The Risk of Introspection
Do you spend time thinking about what makes you tick? Do you think about the deeper things that drive your actions, your heart motivations, and your desires (James 4:1-4)? Do you consider in deep ways why you do what you do and why you say what you say? We should spend time thinking about these things. The word we would use for this “looking deeper” to our inner motivations is, “introspection.”
Introspection is “the examination or observation of one's own mental and emotional processes.” Puritan Thomas Watson called this “self-examination.” In his teaching entitled The Necessity of Self-Examination, Thomas Watson says, “We ought to be much concerned to know whether we do not live in some particular way which is offensive and displeasing to God. This is what I principally intend. We ought to be much concerned to know whether we do not live in the gratification of some lust, either in practice or in our thoughts, whether we do not live in the omission of some duty, something which God expects we should do, whether we do not go into some practice or manner of behavior, which is not warrantable.” So, you see there is real benefit to our self- examination.
And it is important to identify and inspect our deeper heart motivations, why we do what we do and the “heart issues” that we have. The Bible encourages us to do this. Proverbs 4:23 makes this clear, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” And in 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul 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? —unless indeed you fail to meet the test.” Yes, examine if you have saving faith in Jesus. This is the most important question one can evaluate. And believing in Christ by faith is the most important thing you can do in this life. Self-examination is essential to this. And while it is good and necessary to examine ourselves, when we engage in this introspection it can seem overwhelming.
As you look deeper within and become aware of motivations for why we do what we do, you will be confronted with things. Realizing them and being confronted by them can be unpleasant, and hard to take. You will likely find selfish ambitions, sinful motives and sinful inclinations and even be confronted with your idolatry (Ezekiel 14). These things reside in our hearts. Jeremy Pierre says “Sin’s corruption hinders human emotions, and so people’s hearts are inclined to find joy in what he (God) hates, to be disgusted by what he says is good, to be fearful of what he says brings life.” Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it”? This word for “deceitful” carries with it the idea of the heart being insidious, sneaky, and slippery. Why look inside and evaluate your deeper motives for what you do? Because our hearts are sneaky, and they must be evaluated and kept in check. Paul says in Romans 7:15 “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
Understanding these things about ourselves can be very humbling and even a bit overwhelming. But take heart, God already knows all there is to know about you. And His Word is your best guide on what to do next. When you and I look inward deeply, and discover hard things about ourselves, Jesus is ready to help us walk through it. For His plans and purposes and to bring Him glory.
When our self -examination doesn’t have the right purpose in directing us towards God and seeing Him as bigger, you and I can sink into only concentrating on ourselves. We become very self- focused. Jared Mellinger says in his article Look Up Trading Introspection for Awe, “The Spirit’s goal in showing us our sin is to drive us to Christ and be in awe of Him.” That’s so important to not just dive into your introspection without seeing the goodness of God and having our focus on Him, not solely so focused on ourselves that we neglect to make Him the biggest part of our story. As John Ruskin (Victorian painter and philosopher) said, “A man wrapped up in himself makes a very small parcel.” And there you have it! If were not careful we can get lost in our introspection and self- examination. We make our problems and deficits the most important thing. But real help comes when we concentrate and focus less on our own wants and needs and more on who God is and how amazing He is. After all, this life isn’t about all our wants, needs and selfish desires.
Paul says in Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Don’t forget to make Jesus the biggest part of our thinking. Colossians 3:2-3 says “Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” John MacArthur remarks that, “the believer’s entire disposition should point itself toward the things of heaven and heavenly thoughts can only come by understanding heavenly realities from Scripture.” The exhortations seem clear, don’t get lost in your introspection but look up, see God and His goodness and be in awe of Him.
While there is value in understanding what “makes you tick” and value to thinking about your deeper heart motivations, don’t forget about the “bigger picture.” The “bigger picture” being who God is and how awesome God is. Seeing Him as bigger than everything else helps keep us from getting stuck in concentrating so much on ourselves and getting stuck on ourselves. Living for Him and serving Him should always be our focus. John Calvin said, “No man can take a survey of himself, but he must immediately turn to the contemplation of God in whom he lives and moves.” What is necessary, essential, and helpful is for us is ultimately for us to direct our thoughts and our worship to God and to be in awe of Him. This helps us have proper perspective of ourselves and have Him be the priority, not our problems.