My life is like a swinging pendulum. My constant aim is to keep my pendulum in the middle, centered on the gospel, but every day it swings one way or the other. Conviction will come, my pendulum will fall into balance as I repent of it, but by the next day my pendulum has swung into sin on the opposite end. My most recent pendulum swing came after I read the book, “Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers,” by John Owen. I was convicted that I was not killing sin, and I actually wrote a journal article about it here. I repented of my apathetic attitude toward my sanctification and began to pick out the sins in my life to kill. This season started with healthy conviction from a wonderful, Christ-centered book, but when I did not keep the gospel central, I swung into a season of sin-staring, pick-myself-up-by-my-bootstrap, self-centered, unhealthy introspection.
Introspection is not bad in and of itself. As Christians, our call is to seek and kill sin. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13:5). And Romans 8:13 tells us, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” I tried to kill my sin by staring at it, analyzing it, and confessing it, yet as that pendulum swung farther and farther from the gospel, I fell into the trap of unhealthy introspection and self-condemnation.
If you struggle with self-condemnation like I do, you may be prone to unhealthy introspection. I found myself joyless and feeling hopeless. I was frustrated with my daily failure to control my temper with my children, and I wanted to stay hidden at home because I was afraid of snapping at my kids in public. I condemned myself for not being a better and more gracious parent. And I sought out some friends to confess to. Okay, vent might be a better word.
I left that conversation analyzing and condemning myself for talking about myself literally the whole two hours we were together. I was embarrassed at how self-absorbed I had been. They were so gracious to listen to me and care for me, but I was sick of always talking about myself and my sin! I was tempted to stop thinking about my sin altogether, but I knew what Scripture said about it. So, I went straight home and searched desiringgod.org in hopes of reading an encouraging, Christ-centered article to lift my spirits.
I began reading an article titled “Self-Examination Speaks a Thousand Lies” by Jared Mellinger. This caught my attention because it seemed contradictory to the command in 2 Cor. 13:5 to examine ourselves. Since I was reading with a skeptical eye, when Jared mentioned the very thing I was skeptical of, it jumped off the screen at me. He writes, “[Unhealthy] Introspection is deceptive because it often looks like we’re doing the right thing: we’re not indifferent to our sin — we want to seek it out! But when that introspection makes us self-absorbed instead of Christ-absorbed, we undermine our faith.”
Gasp. I had departed from the gospel. The moment I realized this the cloud was lifted and joy, hope, and overwhelming relief flooded my soul. God does not look at me as a failure. He is not constantly frustrated at me when I mess up. How God views me is not based on my performance but based on Christ’s perfect performance and sacrifice on my behalf! I realized I was so unhappy because I was looking at myself and my sin constantly, rather than looking at Christ and his perfect work! I was reminded: “for every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.”
Believer, if you find yourself absorbed with yourself and your sin, in a state of spiritual depression, guilt, and condemnation, look to Christ! I promise you, He’s better to look at. Keeping Christ and the gospel central will keep the pendulum in balance, where joy and peace are found. We don’t have to fear praying with the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23). God isn’t surprised with what we will find, and we shouldn’t be either. We are sinners saved by grace! And your sin is no match for God’s grace.
If you’d like to learn more about how the gospel relieves us from the burden of [unhealthy] introspection, I encourage you to read “Think Again” by Jared Mellinger. I liked what he had to say in his article at Desiring God so much that I bought his book and began reading right away. I pray your soul is refreshed in the gospel today.