How does a Christian do self-examination?
Let’s begin by explaining how a Christian doesn’t do self-examination. Any kind of introspection, or looking inward, that is not done in connection with and under the authority of the Word of God is subjective mysticism. Here I am using the term mysticism to describe the contemplative process of looking into oneself for truth, whether it be the truth about the nature of God, the meaning of life, or our identity as human beings. Some would say that there are valid forms of Christian mysticism, but in the interest of clarity I advocate tossing the word out all together when we discuss Bible-based meditation and self-examination.
The only authoritative objective standard we have for examining ourselves is the Word of God–period. Not only does Scripture tell us who God is, but it also informs us of who we are in relation to God. The Bible is described in James 4:23 as a mirror in which a man beholds his face. When we read and study the Bible we see who we really are in light of who God is and what He requires of us. When we become doers of that Word the truth is impressed on our hearts and we retain it. So to do real examination we must prayerfully consider our hearts and lives under the searchlight of the Word. No two ways about that.
If we simply look inward and ask God to somehow reveal information about Himself and ourselves apart from Scripture we will be trusting in our inner impressions for so-called words from on high. This kind of a practice can appear very spiritual on the surface, but in reality “letting the Spirit lead” often results in our being led by the flesh. Nor am I denying the reality of promptings and such from the Spirit. But such experiences are never on par with the Bible, nor should they be relied upon in lieu of a steady intake of the Word. Of course God is sovereign and can work in a variety of ways–after all, he spoke though a donkey on one occasion. But these unique blessings should be a supplement to rather than a substitute for the Word of God
I could tell you of some rather extraordinary ways in which the Spirit has led me over the years; and I am sure you could share some great war stories with me as well. So don’t mistake what I am saying: I am not one who rules out the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit through His people to do miracles, heal people, and provide guidance and assurance. Again, all these kinds of experiences must rest on the foundation of a life and heart saturated with the truth of the Word of God.
And that is how a Christian does self-examination. Daily, prayerfully, biblically.