Christians are taught from conversion to be introspective. We are taught to search our hearts and our flesh for the sin that consumes us, to seek the idols in our life that displace Jesus, and to replace that evil with a character of righteousness and holiness. 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “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?” Also Colossians 3:5 says “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”
Biblical introspection is looking first at the sin birthed within, and focusing on our response to circumstances and trials, rather than blaming or focusing on the trials and circumstances themselves. It is examining the posture of our heart, mortifying “what is earthly in you,” and rejoicing in the glories of a renewed heart. It is liberating to have that kind of perspective: no matter the circumstances, righteousness, holiness, and the glory of Jesus are just a moment of introspection away. In every occasion we have opportunity to choose righteousness as we consciously focus on responding in a truly Christian way to the things that we are personally responsible for. In so doing, the old flesh is slowly eroded away by the regenerated heart that God gifts to every believer, until the day it culminates in our perfect sanctification at eternity. This introspection is vital to the health of the Christian, and it provides a hope amidst the chaos and suffering that fallen creation heaves at us.
This introspection is something that we are responsible for. By the help of the Holy Spirit we can control our change in this area. However we should not look past the many ways in which we can experience the hurtful effect of sin as a result of things not tied to our hearts. Because we exist in a fallen creation there are many factors outside of the sinful heart and flesh that can cause suffering in a person's life: physical sickness, death of loved ones, other people sinning against you, other people sinning against other people that in some way cause you pain, mental illness, natural disasters, the list goes on and on.
The Zika virus rapidly spreading across south and Central America via mosquitos is an example of this. The pregnant mother who contracts the virus was not at fault for catching it, yet the suffering that she will feel for herself and on behalf of her child is very real. The baby boy who may be born with a genetic defect because of his mother's sickness will experience an amount of physical, social, and emotional suffering from the defect that will plague him his whole life, and there was absolutely nothing he could do about it. There are thousands and thousands of factors outside of the individual that can cause pain and suffering of all kinds. There are circumstances with which we have no control, are not responsible for, that cause pain in our lives, and thus are not a result of our own individual sinful tendencies, and no amount of introspection will account for or alleviate the suffering.
A unique aspect of the gospel is the hope and joy that can be found amidst such suffering and heartache. Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:10 says, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 1 Peter 4:13 says, “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” James 1:2 says, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” When your identity is not determined by what you do, who you are, or where you are at , but by the atoning death of Jesus, where everything was promised to be made right, the brightest of joy will shine even in the deepest of sufferings. Instead of looking to yourself for hope, you look to Jesus for hope, turning your introspection into extrospection. In introspection we cast what we can control upon the gospel, in extrospection we cast what we can’t control, the things outside of us, onto the gospel.
Both introspection and extrospection are important in maintaining a gospel perspective. Whether we are examining ourselves and mortifying sin and sinful responses, or we are giving up to Christ the burdens of pain and suffering from a fallen creation, there is always hope in the gospel, and joy in its truth.
Imagine now, that we did have to hope in ourselves. Imagine that there was no perfection or glory outside of what you yourself could produce. Imagine living in a world where all that you are, all that you have been, all that you will ever be rests on your shoulders. Now add everyone else in the world living in that same reality. A reality where everyone is trying to get theirs. Everyone's worth and value exists while scratching and clawing their way through everyone else to find their glory. Backdrop that with a world filled with virus and disease, physical and mental disabilities, natural disasters, old age, famine and drought, war and death. That is the reality of a world without the gospel. That is the reality for billions of people - people without the hope of the gospel. People existing in a broken world, suffering at the hands of others, suffering at the hands of a fallen creation, and suffering by their own sin and brokenness.
How can we look at that world with anything but compassion and empathy? How can our hearts not break for those existing in such darkness and despair? Too often Christian culture exists in a bubble , protecting itself from the brokenness that surrounds it. Brothers and sisters this is a call to empathy, a call to compassion, a call to tread into the recesses of the muck, wade into the swamp of a fallen world, armed with a hope that outweighs the most despondent misery, equipped with a joy that outshines the deepest most darkest night of the soul, to bring to the broken that which heals all. “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned” (Matthew 4: 16).
Hope in the inevitable product of a gospel context, by looking both inside of ourselves and outside of ourselves, the gospel gives a hope greater than any we could imagine. Let us pour that hope on the unredeemed, and salve the wounds of the suffering with the immortal joy of the gospel.