So, with that in mind, let's begin with a popular Proverb today...
Proverbs 17:3 (ESV) The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.
Both the "crucible" and the "furnace" as they are mentioned in the above verse were used for refining and testing the purity of gold and silver. The true character of gold is seen in a refiner's fire, and so faith's true character is only revealed when tested.
Ok, so what is God saying to us here? What are we supposed to learn from this verse? What does He mean that He "tests hearts" like it says? Furthermore, why would He even do something like that?
To answer those questions, let's start with what we know to be true.
God tempts no one (James 1:13) in the way that Satan tempts us to sin in order to achieve our destruction and fall (1 Peter 5:8), and we know that "the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). However, it's also true that God tests and tries us.
What!?! How can this be? That doesn't sound right, does it? And yet, it's entirely Biblical and true.
These days, far too many Christians speak of "The Victorious Christian Life" as though a life completely free from any kind of trial and tribulation let alone a struggle with sin is possible if not also "crystal clear evidence" that you're a "True Christian" too, and, if that's not the kind of life you have at the moment, well, then you might have a good reason to start doubting your salvation.
Friends, this kind of belief, teaching, and confession is a perversion of God's Word! Worse, how does that give anyone hope when it's likely hope that they desperately need? Look, as a Lutheran, it's true that we believe what the Bible teaches through each and every warning to be careful not to fall away from the faith and risk losing your salvation, but this is not the way to point that out to people.
Never mind the fact that if that's our Litmus Test (a.k.a "The Victorious Christian Life"), then what do you say to the handicapped Christian or the brother or sister in Christ who just lost their job or found out they've been diagnosed with cancer? Plus, if that were true, then we'd also have to conclude that a majority of the divinely inspired authors of the Bible (including the Apostles) weren't "True Christians" either given their circumstances, doubts, fears, feelings, and struggles in life!
That particular mindset is just so damaging and destructive to one's faith. Ironically, it actually creates or perpetuates the very problem it claims it wants to avoid and prevent (1 Timothy 1:18-19). So, let's dig in and take a closer look at this topic in an attempt to better understand it.
First, it's important for us to distinguish between "testing" (a.k.a. "being tested") and "tempting" (a.k.a. "being tempted") though.
The "testing of our/your faith" generally refers to the "external circumstances" of life (James 1:2-12). So, in that sense, any challenging circumstances that befall a Christian would be considered "testings" or "trials" even. The "tempting" we speak of is typically referring to our/your "internal struggles" against sin.
As you can see, those are two very different things, but they're often confused in any conversation about this subject.
"[God] does not test in order that we may fear and hate Him like a tyrant but to the end that He may exercise and stir up faith and love in us. Satan, however, tempts for evil, in order to draw you away from God and to make you distrust and blaspheme God."
-- Martin Luther (Luther's Works, 4:132)
Needless to say, that's why it's 100% true that God tests us, but 100% true that He doesn't tempt us.
He tested Abraham in order to teach him (Hebrews 11:7), and it is through many trials that we enter God's kingdom (Acts 14:22). Scripture assures us that we will not be tested beyond what we can endure though (1 Corinthians 10:13). In addition, the Apostle Peter also speaks of testing and refining the genuineness of faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).
1 Peter 1:6-7 (ESV) In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
What does this mean?
"All Scripture compares temptation to fire. Thus here St. Peter also likens the gold that is tested by fire to the testing of faith by temptation and suffering. Fire does not impair the quality of gold, but it purifies it, so that all alloy is removed. Thus God has imposed the cross on all Christians to cleanse and to purge them well, in order that faith may remain pure, just as the Word is, so that one adheres to the Word alone and relies on nothing else. For we really need such purging and affliction every day because of the coarse old Adam."
-- Martin Luther (Luther's Works, 30:17)
This is most certainly true.
The words "for we really need such purging and affliction every day because of the coarse old Adam" definitely describes me too!
The reality is that we are all born in sin and will continue to commit sins even after becoming a believer due to the temptations of our fallen flesh, the world, and the devil, but this is different from being tested in this life.
We certainly don't blame God for these temptations (remember, He tempts no one as James 1:13 says!) or blame Him for the presence of sin in our lives and the world. We merely recognize the reality of its presence all around us and within us and then be on guard against it at all times without ever taking it lightly.
By ourselves, we have no hope of salvation. Thankfully, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Redeemer! He has broken our bondage to sin, delivered us eternal life instead of eternal damnation, and has given us the free gift of salvation! Through the power of the Holy Spirit, He has promised to bring us to faith and to help us persevere in the faith as we receive (and remember) Him, His life and work upon the cross for all mankind, and His means of grace that are His Word and Sacraments.
So, let's take comfort knowing that even though we are both tempted and tested on a daily basis, our faith is in the One who said, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Even so, we need to prayerfully consider the lessons learned from that same passage of the text.
In short, those Christians who boast about "spiritual maturity" stand in great danger of succumbing to human pride and unbelief. When we face temptations and tests in this world, we can take heart that Christ, not us, not ourselves, has overcome overcome the world for our sake.
While we Christians should never intentionally seek out tests or trials, we should expect them in this life, and we should be ready to face them in faith, with God's power, of course, and simply trust that they are always for our own good (Romans 8:28).
At the end of the day, we have to understand that it's not so much a faith in the strength of our own faith that we're after here either. Not at all! What we should be seeking is a confidence in Someone outside of ourselves that is entirely based on the Person and work of Jesus, which promises us the assurance of hope in Christ (1 Peter 1:8-9).
What we should desire and pray for us a firm faith that trusts in God's faithfulness to us, trusts in God's Word and Sacraments, and that trusts in His provision, because only then do we receive His blessings (Luke 11:9-13).
Through the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we now have a living hope and know the promise of God that we will live in Him forever. We can face any trial knowing we are always safe in His care and we can look forward to that day we are in His kingdom, in His presence, for all eternity.
I pray that the Lord would strengthen us in our faith even in the midst of trials and suffering so that we may gaze upon the glory of our Savior. I pray that we will continue to learn how to focus our faith on Him and the cross rather than focusing on ourselves and our circumstances. I pray that He will give us rest when we fail at doing that as we surely will from time-to time (Philippians 4:7; Matthew 11:28-30).
Personally, I don't think there are more sobering words about this issue than those we read in James 1:1-18 in his letter to Christians who are facing many trials and temptations. Yes, those who face such tests may be tossed about (James 1:5-8), and yes, some may even eventually find themselves destroyed by sin (James 1:15). Yet, those who continue to seek God's wisdom through it all will endure such trials (James 1:2-4).
In Baptism, God gives His struggling children like us the crown of life not because of our strength, but because of His grace. In that grace, we can follow Him and live confidently in this world of constant struggles and uncertainty.
Now, here's where the two ("tests" and "temptations") appear to be connected even though both have their root in different and opposing sources.
In this life, the tests from God may be used by Satan, the world, and our flesh to tempt us to doubt His promises! However, just as He did with Abraham, God will strengthen our faith, assure us of His many promises, help us to trust, and fulfill all He said He would do.
Romans 4:20-25 (ESV) No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
Behold, Christ's righteousness imputed to us!
When sins are forgiven, only the fruit of faith remains!
In a Lutheran layman's terms, thanks be to God that we have been refined by the righteousness of the Redeemer!
NOTE: Please understand that I'm not a called and ordained minister of God's Word and Sacraments. I'm a layman or just a regular Christian, Corporate Recruiter, Husband, Father, Friend who lives in the "City of Good Neighbors" here on the East Coast. As another Christian Blogger once wrote, "Please do not see this blog as me attempting to 'publicly teach' the faith, but view it as an informal Public Journal of sorts about my own experiences and journey, and if any of my notes here help you in any way at all, then I say, 'Praise the Lord!' but please do double check them against the Word of God and with your own Pastor." To be more specific, and relevant to the point I want to make with this disclaimer/note, please understand that I'm a relatively new convert to Confessional Lutheran who recently escaped American Evangelicalism a little more than 3 years ago now. That being said, please contact me ASAP if you believe that any of my "old beliefs" seem to have crept their way into any of the material you see published here, and especially if any of the content is inconsistent with our Confessions and Lutheran doctrine (in other words, if it's not consistent with God's Word, which our Confessions merely summarize and repeatedly point us back to over and over again) so that I can correct those errors immediately and not lead any of His little ones astray (James 3:1). Also, please be aware that you might also discover that some of the earlier/older pieces I wrote for this blog back in 2013 definitely fall into that "Old Evangelical Adam" category (and they don't have a disclaimer like this) since I was a "Lutheran-In-Name-Only" at the time and was completely oblivious to the fact that a Christian "Book of Concord" even existed (Small/Large Catechism? What's that!?!). This knowledge of the Lutheran basics was completely foreign to me even though I was baptized, confirmed, and married in an LCMS church! So, there are some entries that are a little "out there" so-to-speak since the subject matter was also heavy influenced by those old beliefs of mine. I know that now and I'm still learning. Anyway, I decided to leave those published posts up on this website and in cyberspace only because they are not blasphemous/heretical, because I now have this disclaimer, and only to demonstrate the continuing work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in my life (Hebrews 12:2; Philippians 1:6). Most importantly, please know that any time I engage in commenting on and/or interpreting a specific portion of the holy Scriptures, it will always closely follow the verse-by-verse footnotes from my Lutheran Study Bible and/or include references to the Book of Concord unless otherwise noted. Typically, I defer to what other Lutheran Pastors both past and present have already preached and taught about such passages since they are the called and ordained under-shepherds of our souls here on earth. Finally, I'm going to apologize ahead of time for the length of most entries (this disclaimer/note is a perfect example of what I mean! haha). I'm well aware that blogs should be short, sweet, and to the point, but I've never been one to follow the rules when it comes to writing. Besides, this website is more like a "Christian Dude's Diary" in the sense that everything I write about and share publicly isn't always what's "popular" or "#trending" at the time, but is instead all the things that I'm studying myself at the moment. For better or for worse, these posts tend to be much longer than most blog entries you'll find elsewhere only because I try to pack as much info as possible into a single piece so that I can refer to it again and again over time if I need to (and so that it can be a valuable resource for others -- if possible, a "One-Stop-Shop" of sorts). Thank you for stopping by and thank you in advance for your time, help, and understanding. Feel free to comment/email me at any time. Grace and peace to you and yours!