Passing the Examination

In a bygone era, far removed from today, I served a brief stint in the US military. No regrets, but with the time to reenlist approaching, I had already made up my mind to separate from service rather than continue. It simply wasn’t the life and career for me.

With a few months remaining in my service commitment, I was also approaching the time to take a test for promotion to the next grade. This exam was scheduled before my upcoming separation. Passing the exam would provide a salary increase along with the promotion. A wage increase would be great; however, should I pass, the grade would not be awarded until after my intended separation from service. Thus, to my mind, it made little sense to take the test. So, I asked to be excused.

Yet I was told I must take the examination. “What if you pass?” I was asked. That would make no difference to me, for I was firm in my decision. I was definitely going to separate, no matter the outcome.

So, on the morning it was scheduled, I took the test. In record time. I simply took the Scantron and penciled in a next to the first question, b for the second, and so forth, till I got to the fifth question in which I penciled e. I repeated this pattern until I was finished. Then I handed it to the surprised facilitator and walked out of the room.

I had to sit for the test. But I didn’t have to test well. I didn’t have to pass the exam, but I couldn’t pass on sitting for the exam.

I have no idea how I scored. Given my methodology, it would have been pure luck had I actually qualified for the promotion.

Qualifying for a Higher Grade

Much later, after accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, I discovered that, as Christians, there’s an exam we must take. Similar to my earlier test, it is not optional. Yet the stakes are much higher. This is one we must pass. Continually:

2Corinthians 13:5—6:

5 Examine yourselves if you be in the faith. Approve yourselves! Or do you not discover for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in youunless you be unapproved? 6 Yet I trust that you will realize that we are not unapproved.1

For background, the Apostle Paul is frustrated with the ekklēsia (“church”) in Corinth. The words above should be seen as the culmination of what Paul stated in 2Corinthians 10:7. Paul implies that the congregation(s) had been seduced by other “super-apostles” (11:5) who had been preaching “another Jesus”, as received by “a different spirit”, and that they accepted this “different gospel” (11:4). Paul goes on to describe these seducers as “false apostles…disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (11:13), suggesting they are servants of Satan himself (11:14—15). Apparently, these “super-apostles” spoke disparagingly about Paul (12:11), contributing to the Corinthians’ doubt about Paul’s Apostleship (13:3—4). And even doubting Paul’s own faith.2

In response, Paul instructed them to examine themselves to determine if they were really in the faith. In the first two sentences of verse 5 “yourselves” is italicized to match the emphasis implied in the Greek text. Paul truly is concerned that some had apostatized, that they had fallen away from the faith. So, his words are a call to repentance for those needing it. But he provides encouragement: surely they will find out they are true Christ-followers—or they will be convicted of their fallen state and repent. Yet at the same time they will realize that Paul really is in the faith and truly is an Apostle.

Paul’s concluding sentence (v 6) magnificently puts all his thoughts together. In it, he uses three different pronouns to great effect. The “I” speaks of his authority, yet the verb associated with it shows his empathy, his desire (“I trust”). The “you”, of course, is the Corinthians, who, after their individual self-investigations (v 5), should either: (a) be further encouraged in their faith, or (b) be persuaded to repent. His final “we” indicates both: (a) his desire for their further encouragement or their repentance (accordingly), and (b) his implied assertion of his own status in the faith, along with the newly-repentants’ realization of Paul’s true faith—“we” (the Corinthians and Paul) are “not unqualified”.

All this provides an object-lesson for subsequent readers, for us. Are we really in the faith? Continual self-assessment is not optional (Matthew 24:13).

Elsewhere Paul provides means for self-testing, using the example of Timothy:

2Timothy 2:15:

Strive to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed laborer correctly applying the word of truth.

The verb for “approved” here is the same as the one used in 2Corinthians 13:5. The only way you can know for certain you are in the faith is to have a good knowledge of the truths of the faith (John 8:31—32)! And this requires obedience, which is made evident by your fruit. A great self-check for fruit-bearing is found in Paul’s words to the Galatian ekklēsia. The passage compares living by the Spirit to living according to the flesh:

Galatians 5:16—25:

16 I say then, walk by the Spirit, so you shall not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires contrary to the Spirit, the Spirit contrary to the flesh. For these oppose one another, so that you may not do as you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious, which are: sexual immorality, moral impurity, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, rivalries, dissensions, discriminations, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousals, and such things similar to these. All these I tell you to forewarn you as before: All those who engage in such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, generosity, goodness, faith, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things, there is no law. 24 And those belonging to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, to the Spirit we should also conform.

We cannot just pass on this. Each must habitually ask himself or herself, “Am I really in the faith?”

Do I meet the qualifications? Am I approved?


1 In my translation here, I aimed for functional equivalency to the extent possible (nouns for nouns, similar verb types for similar verb types, etc.), leaving out as many English helping words as possible (e.g. “to see if you be in the faith”). With this goal in mind, I sought to retain Paul’s words as I think he intended to his original audience, thereby showing his exceptional rhetorical skills. All negatives are translated as per the Greek text, including words negated by an a– prefix. In this way, the reader can see his dichotomies, his juxtapositions, as well as his plays on words (“approve” > “unapproved” > “not unapproved”). Otherwise, in my opinion, his tone is smoothed over. This includes the italicizing of “unless” since εἰ μήτι is stronger than εἰ μή.  In similar fashion, “yourselves” is twice italicized, since it has emphatic placement in the Greek (first in the sentences). The overall intent is to make the parallels and contrasts a bit easier for the English reader to perceive.

2 Most of this entire paragraph sounds eerily similar to the leaders and individuals within the so-called New Apostolic Reformation.

22 Responses to Passing the Examination

  1. SLIMJIM says:

    What branch were you in?


      • SLIMJIM says:

        Cool! Its interesting you mentioned tests for promotion. I was in the Marines which we don’t do tests lol


        • Craig says:

          I had no idea! I figured every branch had some sort of test to take for promotions. In the AF, at least when I was in, you didn’t have to test till E-5. Until then, it was just time in grade.

          Liked by 1 person

        • SLIMJIM says:

          For the Marines there is a board for E6 onwards but it seems from my limited interaction with USAF and other branch the Marines have a lot more E5 and below. Actually seems like with the grunt side a lot of people get out E3 and E4. Compared to our sister branch in the Army though it seem an E4 has much more responsibility as it’s a leadership billet


        • Craig says:

          Well, as far as physical conditioning, the AF is laughable. I actually LOST conditioning in basic training! I was a runner (a nagging injury keeps me from it right now), and I actually requested to wear my running shoes so I could run on an earned day off during basic. After that, I got back into shape. And I’ve always maintained a certain level of overall physical fitness. I definitely feel better when I’m conditioned, and I really enjoy working up a sweat. Hard work? Let’s do it!

          Liked by 1 person

        • SLIMJIM says:

          Awesome you love hard work! I see that even with your studies of Scripture

          Liked by 1 person

        • Craig says:

          Thanks! I really want to get back to repeat track workouts. If you don’t nearly throw up, you didn’t do it hard enough! That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not far off. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve done any because of various nagging injuries. Now that the main one subsided, I strained my calf! Oh well.

          But there’s nothing like a good sweat via hard physical work. There’s also a sense of satisfaction that some just never have experienced, unfortunately for them.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Jim says:

    I did read this a while ago Craig and I do think you’re right to call out what it means to be approved. I get quite a good amount of teaching input from a church in Lubbock under Andrew Farley. He is very grace centred and would probably add to your post something like:

    If you’re in Christ you are approved already. Your flesh may make some wrong choices but God doesn’t come along and disapprove of you one minute then approve of you the next.

    Now there are those who will escape judgement as those jumping through the flames and arrive at the resurrection with nothing to show from their earthly life, so Andrew Farley’s point would likely be that our names aren’t written in the book of life one moment then when we walk by the flesh it’s rubbed out.

    What are your thoughts given this post and the verses you apply?


    • Craig says:

      I love these sorts of theological tensions in Scripture! I’d say none should be complacent. 1 John 2 speaks of Jesus as our mediator (paraclete) IF we confess our sins. What about unconfessed sins? Do we get a free pass on those?

      I’d agree with Farley that our faith is not so precarious; however, we had well better be serious. And I definitely need to be more obedient and confessional; so, I’m not being preachy without preaching to myself.


  3. Jim says:

    This kind of leans in to the once saved always saved thinking, which I used to disagree with but now am much more open to it being the case.


    • Craig says:

      I used to be OSAS, but now have turned the other way! I once was discussing OSAS with a Calvinist and I brought up Matthew 24:13. His response was that the individual’s having stood firm to the end was evidence of their true faith, while the converse evidenced un-true faith. I found that a cop out. But, that’s my opinion…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      I think the seven ‘churches’ in Revelation need to be factored in.


  4. Jim says:

    Right! And I also think that the act of on-going confession of wrong or fleshly deeds to one another and God is not about ‘now I’m saved again, oh now I’m not’. To me it’s more about keeping short accounts with God so that our hearts stay soft, humble and compliant to his word than about salvation. We initially confess our overall state of sin and need of a saviour, rather than rattle off a naughty list at the point of faith. And it’s only by walking in the spirit that we can know that nudge to repent and so soften our hearts (rather than confessing our way back to a fresh salvation).


  5. Jim says:

    I understand that view, but I also believe we have a saviour who is willing to walk with us even in our ignorant and often stubborn wanderings off his narrow path. If we started our walk with Jesus in genuine faith, received the indwelling invisible presence of Christ, then what happens all the way to our death is for God to deal with. We either started right in which case he never leaves us nor forsakes us, or we never started. Since only God knows the heart, that is not our territory. What is our territory is to live as examples of Christian discipleship and hopefully sway weaker others to raise their faith game, soften their hearts again and turn back to their ‘first love’.

    I do get your line about the churches in revelation. But hasn’t it always been that there is yeast in the ekklesia dough, as it were?


  6. Jim says:

    Are the stalks growing in good soil the equivalent of those who are saved and the others not? Or is Jesus talking about how we live after hearing the gospel and respond with initial faith?


  7. Jim says:

    Apologies. I’ve just re-read your earlier post about NOT being OSAS although you were. I had it the other way round.

    Just re Matt 24:13, I think there’s a good case that Jesus is encouraging ‘this generation’ that would see the fall of Jerusalem. Saved in this context is more like protected or shielded. So perseverance will lead to physical safekeeping and inner peace.

    If we instead applied it to our daily salvation walk, I don’t know from scripture what the threshold of endure is or persevere and if I’ve met the standard to be ‘saved’. Consequently I’ll easily fall in to a fear and works based ‘salvation’ outworking which I don’t believe is the true gospel.


    • Craig says:

      I think, essentially, the broader picture is that we should be so secure in our faith and love for God through Jesus that we’d be willing to die as martyrs for the faith–like the Apostles and other disciples in the first century. Through the Spirit I do believe I can.


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