Sometimes life as a Christian is a mountain-top experience: life is going our way and it is easy to be content and at peace. Other times we encounter difficulties and we may ask God, “Why am I going through this?” We may wonder if we are being tested or even punished.
Does God Test His People?
Personally, I have a hard time accepting that God needs to test us to see if we are ready to move to another level. God is omniscient: meaning He see’s everything, not just now but past and future as well. As such, He knows us better than we know ourselves. Why would He need to test us? Further, I cannot find anything in the Bible that says we are being “tested”, as in an examination to determine our knowledge of a subject or proficiency in a sport, when we encounter difficulties. But that does not mean there is not a purpose behind it. For in fact, even God’s own Son was subjected to trial.
In Luke chapter 4 we have the account of Jesus being led into the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan. Why? Did God lack confidence in Jesus? That is doubtful, for God had just said that He was “well pleased” in Jesus.
The chapter opens with the statement that Jesus was “led” into the wilderness. The word translated as “led” is the Greek word “ago” (ag’-o) which means to carry, bear, bring, or lead. Jesus did not wander off into the wilderness on a whim, He was obeying the command of the Holy Spirit.
Here He was tempted (which means severely tried) by Satan. Three instances are recorded and these three are significant in that they match the pattern of temptation of Israel: “turn this stone to bread” correlated to the hunger and provision of manna (Exodus 16), “All this authority I will give to you” correlates to the experience at Massah (Exodus 17), and “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” correlates to the golden calf in Exodus 32. Where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded.
Jesus did not subdue Satan through logical debate as would the Greeks, or physical confrontation as the Romans did with adversaries. In each case, Jesus refuted Satan by quoting scripture. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus was tempted in all ways, as we are, therefore we too can escape Satan’s temptation if we hold to the scriptures.
Surely, Jesus’ trials in the wilderness were not corrective action, but to be instructive (to us) and to fulfill prophesy. We, however, not being as attuned to God’s will as Jesus: may occasionally need corrective action. In Hebrews 12, verses 5-11 the writer quotes Proverbs 3:11-12:
11 My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord,
Nor detest His correction;
12 For whom the Lord loves He corrects,
Just as a father the son in whom he delights.
Job 5:17-18 tells us: “Happy is the man whom God corrects”. Just as a human father who loves his child will “chasten” or correct (provide guidance) a child whom he loves, God also offers direction/correction when we step out in rebellion and self-will. The severity of the redirection will be commensurate with the strength of our willfulness.
1 Peter 5:10 tells us that our suffering for God (that “for God” part is important) serves to perfect us (which does not mean flawless, but complete) establishes us in faith, strengthens us, and settles us in God’s will.
1 Corinthians 11:32 states that we are sometimes chastened by the Lord so that we are not condemned with the world. That statement seems confusing: if we are saved, and if salvation is forever, how can we be “condemned with the world”?
This is a tricky topic, and one I have written on before. To pursue that topic I encourage you to read Revocable Salvation. God will attempt to redirect us when we are on the wrong path and heading for danger, but if we are insistent on following our own will rather than God’s it is possible for us to march ourselves into separation from God’s favor and mercy.
But if we pay attention to God, especially when we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations, God can use the situation to build our faith and strengthen our bond with Jesus. He will direct us back onto the path of righteousness and away from danger.
Job 23:10 and Psalm 66:10, refer to God using trouble to purify our faith just as silver or gold is refined by burning away the impurities. These do not say God causes the trouble, just that He uses it.
James chapter 1 states:
2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
Our Own Doing
To further complicate the matter, sometimes (more likely: oftentimes) we fall into trials and trouble because we have made poor choices and the trouble we’re in has nothing at all to do with God. The Bible tells us that God can work all things to our good, so even these can be turned into a lesson if we will listen. But don’t go blaming all your troubles on God! More often than not, if you’re in a mess: you got yourself there.
When we make decisions in our own wisdom, we often end up with less than ideal results. When we take counsel from God in all things, they work out better.
How Do We Know?
So, how do we know if we’re being tested, or purified, or redirected – or if this is just our own mess? Listen to God. He speaks to us through The Word.
If you are reading the Bible daily and opening yourself to Him, God will show you amazing things! He will teach you patience. He will give you wisdom. But you have to shut out the noise of the world and actively listen for God’s voice. He does not speak to us in a thunderous bellow. It’s more a tickling of the mind, and it comes primarily through God’s Holy Word.
All scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. rights reserved.