Sometimes we, as Christians, can over simplify the ways that God works in our lives. Not only has God been around since before time began, He actually dreamed up all of creation, everything that exists, natural laws, moral laws, and human beings. He intimately designed us, both in our physical characteristics and personalities, consciences and souls. He wrote redemption’s plan before He created the world, and when He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He could already see the culmination and fulfillment of time.
But yet He limited us by time. We are bound to moments passing, to growth, to maturity, to learning and to temporal understanding. God did this so that we could understand depravity, wickedness, our need for a Savior and His glory in saving us. Every moment that we have on this Earth is preparation for eternity and an opportunity to get to know God more fully by dying to ourselves, learning about Him through His written word and revealed self, and growing in our faith.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
– 1 Thess 4.3
So if the will of God is our sanctification, that is, becoming more like Christ and dying to the flesh, how does He bring this about? It is an interesting truth that we are incapable of becoming more like Christ on our own. It is the promise of God, however, that He is the one who is working in us to make us more holy, we need only to submit and allow Him to do this work in our lives, and join Him in the efforts through the strength He provides:
“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.“
– Phil 2.12-13
We all know that the way we mature and grow is through learning and testing. We start at five years of age being instructed and tested on intellectual comprehension. Sports teams undergo exhausting workouts in order to train muscles and skills, and then we time ourselves and push ourselves. When we want to refine and purify precious metals, we put them through fire to burn out all of the impurities. We understand testing and refinement in all aspects of our lives, although we often neglect and misunderstand refinement in our spiritual lives. We know and often quote the reality that God does not tempt us:
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”
– James 1.3
Since God does not tempt us, we reason to ourselves that God would not put anything in our path that would cause us to stumble; He would not allow circumstances that would cause us to doubt. We carefully put God in His little box on the shelf which thinks that He would only allow and do things that would make us happy and successful. Because He cannot tempt us, because He is not evil.
But yet, consider the root of temptation. A seductress or a tempter is one who is evil and is attempting to lure another into joining a sin or practice. It is the child on the play ground declaring, “All the cool kids are doing this”, already partaking in whatever activity it is that he would see another do – or hoping to see another preform an action that will lead to his demise. It is the college-aged youth who tells obscene jokes or hands out his pornography for his buddies to enjoy as well. The one who tempts has wicked intentions and desires to affirm himself by seeing others fall into the same wiles in which he already lives.
God does not do this. God is not evil, and He cannot be tempted by evil, and thus He tempts no one. It is not God’s heart and intention to see us fail, but rather to see us succeed, grow and mature. And He does test us in order to bring about those results. Unrefined gold remains of lesser value, but when put through the fire the impurities burn out and it becomes more pure.
“I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.”
– Jer 17.10
Jesus tested Philip by putting him on the spot to see if he had faith, if he would understand the will of God to feed the people who had followed Jesus to hear His teaching:
“Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.”
– John 6.5-6
Jesus already knew the plan and knew how He was going to feed everyone. But He wanted to test Philip in order to develop and mature him. This was for Philip’s benefit.
“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…Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
– James 1.2-4, 12
“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 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 Peter 1.6-7
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
– Rom 5.3-5
From the outside, a temptation and a test might look the same. A parent might put a child in a situation where he has to make a moral or ethical choice on his own, and to the child it might seem to be a temptation. But the differentiation is not in the situation but the heart of the outsider. A parent, hopefully, would have the child’s best interest at heart and would have offered training and instruction to help the child make the best decision at the point of testing. A tempter would seek to lure the child into failure. Jesus posed the question to Philip in order to test him, while Satan asked similar questions to Jesus in order to tempt Him. God does test us, because He will refine us and develop of our holiness. He is at work within us. And with every test and temptation, He will provide a way out. We need only to seek Him, and trust Him.
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
– 1 Cor 10.13
So let us seek Him diligently! Let us see His hand behind our testing and trials, and let us glory in the holiness that will result from our obedience and conviction. And when we do fail, let us return to Him confidently who paid the ransom for our souls, and let us repent and grow.