Testing our Faith

The Purpose of Trials

By Julio Cotto

We all go through trying times where our faith is tested. In both the Old and New Testaments, the words translated "test" mean "to prove by trial." Therefore, when God tests His children, His purpose is to prove that our faith is real. Not that God needs to prove it to Himself since He knows all things, but He is proving to us and those around us that our faith is real, that we are truly His children, and that no trial will overcome our faith. Remaining faithful throughout any trials we may face is evidence of our faith. In His Parable of the Sower, found in Matthew 13:3-9; Mark 4:2-9; and Luke 8:4-8, Jesus identifies the ones who fall away as those who receive the seed of God's Word with joy, but, as soon as a time of testing comes along, they fall away. James says that the testing of our faith develops perseverance, which leads to maturity in our walk with God (James 1:2-4). Similarly the Apostle Paul wrote that we "glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us" (Romans 5:3-5).

If we struggle when being tested or stumble along the way, this does not necessarily mean that we do not belong to Christ or that our faith is not genuine. One example would be Peter's threefold denial of Jesus found in all four Gospel accounts: Matthew 26:69-74, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-62, and John 18:15-18, 25-27. Peter had followed Jesus after His arrest and watched Him being falsely accused, beaten, and insulted (Mark 14:57-66). When people began noticing Peter and asking if he was one of Christ's disciples, out of fear Peter denied even knowing Christ. However, having disowned Christ actually strengthened Peter's faith and equipped him to strengthen his brothers (Luke 22:32). Not only did Peter strengthen the other disciples, but he became the pillar of the early church in Jerusalem, exhorting and training others to follow the Lord Jesus (Acts 2). We learn from our mistakes, repent, strengthen our faith, and persevere as believers in Christ.

However, if we continually find ourselves being unfaithful and denying Christ, then we need to closely examine ourselves "to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test?" (2 Corinthians 13:5). Jesus said, "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword" (Matthew 10:32-34). The sword that Christ brings is what divides believers from unbelievers, the good from the wicked, those made righteous by grace through faith in Christ from those who reject Christ and remain dead in their sins. Christ made it clear to us; "anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it" (Matthew 10:37-39).

We are believers not because Christ promised things will be easy for us, but because of the message of the cross and Christ's promises of salvation through His forgiveness, mercy, love and grace. We are told that "we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). What Jesus did for us at the cross was not easy, yet He willingly gave His life for us and took all of our sins upon Himself even though we have done absolutely nothing to deserve this, that we may have eternal life with Him. Although most of us will never have to endure the suffering that Christ endured, we still go through hardships due to our faith. But the end result of any struggles we may face will be more than worth the temporary hardships of this life. We are promised that those who persevere and stand firm to the end will be saved and inherit eternal life (Matthew 10:2 2, 24:13; Luke 21:19; James 1:12). In Romans 8:18 Paul writes "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."

We should never become discouraged or lose faith because of what others may say or think. Jesus said that Christians do not belong to this world, and warned us that we would be hated by the world because of His name (John 15:18-25). In John 16:33 Jesus says, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." Even though you may feel afraid at times, you must know that God is always with you and you should not fear. You also have no reason to feel ashamed. You should feel proud to be called a child of God. Those who practice ungodly things are the ones who should feel ashamed and definitely be afraid of God. The Bible tells us that God will bring all that is hidden in darkness into light and expose the motives of the heart, bringing everything into judgment (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Luke 8:17; 1 Corinthians 4:5; Ephesians 5:13).

You also do not need to condemn those outside the church who practice ungodly things. You must not condone or agree with their sinful actions, but judging and condemning should be left to God alone. Paul said, "What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked person from among you'" (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). There is no need to debate, especially with unbelievers and the ungodly. We are told that:
...the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
Therefore it is pointless to debate with the "wise" according to the world's standards.

Paul goes on to say that many of us were not wise by human standards or influential when we were called, but:
God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
There are many scriptures that advise against debating and "foolish arguments" (Titus 3:9; 2 Timothy 2:16, 23). But we are told to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander" (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Although peer pressure and the negative influences of this world may affect many Christians, we must remember that we are not of this world. In order to overcome peer pressure Christians are to live as foreigners and exiles in this world. We must do our best to "present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly." (2 Timothy 2:15-16). This is why it is important not to condone any ungodly acts, no matter the situation. As Christians, we should be clear on our stance regarding things we do not agree with, things that do not agree with the teachings of Christ and the Word of God. We do this not by condemning others in anger and with words of hate as some who claim to be Christians do. Rather, we may express our disagreement in different ways, while remaining true to the gospel. First Timothy 4:12 says, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity." Anything we say or do should be in love, faith, and purity, that we may prove ourselves to be "blameless and pure, 'children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.' Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky" (Philippians 2:15). There is also no need to fear or be ashamed of the gospel, "because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).

Apart from setting an example and being the light of the world, the Bible tells us that we should not "have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful" (2 Timothy 2:23-24). Paul goes on to say in the next 2 verses, "Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." Therefore when a person's actions or speech do not agree with the truth of God's Word, Christians are to kindly and gently instruct them with the truth in love and faithfulness to God, while avoiding any foolish arguments as they are unprofitable and useless (Titus 3:9). We should keep in mind Proverbs 15:28, "The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil."

You can be an example of Christ. An example in that Christ can take a sinner who can be afraid and ashamed yet still love that person, extend His mercy and grace to them and change them into a new creation, a child of God. "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:6-80). 2 Timothy 2:11-13 says, "Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself." You must persevere and continue to read the Word of God. Pray that God guide you and strengthen you in the faith. Earnestly seek Him and you will find Him.

Published 6-15-2015