Paul told Christians to examine themselves before the New Testament Passover. How should we interpret his warnings about disqualification and unworthiness?
It’s one of the more intimidating verses in the entire Bible:
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
In an earlier letter, Paul gave the Corinthians these instructions regarding preparing for Passover:
“Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30).
(Learn what the Passover is and why it matters in “Passover: What Did Jesus Do for You?”)
Today, these passages can be cause for serious concern for any Christian in progress. We each know our own flaws and shortcomings better than anyone. We know the sins we struggle with. We know how many times we’ve had to pray for forgiveness. We know how far we are from where we want to be.
And for so many of us, there are the questions—the ever-present questions that assault us in moments of quiet introspection:
Am I disqualified? Am I unworthy? Is Jesus Christ really in me? Have I failed to discern the Lord’s body?
Let’s talk about that.
Understanding the words Paul used
When Paul wrote, “Test yourselves,” he used a form of the Greek verb dokimazo. He used the same verb when he wrote, “Let a man examine himself.”
Something important gets lost when we translate that verb from Greek into English. In English, when we decide to examine or test something, it might be because we’re suspicious of it—because we suspect there’s something wrong with it.
That’s not how dokimazo works.
Like most civilizations, the Roman Empire had to deal with counterfeit currency. The easiest way to counterfeit a Roman coin was to make a duplicate out of a cheaper metal (like copper), then coat the outside with a more precious metal (like silver).
The easiest way to identify these counterfeit coins was to gouge them with a chisel, exposing the inside. An official coin tester in the marketplace would make these gouges to prove that coins were, in fact, genuine. Coins that passed this test were dokimos—approved, genuine. Coins that failed were adokimos—disqualified, counterfeit.
The expectation is that you will pass the test too.The unique thing about dokimazo is that it implies an expectation. The focus of the test was not to expose something as counterfeit, but to verify it as genuine. HELPS Word-studies explains that dokimazo “is done to demonstrate what is good, i.e. passes the necessary test,” adding that it “does not focus on disproving something (i.e. to show it is bad).” While some coins would not pass the test, the expectation was that they would.
Which means the expectation is that you will pass the test too.
Self-examination should not leave us uncertain
People are a lot like those ancient coins. Everyone can see what you are on the outside. But only you and God know who you are at your core. Only you and God know your deepest thoughts and desires. Only you and God know if you’re truly serious about and dedicated to this way of life.
But it shouldn’t be a mystery to us. Paul’s question, “Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified,” implies that we should know ourselves. We should know whether Jesus Christ is in us. We should know whether or not we’re disqualified.
Does your core match up with your outer layer? Are you the same person in private as you are in public? Are you committed, or are you just pretending?
Are you dokimos or adokimos?
Self-examination will not reveal perfection
This isn’t about being perfect.
You can’t be perfect. Not in this life.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is what makes us worthy—not anything we could possibly do.When the baptized men and women of the Church of God come together this year to eat the bread and drink the wine of the New Testament Passover, none of them will be worthy of it. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is what makes us worthy—not anything we could possibly do.
What we can do is eat and drink it in a worthy manner. To come to the Passover with a deep gratitude and respect for the body and the blood of Jesus Christ—to take those symbols with an understanding of what it took for us to be justified in the eyes of God—to know that our “right to the tree of life” (Revelation 22:14) was not earned but given through a sacrifice we could never deserve.
(Read more about that sacrifice in “Why Jesus Had to Die.”)
When we repent, when we are baptized, when we accept that who we are right now is not who God wants us to ultimately become, we commit ourselves to a lifetime of change—a lifetime of overcoming this world’s influences and our own human weaknesses.
That is to say, a lifetime of not yet being perfect.
A lifetime of genuinely striving, with God’s help, but not yet living up “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
That’s not the same as being disqualified. That’s just what it means to be human in pursuit of living like God. Being disqualified is about being counterfeit—about passing ourselves off as Christian when, in fact, we have no intent or desire to even try to live that way of life.
You know if that’s you. And you know if that’s not you. That’s what the testing and the examining are about.
Paul told Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved [dokimos] to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
No Christian in progress should go through the process of self-examination and still be wondering if he or she is secretly disqualified. If you are seeking God, if you are repenting of your sins and striving to replace them with godly character (no matter how bumpy the road), if Christianity is more than just a show you’re putting on for the benefit of others, then you are dokimos.
And if you are dokimos, you are a worker who does not need to be ashamed.