Wednesday, March 30, 2005

This is a Test

What are we doing here? (No, I am not about to quote Rick Warren.)

This life we are now living is a test, a trial, a training and refining period. Sounds like boot camp...and in some ways, it is. The Word of God repeatedly exhorts believers in Jesus Christ to stand fast in the faith (1 Cor 16:13) and to be on guard (1 Thess 5:6). The Word informs us that we're in a race that we must run to win (1 Cor 9:24). We are told repeatedly to test ourselves and teachings we're given (2 Cor 13:5, 1 Thess 5:21), which I cannot help but connect with the command of Jesus to take up our crosses daily (a continual endeavor that is both commanded and empowered in us by the Lord). Today I'd like to look at some scripture about these things.

First, all the testing--whether we're doing it to ourselves, or whether God is testing us--is done out of love and for our (and others') benefit. God wants to make us like Jesus, and is molding us into That image.

Gal 6:1-5
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

No matter what situation we are in, be it restoration of a dear brother or being tempted to exalt ourselves over others, we must be ever mindful of our desperate state before the Lord without His precious blood, and walk in humility. Without Him, we have nothing; we owe Him our lives.

"Let each one test his own work." Is the Lord building the house, or am I seeking to please men with my deeds? Am I simply doing what is right in my own eyes, or has the Lord truly led me? If a refining fire (1 Cor 3) was set upon my deeds right now, would anything be left, or would it burn entirely away? If we take up our cross daily and listen to the Lord's voice, obeying His Word, we are building on a sure foundation:

1 Cor 3:12-15
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw--each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

We are told to stand fast, test everything, and guard ourselves because we have a real enemy.

Eph 6:10-13
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.

Who, in this world, is told to be on guard, to stand fast and to watch? For whom is it vitally important--a life or death issue? To a soldier at war, watching for the enemy. He's prepared ahead of time and knows what to do if he sees the enemy coming. When he does see the enemy approaching, because he has been on the alert, he is not taken by surprise and defeated or injured.

1 Peter 5:8-9
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

1 Cor 16:13
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

1 Thess 5:6
So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

The testing and refining, happening more and more as we obey and abide, is purposed to transform us into the image of Christ. We can take comfort in testing and trials: the Lord knows what He is doing.

Rom 8:28-29
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

2 Cor 3:18a
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory...

Col 3:9b-10
You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

When we face trials, God is doing something. Suffering always has a purpose. I don't say that dismissively; I say it to comfort. I can know, for example, that God has some purpose in the fact that I have not had a child yet. I can take comfort in His sovereign purpose in my life, knowing and trusting that He's got a plan and that He will lead Ryan and me in the way we should go.

The early church faced persecution, as our brothers and sisters around the world currently do, that ranged from the seizure of property to actual bodily harm and murder. In those sufferings God was (is) being glorified and was (is) accomplishing His purposes in and through them. Someday, as the end of the end days come, all Christians everywhere can expect persecution. We must familiarize ourselves now with the suffering that is common to the saints, and prepare ourselves beforehand so we are not taken by surprise.

Heb 10:32-39
After you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

"Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him."

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

Matthew 24:9-13
"Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

I like to remind myself frequently of the many, many times the Bible tells me to stand fast, to be on guard, to watch, and to expect trials and sufferings. It keeps me mindful that I am in a war against an unseen enemy, and that I serve a mighty God. "Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).

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