People who know nothing about the Greek philosopher Socrates (d. 399 B.C.) have probably heard one of his most famous sayings: “The unexamined life is not worth living for human beings.” He made that statement after being condemned to death for disloyalty to the ruling elite of Athens and allegedly corrupting the minds of his youthful students. Socrates made his now-famous statement to the jury and his accusers, reminding them that life’s most virtuous endeavor is not to examine others but to examine oneself.
Socrates lived in Greece at a chaotic time in the Jewish land of Judea. The Jews, held captive in Babylon, were being released by the king of Persia; efforts to rebuild the temple and Jerusalem were underway; God’s teachings had been ignored for centuries. All that to say—Israel was not being a light to the Gentiles. That light was barely flickering in Judea, much less illuminating secular minds like Socrates’ in Greece.
The Biblical Basis for Spiritual Self-Examination
Therefore, when Socrates said the unexamined life was not worth living, he was not quoting Proverbs or Psalms or Ecclesiastes—Israel’s wisdom literature. He was speaking out of his own understanding of philosophy: the love (philia) of wisdom (Sophia). Though Socrates was not speaking out of Scripture, he was not speaking contrary to Scripture either. The idea of the examined life is a biblical principle that deserves careful attention from those who embrace the whole counsel of God.
Before we delve into the cure for the unexamined spiritual life, consider the many ways we employ “exams” in our lives on a regular basis. We examine almost every other part of our life more than we examine our spiritual lives—or at least more consistently.
- Health: Most of us get regular medical check-ups; in fact, many employers require their workers to get regular exams to catch problems before they get big (and expensive). Parents do the same with their young children in the early years of life to check on growth, health, and vitality.
- Cars: If we lease our car, the agreement mandates regular service checks. At the very least, we change the oil regularly and have our mechanic do a once-over to check hoses, belts, brakes, leaks, and the like.
- HVAC: Most people who own their home have fall and spring checks on their house’s heating and cooling system.
- Finances: We check on the status of our retirement plans, savings, and investments on a regular basis.
- News, sports, weather, mail: How many times a day do you check your phone, tablet, or computer for updates and personal communications?
Spiritual Self-Examination and Its Importance
Do you notice anything that ties these five areas together? They are among the most important areas of our life: health, transportation, comfort, money, and awareness. In other words, we regularly examine the things that are most important to us. It’s not that a failure to examine these areas makes life not worth living, it’s that it makes it very uncomfortable! By that I mean there is a measure of self-interest at work in the examined life. We attend to our health, cars, heating and air conditioning, money, and cultural awareness because, eventually, our failure to do so makes life uncomfortable.
But what about our spiritual life? Have we learned to live with an uncomfortable, unexamined life? Is our spiritual life not as high a priority as the other areas of life? But shouldn’t it be the most important?
In this article, I want to challenge you to use a simple, nine-point exam that will give you immediate feedback on how you are doing spiritually. But before we get to that, let me remind you of the Bible’s position on the examined life.
Key Components of Spiritual Analysis
There are two dimensions to the Bible’s position on the examined life, and they are intimately connected.
First, it is God who examines our lives. That is, nobody lives an unexamined life from God’s perspective because He sees all and knows all about all of us. Nobody was more insightful on this subject than the prophet Jeremiah. Several times he says that it is God who sees and tests the mind and the heart of man (Jeremiah 11:20; 17:10; 20:12). This seeing is ultimately for the purpose of our good—for rewards or for correction: God’s “eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 32:19). But it wasn’t just Jeremiah who understood this truth; the writers of the Psalms (Psalm 7:9; 17:3) and Proverbs (Proverbs 17:3) knew it, too.
Second—and this puts the responsibility on us—we must conduct self-exams to keep ourselves in God’s path of righteousness: “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet” (Hebrews 12:12-13). Nowhere is the principle of self-examination stated more clearly than in 1 Corinthians 11. Because of the Corinthians’ abuse of the Lord’s Supper, Paul tells them many of them had been disciplined by God (verses 29-30). Therefore, Paul says, we should examine ourselves, and correct our own lives, rather than have God correct us (verses 31-32).
The examined life is a biblical imperative. And drilling down even deeper, if we don’t examine our lives and make needed adjustments, God will (Please—don’t read that as a divine threat. Instead, remember that God is a loving Father. He examines and corrects our lives just as we do our children’s lives—from a heart of love and grace.).
I promised you a simple way to take stock of your spiritual life every day. So, let’s look at this nine-point exam.
The Exam for Life
First of all, who is the benchmark for our life? Jesus Christ, of course. It is His image to which God is conforming us by way of every event in our life (Romans 8:28-29). But how do we measure ourselves against the person of Christ? With the simple list in Galatians 5:22-23: the fruit of the Spirit.
I can’t state this truth too often: The Holy Spirit was given to manifest the life of Christ to the world through us. His works are manifested by the gifts of the Spirit and His character by the fruit of the Spirit. Spiritual gifts differ from believer to believer, but the fruit of the Spirit should be fully evident in every Christian’s life. If there is some dimension of the fruit of the Spirit missing in our lives, that should be a red flag—a warning that we have taken back the control of some area of our lives from the Spirit.
So here is the test—a check of the fruit of the Spirit:
- 1. Love: Do I love others unconditionally? Do I withhold my love or forgiveness?
- 2. Joy: Am I able to rejoice in every circumstance? Can I give God thanks in all things?
- 3. Peace: Can I make it through a difficult circumstance without worry or depression?
- 4. Patience/Longsuffering: How often do I react impulsively instead of responding thoughtfully?
- 5. Kindness: Are my thoughts and words toward others graced with compassion?
- 6. Goodness: Am I willing to share what I have with others in need? Am I generous?
- 7. Faithfulness: Do I keep my word even when it is costly? Am I loyal to God and others?
- 8. Gentleness: Am I ever harsh, unyielding, or insistent on my interests instead of others’?
- 9. Self-control: Am I able to live out my priorities or am I subject to the desires of my flesh?
Here’s what I would suggest: First, commit Galatians 5:22-23 to memory. Second, write down these nine traits of Christ’s life and put them where you can review them daily. If you will do that faithfully, soon your heart and mind will respond immediately when the fruit of the Spirit has been overtaken by the work of the flesh in your life. You can instantly make whatever correction is needed: confess, repent, be filled with the Spirit, and move on.
Let us take Jeremiah’s words to heart: “Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own” (Jeremiah 10:23, NIV). We belong to God. Let us, as good stewards, live an examined life. Let us yield to the Holy Spirit moment by moment so “it is no longer I who live, but Christ [who] lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
This article originally appeared on davidjeremiah.org.
Dr. David Jeremiah is one of America’s most trusted Bible teachers. For more than 38 years, he has helped millions deepen their understanding of the Bible through 4,552 daily Turning Point Radio releases and a daily Turning PointTelevision program that reaches millions of people globally. He is the author of more than fifty books, including Hope: Living Fearlessly in a Scary World, Forward, The Book of Signs, Airship Genesis Kids Study Bible, and The Jeremiah Study Bible.