You may not know the name Wilhelm Roentgen, but his discovery has undoubtedly impacted you. It was in November of 1895 while the German physicist was replicating a common electrical experiment that he noticed an oddity. A little curiosity combined with further testing, and Roentgen was able to conclude that not only are there light rays and ultraviolet light rays, but also X-rays. His discovery of the X-ray not only significantly impacted medical science, but science as a whole: “All of our understanding of the atomic composition of matter…we owe to the discovery of x-rays. The impact it had on science, it’s absolutely immeasurable,” says Leonid Azaroff, a scientist who has studied X-rays for some 50 years.
What is interesting about the discovery of the x-ray is that it wasn’t discovered earlier. While he was known as a good scientist, Roentgen’s work was far from superlative or extraordinary. The tests he ran were hardly ground-breaking; they’d been done many times before by many scientists. Azaroff notes, “Very frequently we say, ‘Oh [forget it]. I don’t have time to go chasing after every whippoorwill. This man, for whatever reason, decided, ‘No, I’m not going to ignore this.’”
So a “common” man took the uncommon step of looking a little harder and further and discovered sites no one had ever seen before.
So too the “common spiritual man” will see previously unseen sights when he ventures to look harder and further into his heart. Wise is the man who takes the time to carefully examine the character of his heart and soul.
The wise man does just what Judah was reticent to do. The prophet Jeremiah continually heralded a message of judgment for the sins of the people and their rebellion against God. In both the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations, there is a similar cry: the people have listened to the false promises of the false prophets and forsaken the Lord (e.g., Lam. 17:17-21; 2:13-14) and they should humbly return to God in repentance (e.g., Lam. 2:19; 3:46ff). And they should repent because God is gracious to forgive: He will not reject forever (3:31), He will have compassion (3:32), He does not afflict willingly (3:33), He hears the voices of the repentant (3:56), He redeems life (3:58), and He will avenge the unrighteous actions of the ungodly (3:59-66).
So Jeremiah exhorts the people of Judah — you have been rebellious, yet the judgment of the Lord for that rebellion is not His final word or action. He will relent if you repent, Jeremiah says. And in perhaps the most direct statement in this section, he exhorts the people,
“Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the Lord.”
(Lam. 3:40; NASB)
This exhortation for Judah was good for them and it is good for all sinners. Every person has transgressed the commands of God and it is likewise good for all people everywhere to repent and return to obedience to the Lord. Even for believers in Christ, whose sins have been atoned for by Christ’s blood.
For what does the believer look when he conducts this spiritual self-examination? The following list is not comprehensive, but is a Biblical starting point for self-examination:
- Examine your salvation (2 Cor. 13:5). Is the quality of my life consistent with the faith in Christ that is within me? Am I being obedient to the will of God that has been revealed to me?
- Examine your behavior/actions (Lam. 3:40, above). Israel’s sinful wandering had led them away from devotion to the Lord. Honest self-examination will reveal the real sin in my life. What is the way — the trajectory of my life? What pathway am I following: Christ’s or the world’s?
- Examine your pride (Gal. 6:4). Is my spiritual satisfaction rooted in a “favorable comparison” with others? Or is my delight in my spiritual state because I have compared and contrasted my present state with my past state, resulting in a heart of gratitude toward God who has transformed and deepened my faith (Rom. 12:3)?
- Examine the condition of your heart and motivations (Ps. 139:23-24; 19:13-14). When you are alone and quiet, where does your mind take you? What are your secret desires and thoughts? What motivates you? This question leads to the penultimate question for self-examination:
- Examine the quality of your love for God (Jn. 21:15ff; 14:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:14). Three times, with slight variations, Jesus asked Peter this simple question: “Do you love me?” Just you and God sitting in a room. He looks you in the eye and He asks the same question: “Do you love me?” This unashamed devotion and passion for God is what is the only legitimate motivation for serving Him.
These questions will begin to reveal the true nature of your spiritual condition. And wise is the man who, when his character is revealed, says, “I’m not going to ignore this.” Repentance and transformation was the hope for Judah and it is a similar hope for us.