Proving Your Metal
Who couldn’t use a big fat trial right about now to grease the ol’ gears of the sanctification process? I know I could! Yessir.
Except that’s not how we normally think, is it? We might be able to use it – but that’s not the same thing as wanting it, is it? The reality of life for the believer is that God uses trials to refine us and glorify himself. Divorced from the truths of the Bible, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
I am convinced that one reason trials as a reality of life are such horse pills to us is because we do not understand the difference between being tested and being tempted. These are both very biblical concepts with very different meanings and purposes, yet we not only conflate the two terms, we conflate their sources. We may never admit out loud that God tempts us, but that’s how we act when we begrudge our trials and wonder “why?” We know the Bible says that God does not tempt (James 1:13) yet we act as though he does.
Is it comforting in any way to know that while God does not tempt, he does test you? For example, as King Hezekiah became exceedingly rich, “God left him alone only to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart” (2 Chr 32:31). When God led the Jews out of Egypt, he gave them the Sabbath ordinance “that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction” (Exo 16:4). Abraham was tested by God (Gen 22:1) when commanded to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice; afterwards God told him, “Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (v12).
All of these were trials, even when things seemed like they were going good, and God was using the trials to test them. Testing, in these contexts, has to do with proving the quality of something. Manufacturers test their products. Your car would not be considered safe unless it had been put through rigorous tests to make sure it would hold up under specific conditions. The point of the tests is not to destroy the product, but to prove how much it can withstand. Just like when you see those ads where they run a car into an immovable wall to test whether the car will protect the dummy passengers, God uses trials to test our faith. Like Hezekiah, he tests us to know all that is in our hearts. Trials are our litmus test. James says that the “testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:5). Peter told his suffering readers that the reason for their suffering was “so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:7). The testing refines us; it proves what we are made of. True gold will endure the flames; fake gold will melt away.
Yet trials are also temptations. Temptation is not interested in ensuring quality; its purpose is to destroy and corrupt. Using our previous example, if testing is driving the car into the wall to ensure passenger safety, then temptation is driving the car into the wall for sheer delight, watching blissfully as those dummies are tossed through the windshield. While God tests to ensure quality, it is Satan (Matt 4:1-3; 1 Thes 3:5; 1 Cor 7:5) and our flesh that tempts (James 1:14).
A trial is simultaneously a test and temptation; they are two sides of the same coin. To give into temptation is to fail the test; to pass the test is to resist temptation. And therein is the beauty: God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able (1 Cor 10:13). Paul’s point to the Corinthians is not that God will always get us out of the trial, but that he will equip us to endure it. Perhaps even more beautiful is the fact that when we do fail tests, God is still faithful (1 John 1:9; Php 1:6). He uses those failures to notify us of his need for him. Indeed, our time on earth is one giant trial consisting of many smaller trials. Failure in a smaller trial does not constitute failure in the larger.
What better example is there of this duality than Job? In Job 1:6-12, we see these two principles at work in full force. God is not interested in seeing Job sin. He delights in his righteousness (v8), yet also wants to sanctify him (which we see later in chapter 42). Satan, on the other hand, is interested in seeing Job curse God (1:11). Ultimately, Job endured a great trial while being both tested and tempted. Though he stumbled and struggled with grappling with his reality, God equipped him to persevere. By God’s grace, Job’s quality was proven. Job was a true believer, and his endurance proved it.
Though, like Job, we do not fully grasp the depths of our trials, we can take heart that God has quickened us to endure and persevere. He is conforming us to his image, not destroying us. He himself has been tempted and knows how to rescue us from temptation (2 Pet 2:9). If you have a root, you will endure. It is only those who have no root in Christ that will be blown away by temptation (Luke 8:13). Ultimately, it is our endurance that proves who we are in the first place (Heb 3:14).
Christian, let God work his perfect work (Php 1:6; James 1:4). Let us see that testing explains any circumstance. Let us pray to see our trials as God sees them: as opportunities to hold fast, to glorify our Master, to prove the will of God (Rom 12:2). Let us not yield to the temptation to curse God.
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.