apostolicity, they may get more than they bargained for: he may be forced to display the power of the resurrected Christ, speaking through him in thunderous tones of punishment, another version perhaps of the judgment meted out to Ananias and Sappira (Acts 5:1-11)
Ananias and Sappira were the first believers to be disciplined because they lied to God and the church… and they were disciplined severely because God took their lives. God made the first move in applying church discipline because He wanted His church to understand how grievous sin is to Him. It might seem a little harsh to you but it ought to convey just how serious sin is when it’s practiced and allowed by the church. So Paul is pleading with them, saying, “Please don’t force my hand… don’t make me use discipline because you failed to repent.”
“Whatever you may think of me,” says Paul in the latter part of verse 3 “remember that you’re actually in conflict with Christ Himself. Call me weak if that’s what you really think but behind me stands the omnipotent Christ who will by no means permit your sins to continue unchecked!”
Then in verse 4 he says, “For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you.”.” Paul explains that Jesus is the supreme embodiment and example of both weakness… in his crucifixion… and strength… in his resurrection and exaltation. They might think him weak but remember it was through the weakness of Christ that the power of God was manifested… and Paul’s apparent weakness is backed up by the all-powerful God who hates sin. Even though Paul was weak and readily admitted it, Jesus Christ whom he served wasn’t and it was in Christ’s power and authority that Paul would deal with those who were causing problems in Corinth.
So “prepare yourself by repenting of your sin” is the message that Paul is trying to get through to them… because he doesn’t want to have to prove to them that Christ is in him by initiating church discipline. So now in verses 5 & 6 Paul moves from responding to their demands that he “prove” that Christ is in him to his encouragement that they “prove” ” that Christ is, in fact, in them.
He says, “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.”
Disqualified… what does that mean? Literally the word means “not approved.” Examine yourselves… and if you fail the test then the truth is Christ isn’t in you… you don’t really have saving faith.
2. Examine yourself (vs.5,6)
He adds in verse 6 saying, “I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified.” In other words, if their faith proves to be real, then they will actually prove that Paul’s ministry is genuine and that Christ really is in him too. So now the question is:
“How can I test myself to see whether my faith is real?”
So what I would like to do now is give you a few questions based on what the Bible identifies as a genuine Christian. They are questions you can use to “test yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.”.” Anyone can claim to be a Christian but the Bible gives some specific ways to determine if you are really saved. This is how each of us can confirm that we are Christians according to the Word of God. Are you ready to take the test? I bet you didn’t come to church this morning expecting to take a test, did you?
OK, here they are… some specific questions we should ask ourselves:
1. Have you been born again? In John 3:3 Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And He explained that it is necessary for us to be born of the Spirit. Did you repent and believe the gospel… that Jesus died for your sin and that He rose from the grave? Do you remember a time when you personally placed your trust in the work of the cross and received the Lord Jesus as your Savior? That’s what you must do to be born again.
2. What exactly are you trusting in? Eph.2:8,9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”.” Are you trusting in the work of Christ on the cross, and nothing else as the full payment for all your sin debt and received eternal life as a gift? If you are depending on your goodness, your church membership, your baptism or the sacraments… or anything other than what Jesus did on the cross then you are depending on the wrong thing… your faith is misplaced. Your faith will only be as good as the object in which it is placed so if you are placing it in anything else it will fail you.
3. Do you have the witness of the Holy Spirit? Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,”,” Is there an inner confirmation that comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit that you belong to Him? John 4:13 says, “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”
4. Has your life really changed since believing in Jesus? 2 Cor.5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”.” Do you have a love for God that you never had before? Do you find that the Bible is making more sense since you’ve been saved? Do you have a new sensitivity to sin now? Those are some of the things that have become new.
Now I realize some of you were saved as children and really don’t have a wicked lifestyle before Christ to contrast… but are you different in that you love the Lord and love righteousness? Is there a big difference between you and unbelievers?
5. Are you walking consistently in obedience? 1 John 2:3-6 says, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.”
1 John 3:9 says, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” The tense of the verb “sin” means not that we never sin but that we no longer practice sin as a lifestyle. We can’t enjoy the way we used to before coming to Christ… and the distaste for sin can also motivate us to obedience.
6. Do you love other Christians? 1 John 3:16-19 says, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.”
You know honestly, before I was saved I used to despise Christians. I labeled them all as hypocrites and couldn’t stand to be around them… but Jesus changed that and gave me a love for His children. How do you feel about other Christians?
7. Are you more attracted to the things of the world than the things of God? 1 John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
The love of the Father can’t be in you if you are filled with love for this world.
8. Do you have an understanding of spiritual truth? 1 John 2:26,27 says, “These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.”
1 John 4:6 says, “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
It isn’t that you understand the Bible completely… we will always be in a process of learning but spiritual truth cannot be understood without the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. That was one of those “new things” that happened when I trusted Jesus. Your mind is awakened to biblical truth and you now have a new capacity to understand it.
These are eight basic questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you have genuine saving faith. You’ll notice that most of these verses came out of John’s first epistle. And John says the reason he wrote his letter was so God’s children might have assurance of their salvation. In 1 John 5:11-13 he wrote, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” ; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you
Paul wanted the Corinthians to make sure of their salvation. If it was, in fact, genuine, then they had to admit that God was in him too.
D.A. Carson writes:
There are millions of professing believers in North America today (to say nothing of elsewhere) who at some point entered into a shallow commitment to Christianity, but who, if pushed, would be forced to admit they do not love holiness, do not pray, do not hate sin, do not walk humbly with God. They stand in the same danger as the Corinthians; and Paul’s warning applies to them no less than to the Corinthian readers of this epistle.
How did you do? To say you are a Christian isn’t enough. Genuine believers will bear the fruit of new life in Christ. If you didn’t pass the test, then God commands you to “believe the Gospel.” Trust the Lord Jesus as the only solution for your sin. If you are sure you are a believer, then please make sure that the evidence isn’t tainted with ongoing sin. As Paul confronted the Corinthians, so God demands of us that we judge ourselves… and should the Holy Spirit reveal sin in your life to you, then repent of it… confess it to God and be restored. You respond in faith and obedience as God speaks to you.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to be ready for his return. Likewise, Jesus wants us to be ready for His return.