“Self-examination is a very great blessing, but I have known self-examination carried on in a most unbelieving, legal, and self-righteous manner; in fact, I have so carried it on myself. Time was when I used to think a vast deal more of marks, and signs, and evidences, for my own comfort, than I do now, for I find that I cannot be a match for the devil when I begin dealing in these things” (Charles Spurgeon).
Examining ourselves to see if we are in the faith is good and biblical. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they are truly saved (2nd Cor. 13:5), and in the culture we live in examining oneself needs to be emphasized because of the large amount of shallow “Christianity” that exists today.
However, there is a great danger to some who become fixated with themselves and are always in the practice of examining and never take heart by what Christian fruit they see in their lives, however small it may be. Such people are in danger of examining so much that they drive themselves to the brink of insanity and at the same time have made little idols of themselves. They are most likely very sincere, conscientious, serious minded, and miserable. What is one to do who is in this situation?
Don’t demand perfection
I recently planted a number of tomato plants. They are a few weeks on their way and much larger than they originally were. At only two to six inches tall, they are just as much tomato plants as one that is fully grown and bearing tomatoes. But what would happen if I began to demand that my tomato plants become fully grown before I considered them true tomato plants? I would be waiting for some time, while all along, though not fully matured, they have been true tomato plants.
This is what many Christians do. They know one sign of true Christianity is that they love other Christians. So they rightly begin to ask themselves, “Do I have true Christian love? Do I desire to be with Christians? Do I want to fellowship with Christians? Would I sacrificially give to help my brothers and sisters?” But instead of taking heart at what love they see in themselves, though imperfect and lacking but still genuine, they begin to demand of themselves a perfect love, and unless they see a perfect love, they will not believe they are truly saved.
This is unbiblical and impossible. We are not asked to have perfect fruit before we can know we are truly saved because no one can be perfect in this life. Paul tells the Thessalonians that he should always give God thanks for them because “the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater” (2 Thessalonians 1:3, NASB). Their love wasn’t perfect, it was still growing, but he still thanks God for it. Look again at what Paul says to the Thessalonians: “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more” (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, NASB). Paul tells the Thessalonians that they have been taught by God to love one another, that they practice it toward all Christians in Macedonia, but then he still urges them to excel more in their love. We simply cannot demand perfection of our Christian fruit before we can have assurance.
Don’t overly compare yourself to others
Back to my tomatoes. They have been growing now for a few weeks and, like I said, are two to six inches tall. They are true tomato plants, even if they are not fully grown. But what would happen if I began to compare my tomato plants to my Papaw’s? His have been in the ground longer than mine have, and some of his are getting close to two feet tall. Can I even consider my tomato plants “real” compared to his?
Once again, this is something Christians have to watch out for. They might see some true signs of Christian love, but then when they compare their love to Brother Greatheart’s love, they feel as if their love isn’t real. This is unwise. First of all, Brother Greatheart has probably been a Christian for 86 years, and they haven’t lived even half that long! But secondly, even if they are older than the person they are comparing themselves to, Jesus taught that not all believers will produce the same amount of Christian fruit (Matt 13:23).
Don’t constantly examine yourself
I remember when I first planted my tomato plants. I would eagerly look practically every day to see if they had broken the surface. Finally the day came when I began to see growth. But what would have happened if each day I dug up the tomato seed to see if it had sprouted yet? Each day that I didn’t see visible results would lead me to examine the seed by digging it up once again. Would this benefit the growth of the seed?
As silly as that sounds, it is still the very thing that many people do. We constantly examine ourselves, sometimes multiple times a day, to see if we are bearing fruit. We continually look within, making ourselves miserable, and by doing so it appears as if we are never going to grow. We might even be stunting our growth. What we need to do is take our spiritual pulse, repent of our failures, trust the promises of God, and trust Him to change us. Take your eyes off of yourself for a while, and put them on Jesus and His promises to you.
The real question at hand
The question to ask is not whether your Christian fruit is perfect, or if it is as mature as someone else’s, but is your life characterized by growing Christian fruit. Do you have any sign of true love to your brothers and sisters, no matter how small it may seem at times? A spark is not the same as a blazing fire, but it is still real. If you have true love or whichever fruit you are looking for, no matter how mature it may or may not be, you have it. God has given you that. The Holy Spirit has produced that in you. Take heart, repent of where you have failed, and ask God to help you grow. Then trust the promises of God and go on. One Christian evidence may be greater in you than another, but still the question is, overall, is your life characterized by growing Christian fruit, however mature it may or may not be? If you do, take heart.
Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.
 C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography, Vol. 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2005), 103.