by Mike Ratliff
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV)
I doubt that I am unique in my dread of fiery trials. I have been a Christian long enough to know, however, that despite what men such as Joel Osteen preach and teach, testing by fire is the way God perfects our faith unto completion to prepare us to be before Him in glory. I have been rereading Grace Abounding To the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan. He was a mighty warrior of the Christian faith, but he was made so by the great craftsman of our faith, our Lord, through the fires of temptation and tests that left a legacy of Biblical Truth for the body of Christ that is timeless. He lived in the 1600’s yet we are still reading of how God took a man who confesses all through this wonderful book about how wicked his heart is; but through his repentance and spiritual growth through fiery trials and temptations, God matured him and used him for His glory.
The second time through this book has been wonderful for me. I read it a couple of years ago, but then I did not get the detail that God is giving me this time. Perhaps it is because of some of my own tests and trials this year that God is showing me or confirming in me the purpose of the physical and mental testing that I must deal with daily. When Bunyan first began preaching he was in the midst of a terrible trial of his faith. He was under continual attack from our enemy who was continually condemning him for having “sold Jesus.” The accusations were that he was not really a Christian and was outside of God’s grace because his sins were too great. However, when he would climb the stairs to the pulpit of the church in Bedford, England the enemy would leave him. Complete peace and joy would return as he preached the gospel. Lives were changed and he became quite well known as one whose preaching was touched by the Holy Spirit. However, he also confessed that as he would climb down those same stairs after preaching, the enemy would return to accuse him. This continued for over two years.
In chapter 10 Bunyan reflects back on the work God did in his heart through that period and how the strength and spiritual maturity God grew in him through this prepared him for the even greater trial of being arrested and imprisoned for being a non-conformist preacher of the Gospel. He was in prison for 12 years because he refused to stop preaching. It was while in prison that he wrote the first version of The Pilgrim’s Progress. One of the hardest parts of The Pilgrim’s Progress for me to read through is after Giant Despair captures Christian and his companion and holds them in the dungeon of Doubting Castle. The reason it is hard is that our enemy continually attacks me and many other believers I know very well so that we nearly come to despair as we are held captive in our doubts. Of course, the character Christian was patterned after Bunyan himself. At his salvation at the Cross he is given a key to hang around his neck. This key was the promises given to all Christians at the Cross. After Christian prays with his companion for a way of escape from their tormentor the key is revealed to them as if they saw it for the first time. The promises given to us at the Cross opens all the doors in Doubting Castle my brethren. They use this key to return to the narrow path to the Celestial City.
For whatever reason, according to God’s plan, He is allowing our enemy to attack me from every conceivable direction. The medication that I am taking to keep me seizure free has a few side effects. One of them is a tendency over time to cause depression to deepen. There are days that I feel as if I am in shackles in Doubting Castle and Giant Despair is torturing me with the evidence of my wicked heart. I never doubt that God’s grace is sufficient, but I, like Bunyan, do very much see my sin and my complete unworthiness for salvation. There are days that I plead with the Lord to come and take me home. This is a fiery trial.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13 ESV)
I was not surprised that right in middle of this physical trial that the fiery trial of accusation from some other enemies came to bear on me and this ministry. The truth war is a terrible, ugly thing and those who seem bent on redefining truth to meet their own agendas are also unscrupulous in their methods. What we must not forget is that God is allowing this to happen for His own purposes, for His own glory.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:14-19 ESV)
The Greek words used in v18 translated here as “scarcely saved,” are μολις σωζεται, which literally translates as “scarcely is delivered.” The “scarcely saved” here is not saying that the righteous have just barely received salvation. No, the truly righteous are saved in the midst of suffering and none of their salvation is easy and simple. Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:19 ESV) The closer we walk in obedience to our Lord, the more our Lord will allow our enemy to attack us in various ways in order to bring us to places of repentance and spiritual growth. My own experience in this is a severing of my love or desire for the things of this world while deepening my love for Jesus Christ and my desire to be with Him in eternity.
Let us pray for our Lord to come quickly. However, if His plan is for us to remain and grow more mature in Him then let us pray for the strength to stand firm in Him no matter how deep and hot the fiery trials are that we must endure.
Soli Deo Gloria!