What Kind of Test Are You In?

31“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

What was Satan asking God for and why did he have to ask? Satan wanted to shake Simon Peter’s faith, but because Peter was a believer, he had to ask for permission from God to sift and shake the apostle’s life. God allowed the test to come to Simon Peter because he would be a stronger disciple when his heart had been broken because of failing the test. What was the test? After Jesus was arrested, three times Peter was asked if he had been with Christ. Three times Peter responded that he didn’t know Him. His heart was broken with remorse and repentance when the cock crowed and he remembered Jesus’ words that before the cock crowed he would deny three times that he even knew Christ. Peter was much too self-confident and God had to allow him to be humbled and broken before He could use him to preach the gospel in power on the Day of Pentecost. He was brought to a place of abundance, in spiritual terms, after the trial of his faith. God knew Peter’s heart. He knew that he would deny Jesus, but He also knew that Peter would return and that his faith would be restored.

Let’s just say that you are a person who has a love for Christ, but when the going gets tough and the fire gets hot in the midst of the refinery, you default to a lifestyle of denying that you know Christ by the way you live your life. It becomes easier to default to sin and disobedience when one is going through the fire of testing. You cease being an overcomer and go to default mode, allowing life to do to you whatever it will. What kind of test does God put you in? We need to overcome in the everyday challenges of our lives in order to be prepared to face direct challenges to our faith that may come to us one day. It is easy to go through life not thinking about such things, but the truth is that the choices that you make daily are what will prepare you for whatever tests will come in the future. Perhaps a test will come to you at some point in your life when you may be asked; “Are you a follower of Jesus the Christ?” Do you think that it would ever be possible that even here in America, you could be hauled off to a prison camp for being a terrorist by replying “yes” to such a question? If you think that is a fantastic or ridiculous notion, consider this; such persecution for faith has happened in other parts of the world in the past, and it is happening in many countries today. Whenever a government or regime comes to power that is in extreme opposition to the message of Christ, they will make Christians appear as a subversive group, working against the common good of the people, it is possible that taking a stand for your faith could mean intense persecution, loss of material goods, or loss of life. The early Christians experienced such things. Isn’t that the kind of test that Peter the apostle faced?

Another thought related to the passage above is that whatever trial we are going through, the Lord is praying for us as He was for Peter, that our faith will not fail. The Word of God says that he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Hebrews 7:25). This is encouraging because we know that God always hears His Son’s intercessory prayers for us.

Keith Thomas

The Testing of our Faith is for a Purpose

10For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. 11You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. 12You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance (Psalm 66:10-12).

See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction (Isaiah 48:10).

Sometimes our lives are full of burdens and it seems as if God is nowhere. In fact, it seems as if He is letting men ride over our heads and lay burdens on our backs. Why would God allow these things to go on in the lives of His children? God views our testing as a refining of our character. Just as a metal sword made for combat was put through the fire, refined and hammered on the anvil, in the same way God allows for trials and difficulties to come to our lives so that we may grow spiritually through them. We do not know God’s plans and purposes for our lives. Our life experiences would make more sense if we could only look into the future and know what we are being made into. Often we don’t see God’s plan until twenty years later when we are enjoying the fruits that come from the trial. What is the fruit of trials? I would say that it is a greater anointing of the Spirit and a maturing of our character—these are the things that please God. Of course, this can result in other blessings in our lives and in the lives of others too. God has a purpose and a plan for each one of us. How do I know that? The mother of the two disciples, James and John, asked that they would be able to sit in the best positions in the Kingdom of God, on the right hand and on the left hand side of Jesus. Jesus replied saying that those places are for those who will endure the cup of suffering in the same way as Jesus would and did. He said to James and John:

“You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23).

What can we infer from this passage and several others? God knows what He is doing. John and James wanted the seats of honor on either side of Jesus, but were they ready to take the same cup of suffering that Jesus was to take? To be great in the sight of God is to be a servant of all, and to put self on the altar in order to serve even through times of suffering. The way up is the way down. Christ must become greater, and we must become less important. God has seen ahead of time those who, in their heart of hearts want to go all the way with Him. In the preparation and refining of His people, God prepares ahead of time opportunities for His servants to be exercised in servant hood. He has seen the end from the beginning. He has a picture of the finished product of your life that He is making you to become. You are a product of the choices and responses to different trials that God has prepared in advance for you. When the cup of suffering is handed to you, will you choose to take the way of suffering or will you opt for the easy way out of the trial and compromise your faith?

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

What does this scripture say? First, it says that God Himself is working on you—you are His workmanship. Secondly, it says that you were created to do certain works that God Himself, outside of time, before the creation of the world, prepared in advance for you to do. May you be all and do all that He has planned!

Keith Thomas

The Pruning of the Vine

Christ wants for us to be partners and participators in the fellowship of the Godhead and the process of fulfilling His purpose on the earth. He said:

1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” 3You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  (John 15:1-3).

Charles Swindoll makes several observations about this passage, which I have found helpful. In his book, Insights into John; he states:

“Firstly, this passage has meaning for believers only. Any non-believer trying to apply these truths will become hopelessly confused. Jesus was not describing how one becomes a Christian, but how one lives as a Christian after placing trust in Him. Second, Jesus draws heavily on the metaphor of a vineyard, a powerful symbol with roots running deep into the soil of Israel’s history. No illustration touched the Hebrew soul like the image of a vinedresser and his vineyard.  Third, the primary subject of Christ’s teaching is abiding (KJV) or Remaining in the NIV, not bearing fruit. At no point in the discourse is the believer commanded to produce fruit. Instead, we are promised that if we abide, fruit will result. Fourth, the illustration Jesus chose would have been familiar to every disciple and virtually all of John’s readers, but it is unfamiliar to most of us today, therefore, we must be careful not to milk every detail for symbolic meaning. Illustrations allow us to see the bigger picture; that must be our focus here. Jesus is summarizing the care a vinedresser gives to a vine… The Lord reassures the disciples that they had already been pruned. The adjective translated “clean” is based on the same verb for “prune” in verse 2. He followed this assurance with a command to “abide.” The verb means “to remain” or to “stay in place” often in reference to one’s home. Upon meeting Jesus, Andrew and John asked Him “Where are you staying [or abiding]?” “Abiding” in terms of this metaphor refers to the branch remaining connected to the vine. Branches that do not receive nourishing sap from the vine cannot produce fruit- or live, for that matter.”[1]

What is pruning a picture of? What is the Father’s motive in pruning us? How does He prune? This picture of the Father’s pruning is not indicative of God cutting unfruitful Christians off of the Vine (Christ). When you gave your life to Christ, God rescued you from the dominion of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13). He won’t throw you out because you are not fruitful enough! You are secure in God’s love and faithfulness. This passage above is about the way in which the Father goes about bringing more fruit from your life. The Father wants us to be fruitful and will exercise His rights to remove dead wood from our lives. The dead wood are wrong attitudes that need to be cut off, the kind of attitude of believers that have never become disciples, the kind of believers that only want ten cents worth of God:

I’ll have ten cents worth of God, please. I want enough to get a taste, to actually have Him, but not so much that it costs me much. I don’t want to get distracted from the things that I really want. I don’t want to be consumed by a huge dose of God. I want enough to feel pretty good about myself, enough to make my life respectable and manageable–enough to get me through the pearly gates. I’ll have ten cents worth of God, please….

[1] Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s New Testament Insights, Insights into John. Published by Zondervan, Page 260.

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!

24Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” 27Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” 28Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” 29″I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:24-30).

In his Gospel, Matthew tells us that, when the young man heard the entry requirement, “he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:22). The Lord did not go after him and renegotiate the terms. After all, a rich man coming to church could do a lot of good. Jesus watched him walk away, saying that it was a hard thing for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. “Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

There are three common explanations that will help us to understand Jesus’ words. One suggestion is that the eye of the needle refers to a small door in the walls of a city. The tour guide in Israel, for instance, will point you to a small door at Bethlehem that is called the Eye of the Needle door. They say that the small door stopped raiders riding into the city on their horses, raiding and pillaging, and then riding out again. When a merchant would come in with his camels, they had to be stripped of everything and then had to bend down to get into the city.

The second explanation put forward by Origen and Cyril of Alexandria was that kamēlon was a misspelling of the word, “rope,” kamilos. For those that hold to that view, it should read, “It is easier for a rope to go through the eye of a needle.” One would have to unravel every strand of the rope to get it through the needle.

The third possibility is that Jesus was saying that, just as it is an impossible task to get a camel through the eye of the needle, in the same way is it an impossibility for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. This is a figure of speech from Mesopotamia. The saying there was of trying to thread an elephant through the eye of a needle. Of course, there were no elephants in Israel, so it was changed to the largest animal, the camel. What Jesus was saying was that it was an impossibility for a rich man to be saved by trusting that his riches had any merit on his spiritual bank account.

The disciple’s response was one of incredulity. They said, “Who then can be saved?” (v. 26). The rich were seen by the Jewish people as those who were blessed of God and accepted by Him. Their thought was that, if the rich could not get in, how could the poor? However, it is the same for rich and poor alike: salvation is an impossibility for men, but with God all things are possible. It is impossible for man to make it on his own terms. There is only one way, i.e. through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ for you and as you. What’s impossible for man is possible with God. The good news is that God has made a way. Jesus is the way! His substitutionary death on the cross was in place of guilty man. He died for you and as you. The price of death was paid by God Himself.

Peter seems to want confirmation that they are doing enough. They had left all to follow Christ. The Lord’s encouraging word to them is that they and all who follow Him shall receive many times as much in this age and in the age to come, i.e. eternal life. For everything that the Lord requires you to give up, there is so much more of life’s true riches to be gained.

The great English cricketer, C.T. Studd, was born into wealth and luxury in the 1870s. He received the finest education that money could buy, e.g. attending Cambridge University where he became captain of the English national cricket team. Studd was considered England’s greatest cricketer. He had everything going for him, e.g. a huge fortune laid at his feet at the death of his father. However, God had a different plan for him than wealth and fame in this world. He went to hear D.L. Moody speak about Christ and, at the end of the message, gave His life to the Lord. He chose to give up his estate and his fortune, and he gave it all to mission work by even going himself to China and then India and Africa, too. To many people, that decision was a rash move and a tremendous waste of intellect and ability. However, to Studd and six others who went, it was using their ability to the fullest. They laid down their will to God’s call and purposes. “Yet not my will but yours be done.” He once said:

If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him (C.T. Studd).

Keith Thomas

The Rich Ruler Comes to Jesus

18A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19″Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.” 21″All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said. 22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth (Luke 18:18-23).

Few of the religious rulers had any time for Christ, yet this man seems compelled to get an interview with Jesus. He is so serious about finding eternal life that Mark tells us that he runs up to Jesus and falls on his knees before Him (Mark 10:17). His rich robes are all muddied in the dirt while he is on his knees blurting out, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” One of Satan’s schemes to deceive a man from turning to Christ is to have him look for things he can do to please God. People hope that God will see how hard they trying to please Him and reward our work by opening the door of the kingdom to us. Satan enjoys watching people work hard at trying to please God with their good works. He is the master of deception. The rich ruler had a serious question going on in his inner man— “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 18). This man had no assurance of salvation even though he thought that he had worked hard all his young life to gain peace with God. Before a man can receive the Kingdom, he must first see how far short of perfection he has fallen. The standard that God demands is perfection:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

Our problem is that we are sinners by nature and fall far short of the standard God requires. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. It is in our very nature to sin. No matter how good a person thinks he is, just one sin makes us fall short of perfection and needful of God’s grace and mercy.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10).

The Law and Commandments was given as a means for us to see how we have transgressed over the line into sin. How would we have known what sin was without the Ten Commandments? Paul the apostle wrote: “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law, rather through the law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20). The importance of the law cannot be overstated. How can one have need of a Savior if he has never been convinced of his need? Presenting the gospel with no accompanying message of how a person has fallen short of God’s glory seriously minimizes the message to a person’s heart. A person loves much when he sees just how much he has been forgiven. Jesus stated it like this: “he who has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47). The greater our perception of our personal sin to a holy God, the greater our love response when we are forgiven our sin. God is looking for a love relationship with His bride, the Church, you and me. We are given an inner conscience that tells us before we sin, that what we are about to do is wrong. It punishes us as a judge if we do not listen to that inner voice and still go ahead and sin. The Internal Revenue Service received the following letter from a conscience-stricken taxpayer:

“Dear Sir: My conscience bothered me. Here is $175.00, which I owe in back taxes.” There was a P.S. at the bottom that read: “If my conscience still bothers me, I’ll send in the rest.”[1]

This rich young man’s conscience was bothering him. John Trapp said: “Conscience is God’s spy and man’s overseer.” Jesus pointed him back to the commandments, so that he could see how far short he fell. Shrugging off his conscience he claimed to have kept the commandments since he was a boy, but still something was missing. The Lord saw his heart as only God can do and told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor.

This rich young ruler’s problem was that he loved things more than he loved God. The Lord considered this young man’s soul and saw that he was holding something back, and that it was keeping him from surrendering his life to God. Whatever crutch we lean on in life, God wants to kick away until we totally lean on the finished work of Christ. Christianity is not a crutch; it is a wheelchair—we lean our total trust on Him alone. The rich man walked away, shoulders slumped, face downcast, because his one thing that he was holding on to kept him from enjoying the spiritual rest of Christ. There is a rest for our souls when nothing is held back or kept in reserve, or leaned upon. Don’t let anything hold you back from total abandonment to Christ. He will be there to support you. That is the essence of faith. Keith Thomas

[1] 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, Michael P. Green, Page 79.