You enter an empty waiting room lined with chairs and well-worn magazines. In front of you are clipboards and documents covered with questions about private information unknown to even your closest friends: What medications are you taking? Any major illnesses or surgeries? Are you experiencing any pain? When was your last doctor’s visit?
After completing the paperwork and waiting for what seems like an eternity, your name is finally called. You are ushered into a tiny room, where you must wait once again. Inside is a narrow examination table covered with thin white paper—readied for you to lie prostrate and be poked and prodded like a human science experiment.
As you stare at the walls covered with anatomical charts and prescription ads, you cannot help but nervously wonder what your doctor will say regarding your overall state of health.
Annual medical checkups are not typically pleasant. For a thorough examination, you must reveal personal things about yourself—your habits and routines, your overall lifestyle, the things you should be doing but do not, and vice versa. Then you are evaluated and given results from doctors trained to deliver bad news, no matter how difficult it may be to hear.
It is uncomfortable to bare all and be told of areas where you are falling short as it relates to your health. As unpleasant as it may be, however, the philosophy behind these visits is simple: By being proactive and submitting to a comprehensive medical exam, you can potentially catch and treat health problems before they become serious. You subject yourself to scrutiny because you know it is necessary. The alternative is to only act once a serious health problem occurs—which by then it may be too late to recover.
Yearly physical inspections parallel the annual examination of our spiritual health. Every year prior to Passover, we are instructed to “let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (I Cor. 11:28).
Spiritual examination can also be unnerving. Our conduct and its results are exposed and we may not be happy with what we learn. Yet we know this spiritual assessment is necessary. Considering all that is on the line—with every one of us due to stand before the judgment seat of Christ—ignorance is not bliss.
In this Laodicean age, human nature would have us think “we are doing just fine, thank you,” and that spiritual examination is unnecessary. Yet God says, “let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor. 10:12). He commands us to do a spiritual examination every year because He knows there is a connection between it and the prevention of spiritual illness.
Notice, too, that we are to examine ourselves. This runs counter to the practice of relying on doctors to assess the state of our health. Under God’s form of examination, we must take an active role in diagnosing and treating our spiritual ailments. We must be willing to be brutally honest with ourselves and acknowledge poor results.
Self-examination is vital to determining the state of our spiritual health and fixing any problems we encounter.
To properly self-examine, we cannot ignore the greatest threats to our spiritual wellness.
One such threat is Satan, whose name means “opponent” in Hebrew and “accuser” in Greek. There is no mistaking his purpose. Christ told Simon Peter how Satan viewed him and all others of God’s people.
Notice. During His final Passover meal, Jesus explained to His disciples how they could secure their role in God’s Kingdom. He based it largely on the need for them to display an attitude of service (Luke 22:25-30). Take time to study these verses. He then spoke directly to Peter and said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (vs. 31).
The word “desire” does not suggest a compassionate yearning as it did earlier in the chapter when Christ told His disciples that “with desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you” (vs. 15). Instead, “desired” in verse 31 means “demanded.”
Understand. The god of this world (II Cor. 4:4) is not “tenderly longing” to overcome God’s people. On the contrary, he is forcefully demanding our eternal lives and wants nothing more than to kill us physically and spiritually!
Satan tries to do this by tempting us to sin—the transgression of God’s Law (I John 3:4). This is another threat to spiritual health. Failure to overcome sin leads to physical and spiritual death for ourselves and others (Rom. 6:23).
Recall the story of Cain. After his sacrifice to God was not accepted, he became filled with anger and resentment (Gen. 4:5). Christ, the God of the Old Testament, mercifully told him: “If you do well, shall you not be accepted? And if you do not well, sin lies at the door. And unto you shall be his desire, and you shall rule over him” (vs. 7).
In other words, He told him, “Cain, your offering was not accepted. Instead of sulking about it, do better next time. Failing to get over this will only lead to more sin. If you make the right decision, however, you can overcome and ultimately control sin.”
Cain did not get over it. Instead, he allowed bitter feelings to boil over and lead him to murder his brother. He missed his opportunity to “rule over” sin. Instead of him overpowering it, sin overpowered him.
This can happen to us.
Our struggles with Satan and sin are life-threatening. Winning the battle against both comes down to the choices we make.
Prior to his action, Cain was clearly given a choice. He was told “sin lies at the door,” and told that he could subdue it. But he chose not to.
The word “lies” can mean “to crouch,” as a predatorial animal (such as a lion or a wolf) does prior to attacking prey.
Another comparison should come to mind: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8). As with sin, Satan is likened to a beast—in this case, a vicious lion on the prowl.
How is this related to having a choice regarding Satan? Peter tells us that Satan seeks “whom he may devour.” This means we can escape his clutches.
Recognize that succumbing to Satan or sin is not a foregone conclusion. As in the case with Cain, defeat is not certain.
Similar to overcoming physical ailments, victory comes down to taking certain steps. Though there will be missteps, diligent self-examination and a willingness to change will help us overcome these spiritual threats more times than not.
Annual physical exams are done methodically. This ensures a doctor checks all critical elements of a person’s health. A spiritual exam can be conducted in like fashion.
Prior to actual examination, doctors review patients’ answers to questions about age, medical history, and lifestyle. Why? Because it provides a lens through which doctors can properly evaluate and treat a patient.
Likewise, as part of our spiritual assessment, we must consider what makes us unique or different from our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all at different stages of growth and have our own weaknesses. Therefore, we cannot base our spiritual evaluation on our views or perceptions of others. Each of us will stand alone before the judgment seat of Christ. Every tub must sit on its own bottom. (Read Galatians 6:4.)
Be realistic with your examination. A person baptized one year ago must assess himself differently from someone baptized 15 years ago, and that person differently from someone baptized 50 years ago.
The ministry has seen time and again those relatively new to God’s Way try to hold themselves to the standard of someone who has been in the Church for decades. This is not a fair comparison. Be careful of expecting more from yourself than what God does. Christianity is a marathon—not a sprint.
Be warned, though. We must not forget that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). If we give ourselves a way out, our old nature will take it.
Do not let yourself off the hook. Do not be afraid to tell yourself bad news. If you are falling short in terms of growth, admit it. Whether young in the faith or a veteran, base your assessment on where you are on the path to salvation. Each of us will be held accountable for what we know.
For a true assessment of our progress, self-examination must focus on our specific weaknesses more than areas in which we do not struggle. While our strengths can provide certain encouragement, we cannot concentrate on them and ignore character flaws.
Going back to the health correlation, a person can have the heart of a world-class athlete, but it means little if his liver is diseased and on the verge of failure. While we want to judge ourselves on all elements of Christianity, fixing our weaknesses is more important than being satisfied by our strengths.
An honest inspection of our spiritual state can be telling. It may reveal we should be much further along in our growth than we actually are. If you find you are dealing with the same spiritual challenges year after year, it is a sign of a much deeper issue.
This is when much more intense introspection is necessary.
Perhaps, each year, we struggle with controlling our tongue, or we are not as patient as we should be. Maybe we drink too much alcohol. Other weaknesses can include not studying or praying consistently. We may have a problem with harboring bad attitudes or not properly submitting to authority. The list could go on.
A vital first step in fixing any persistent spiritual problem is to properly identify its root cause. Merely treating the symptoms will not do.
For instance, if you find you are consistently unable to get along with others, the real problem may not be them—the true cause is pride (Prov. 13:10). This self-focus is what is actually stunting your ability to have good relationships. Vanity, lust, greed and jealousy are similar core issues that, like cancer, will spread if not properly treated.
Once identified, one approach to eradicating foundational problems is to study the scriptures intently. This is one reason God includes the shortcomings of otherwise faithful servants in the Bible. Their struggles with similar issues can serve as a form of encouragement for us.
Even if not tied to a specific person, the scriptures are replete with ways to overcome spiritual ailments. Take the problem of pride, for instance. The Bible reveals that the opposite of pride is humility (Prov. 16:19). Therefore, studying God’s mind on the subject (which itself is an act of humility) can bring an antidote.
The scriptures further reveal that humility is a choice (Luke 18:14). If we choose to humble ourselves, God promises that He “gives grace unto the humble” (Jms. 4:6). By taking the first step of humbling ourselves, the most powerful Being of all will intervene on our behalf and help us eliminate pride.
See how diagnosing the issue and overcoming it through God’s Word works?
Battling the same issues over and over also provides an opportunity for fervent prayer and even fasting to draw closer to God. By beseeching Him and denying ourselves food and water for a 24-hour period, we can more easily put our flesh under subjection.
Finally, you may also wish to counsel with your minister, who is trained and experienced to help you better understand why you are struggling with a persistent weakness.
After an initial evaluation, a medical doctor typically focuses on specific elements of a patient’s health. Much can be ascertained just through initial dialogue between the doctor and patient, along with observation.
During this initial exchange, a doctor can assess memory and mental quickness. In addition, the appearance of a patient’s skin and fingernails, how easily he stands and walks, his reflexes after a tap on the knee all convey his state of health.
Likewise, a Christian’s appearance and conduct are windows into the state of his spiritual health.
How is your dress and grooming? Are your garments neat and clean, representing the best you can afford? Are your hair, fingernails and overall hygiene properly maintained?
While these may seem like small points, you impact more people by your appearance than by your words. Remember that you represent Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:20).
Many in the world have fallen into the trend of looking unkempt and disheveled or wearing suggestive or gaudy clothing. We, however, must stand out from the world (II Cor. 6:17) by maintaining proper appearances and wearing clothing befitting Christians.
Beyond our appearance, how do we carry ourselves? Do we have pleasant, inviting demeanors—or do we scowl and glare at others? Are we normally upbeat and cheerful—or do we find we are often gloomy and downtrodden?
Some people are surprised to learn that they furrow their brows or frown by default, even when nothing is wrong. Ask your spouse or a trusted friend if he or she has noticed any such quirks that you have and work to change them! This will ensure you always project the right message to others and serve as a positive example.
In a world filled with sorrow and pain, Christians possess the best news of all—the gospel of God’s coming Kingdom. This should bring us joy—a fruit of God’s Spirit.
Smiling and looking others in the eyes when interacting are just two ways we can display joy and show warm, welcoming dispositions. (The Pillar article “Sabbath Fellowship: More than Conversation” offers practical tips on how to display the joy of God not only on the Sabbath, but every day.)
What about our words? Christ said that “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36). Therefore, we must be careful with how we communicate.
This can be difficult given that the tongue is “an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (Jms. 3:8). If you battle controlling your words, remember the principle of being “swift to hear, slow to speak” (1:19) knowing that he who “keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles” (Prov. 21:23). Also consider the scripture, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (18:21).
Other elements of conduct include the types of entertainment we consume (Psa. 101:3), the kinds of foods we eat (Lev. 11), how we treat our spouses, children and friends (John 13:34; Rom. 12:10), and much more.
A list on proper Christian conduct, however, would not be complete without emphasizing the importance of serving others. At the reckoning, Christ will judge His people based on how they served others—which demonstrates how they ultimately served Him.
Notice: “For I [Jesus] was hungry, and you gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and you took Me in: naked, and you clothed Me: I was sick, and you visited Me: I was in prison, and you came unto Me” (Matt. 25:35-36).
Figuratively, the righteous were perplexed by this description, asking, “Lord, when saw we You an hungered, and fed You? Or thirsty, and gave You drink?” (vs. 37). In response, Christ said, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me” (vs. 40).
He went on to condemn to “everlasting fire” those who chose not to serve others. Will we believe God? If we are not serving others as we should, let these verses and others motivate us.
Overall, honestly evaluate your behavior. Your conduct becomes a tremendous example for your fellow brethren and may be the only “Bible” those in the world ever read.
There are certain issues of physical health that a simple conversation or review of external body parts cannot discern. For a more accurate picture, a thorough medical checkup includes internal testing such as determining blood sugar and cholesterol levels or checking vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature and respiratory rate.
One of the first things a doctor does is take a patient’s temperature. Why? Because it is a key indicator of overall health.
A Christian’s temperature is also important to God. If we allow ourselves to become lukewarm, we cannot remain in His Body (Rev. 3:16).
Being lukewarm involves not fully committing to God’s way of life. During self-examination, look for areas where you are not fully living up to God’s expectations. If you have secret sins in your life, try with all your might—and God’s help—to rid yourself of them. Those who do not choose to remain on fire for the truth will find themselves on the outside of the Church looking in after being delivered “unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (I Cor. 5:5).
Why not take the much easier route to the Kingdom by remaining unwavering in your commitment to God? (For more on overcoming sin and staying “hot” in God’s sight, review the article “You Can Overcome and Prevent Sin”.)
Blood pressure is another important indicator of health. With each pump of the heart, blood puts a certain amount of pressure on our veins and arteries. If this pressure is too high or too low it leads to serious problems. High blood pressure can be likened to feelings of worry and anxiety, while low blood pressure can be compared to apathy or indifference.
We must not allow worry and the burdens of this life to stress us. God tells us to cast our cares on Him since He cares for us (I Pet. 5:7). We are to take no anxious thought for our lives, including what we will eat or drink, or the clothing we will wear (Matt. 6:25). Instead, we should seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness, and these things will come to us (vs. 33).
If you tend to worry, it could be a lack of faith. Come to grips with this and ask God to help increase your faith. (A review of the booklet What Is Real Faith? may prove beneficial.)
On the other end of the spectrum is indifference. Paul tells us, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4). We should also, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15).
This takes empathy. Ask yourself: Do I show proper care and concern for others? Do I go out of my way to “do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10)? If not, make a change by letting “this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).
Related to blood pressure is heart health. The heart is a vital organ. Spiritually speaking, God tells us, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil” (Luke 6:45). In addition, we are told, “Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23).
Do you frequently battle a bad attitude? Are you impatient and unforgiving of others? Are you easily offended? Or are you holding a grudge toward someone for something they did to you? These are all heart issues that if unresolved can lead to spiritual illness, or even death.
A final major category is neurological health. It includes testing nerves, reflexes, balance and mental state. The mental state of a Christian cannot be ignored, as it says, “God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (II Tim. 1:7).
Having a sound mind is related to being disciplined. We must learn to control our emotions and maintain self-control—or temperance—during what can at times be difficult life circumstances. Our reactions are an indication of our trust in God and His promises.
Related to this, we must avoid extremes and live balanced lives, letting our “moderation be known unto all men” (Phil. 4:5).
If you tend to panic during a crisis or fly off the handle when things do not go your way, be honest with yourself and ask God to help you change. Similarly, if you find that you go from ditch to ditch in your life and in your decision making, come to grips with this and strive for a more balanced approach.
Path to Better Health
None of us are perfect. No matter how long we have been converted, we all have areas of our lives in which we need to improve.
The Passover season is the time to focus on this more than any other. It is a reminder of the tremendous pain and suffering by Jesus and the sorrow endured by the Father, who witnessed Christ’s ordeal.
We are justified and reconciled to the Father by His Son’s blood and death, and saved by His life (Rom. 5:9-10). Through the willing obedience of our Savior, we can have a relationship with the Father and receive the Holy Spirit after repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). We cannot let this tremendous act of love be in vain.
This season is also a reminder of the commitment we made to living God’s Way.
Recall the “four yous” discussed during baptismal counseling. There is the you that you see, the you that others see, the you that God sees, and—most important—the you that God sees you can become. This final picture should be your goal.
While we cannot get there without God’s help, we must do our part. Take time in the coming weeks to do a thorough and honest inventory of your spiritual state. Consider every major element in your life. Avoid the tendency to make excuses for yourself. If you are not where you know you should be, take steps to improve. Use the “Spiritual Assessment Form” as a guide.
Jesus Christ is the perfect example for us to compare our current spiritual state. Study the way He carried Himself and treated others. Review His teachings throughout the gospels. Watch how His followers, disciples and apostles conducted themselves.
While the Bible does not contain all knowledge, it does contain all of the knowledge required for us to achieve salvation. And it is readily available to us. Use it, alongside the Church’s literature and sermons, to identify problems and improve your spiritual health.
Spiritual Assessment Form
This form was adapted from Mr. Pack’s article “‘Consider Your Ways’—Self-examination Begins NOW!” It is intended to be a starting point for pre-Passover self-examination. You will want to delve more deeply into all areas of your life. Be careful not to whitewash yourself. Turning a blind eye to un-Christian behavior can have eternal consequences!
Five Tools of Christian Growth
- How long and how often do you pray, study the Bible, fast, meditate and exercise God’s Spirit?
- In which of these areas are you weak?
- Where could you do better—or more?
- Do you properly prepare for and welcome it when it arrives?
- Do you occasionally “forsake the assembling of yourselves together”? If so, why?
- Is your Sabbath conversation filled with idle words? If so, how are you actively striving to remove them from your Sabbath discussions with other brethren?
- Do you listen attentively at services, taking careful notes with an open Bible and planning to revisit those notes one or more times throughout the following week?
- How long is the television on, and for what purpose?
- Do you still see the Sabbath as God’s test command?
- How concerned are you with daily copying the life of Jesus Christ (I Pet. 2:21)?
- Does your conversation throughout the week reflect the things Christ would say?
- How is your marriage? Are you properly focused on this divine institution, knowing it is ordained of God?
- Do you drink too much alcohol?
- Are you routinely practicing the biblically prescribed principles of childrearing? Do you still recognize that you are training little potential members of the God Family and that you only have temporary stewardship on God’s behalf until they reach adulthood?
- Are you actively avoiding spiritual drunkenness—a condition that causes brethren to close their eyes and drop off to sleep, forgetting the crucial role of self-examination?
- Are you holding fast to that which you have—including the doctrines and traditions of the Church?
- Are you truly washing, cleaning and purging yourself in God’s Word, daily seeking more of the Spirit of truth?
The Work of God
- Are you praying for the Work, specifically the announcing of God’s coming Kingdom and the warning of the nations?
- How often are you praying that more laborers will be sent into the field?
- Do you faithfully tithe (first, second and third when applicable) on every dime you earn, knowing that tithes belong to God and that not paying or saving them amounts to stealing?
- What about offerings, also commanded by God? Are you preparing for these annual offerings throughout the year?
- Do you give additional offerings or sacrifice time to help the Work move forward?
God’s Overall Plan
- How often do you actively and consciously think about ruling with Christ—actually sitting on a throne reigning over nations?
- How much do you contemplate the process of qualifying for rulership?
- Are you connecting this to properly ruling all areas of your life now?
- Do you often—or ever—meditate on whether God is truly ruling you?
- Do you periodically remind yourself that you are in training to become a teacher?
- How often do you stop your activity and examine yourself?
- Do you recognize the power of Jeremiah 17:9 and fervently pray for correction (10:23-24), beseeching God to show you yourself as He sees you?
- How often do you deeply repent of what God’s mirror reveals to you (Jms. 1:22-25)?
- How broken up are you about your conduct—and how determined are you to defeat your problems?
- What areas of weakness can you say that you have honestly addressed—and overcome?
- How often and to what degree do you feel a “hungering and thirsting after righteousness” (Matt. 5:6)?
- How often do you actively think about and try to display the nine “fruits of the Spirit”—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance (Gal. 5:22-23)—recognizing Jesus’ sobering instruction given four times in John 15 to “bring forth more fruit” (vs. 2, 5, 8, 16) as proof you are His disciple?
- Regarding all the areas where you are falling short, are you determined to improve now—or do you plan to “address them later,” when you “have more time”?