“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)
Here in the UK we are in the midst of another national lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. Lockdown can easily lead to introspection and that is not always a healthy thing. Too much time at home, too much time alone, can lead us down paths in our thinking that are not very good for us. We need to guard against the kind of self-inspection that only focuses on our flaws and failures, which is something that I know I am very prone to!
But there is a good and healthy kind of introspection – a kind of self-examination that leads us down more pleasant and productive paths. The apostle Paul talks about it as he writes to the church in Corinth. As he looks at himself, he can say:
“By the grace of God I am what I am”
That declaration is not just for the likes of the apostle Paul. Every person who is a follower of Jesus can say with Paul, “by the grace of God I am what I am”. The person I am and the progress I have made is the product of God’s grace at work in me. These words of Paul are the words of every Christian, and indeed every Christian church.
These words are not naive ignorance of our faults and failings. Even if we pretend our flaws don’t exists they are usually quite evident to those around us! Paul is not glossing over the things he has done wrong or the areas in which he needs to grow. In the verse before he reminds us that he used to persecute the church and does not deserve to be called an apostle.
That kind of honest yet morbid self-evaluation is usually where I stop and get lost in my thinking. But Paul leads us on from there to consider the whole picture. Yes, he has made mistakes and got things wrong. “But by the grace of God I am what I am”. God’s grace has not left Paul alone. God’s grace has been at work in him. All the progress in godliness we see in Paul’s live is a result of God’s grace. So Paul can say:
“his grace to me was not without effect.”
As Christians, introspection should not lead us wallowing in self-pity. Introspection should help us to see God’s grace more clearly. To see that we are not the same person we were (even if we know we still have far to travel). To see with Paul that God’s grace to us was not without effect.
For Christians, the goal of examining ourselves is not to see ourselves more clearly. The goal is rather to see God more clearly and the method and working of his grace. To accept ourselves as a product of God’s grace and to pray for more of that grace in those areas we know are not finished. Because God has not finished with you and me, and his grace has not ceased having an effect in our lives.
So if you are prone to introspection, especially in lockdown, be wary but don’t ignore it. Rather, redirect your introspection to see God’s grace at work. Ask to see how you are a result of the grace of God at work. Be able to say with Paul, “his grace to me was not without effect” and to ask for a greater effect of grace in our lives each day.