Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Trial of Faith (Part 1)

In the field of law, evidence is essential in proving whether something is true. Rules of evidence exist to assure that fact finders base decisions on the most credible and reliable evidence. In a sense, the same is true when it comes to the higher call in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to test and examine to see if we are in the faith. We need reliable and credible evidence and an authoritative rule to know what evidence is admissible. That rule is the Bible.

In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul writes, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!" In this trial, God's Word must be our standard. Any other standard or source is both faulty and foolish. Many, however, turn to themselves, others and traditions as the source of authority. They pursue human reasoning. The result of that pursuit will be dangerously flawed and can be eternally damning. Many people just avoid the process. It may seem too challenging. Maybe the question, "Will I be proven authentic?" is too unnerving and maybe there is a concern about being honest before God. The gravest risk, though, is not to "examine, test and realize." It is equally as risky to engage in this trial and not base the process on the Word of God.

Before examining the evidence recognized by the Bible as reliable and relevant, there are several questions we have to ask ourselves in light of 2 Corinthians 13:5. First, who is supposed to conduct the trial? There are always people who would love to do that with your life. But Paul is very emphatic at this point. He literally says, "You, yourself examine, test and realize." This trial is the primary responsibility of each individual for their own life.

Second, we need to know something about the procedures that are involved. We find guidance in this passage. The first step, Paul says, is to "examine." That word means to look for specific proof. It is a word that has the idea of optimism. You don't go at this in a negative way. Good things will come from this examination. Next he says "test yourselves." The word "test" speaks of an objective evaluation centered around a central issue. I have seen many trials where there is a lack of understanding of the issues. Without that understanding you will wander aimlessly and the discovery of truth will be an illusive endeavor. One critical part of legal training involves learning how to determine the issue or issues. Paul says that is important in this trial. Finally, Paul says there is something we need to realize about ourselves. That brings us to the real, central issue - realizing, based on what is true, whether you are in the faith, that is, whether Christ is in you. What Paul is describing is a picture of what takes place in our own judicial system. You determine who has jurisdiction to conduct the trial. You follow the correct procedure. You discover the evidence and determine what evidence is valid or admissible based on an authoritative rule. You present that evidence and a conclusion is reached based upon that evidence. In the trial of faith, the conclusion or realization that we seek is expressed in the question asked in verse 5, "Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you." The realization called for in this trial involves a growing awareness that Christ is in you. This ties us directly to the process of and importance of sanctification. For many there may be an arrested awareness. It is easy to have a lack of or a retarded growth of that awareness and there are many reasons for this. If this is part of our discovery, then we need to take steps to deal with it immediately.

Third, we must determine what evidence is valid when it comes to the trial of faith. What evidence is admissible in the trial to determine if we are in the faith and if Christ dwells in us? If you are in the faith and Christ dwells in you, you can start this process with the assurance that there will some evidence supporting that fact. If I am a Christian - that is, one in whom Christ dwells or one born of God then there will be evidence of that fact. You may have to reject alot of so-called evidence in the process of getting to the real evidence. Certain things may have to be ruled inadmissible. That will be good because of the result that can be achieved. You may find that the evidence has grown dim and become muddled. As you begin to place your life up against the Word of God and allow God's Spirit to reveal things in your life, you may also be confronted with the need to repent. We may have to deal with this need at every turn because of how muddled our lives have become or how neglectful we have been in the matter of progressive sanctification or growth to maturity. We may find it painful to ask, "Can I see Jesus in my life?" Can I see a transformation taking place? What ever it takes, though, know this - it will be worth the pain to ask serious questions and take stock of where we are in our spiritual journey.

Fourth, there will be witnesses that can be called in this trial. Again, we want reliable and credible witnesses. What are reliable witnesses according to Scripture? I will be brief in this; but I would challenge you, as I challenge myself, to keep looking in God's Word for these witnesses and sources of evidence.

There is the witness of the Spirit - an inner testimony. Romans 8:16 says "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God..." I have struggled at this point - that is as long as I have struggled with the source of my faith. Once it became clear to me that faith followed the new birth, it became easier to listen to the witness of the Spirit. My mind was freed of an unnecessary burden or battle about how I got saved. I have also struggled because I have not fully understood the scope and might of God's forgiveness. Paul speaks of this in 2 Corinthians 7:10. "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." You cannot think or function properly if your life is weighed down with regret. God's forgiveness is so deep and complete that there is no need to fret with forgiving ourselves. With the Spirit's help and the power of grace, we need to understand and accept the completeness of God's forgiveness. Unconfessed sin will affect the witness of the Spirit. According to Ephesians 4:30, He is grieved and this grief will weigh you down. However, when the witness of the Spirit has been released, we also find the inner witness of peace through our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says in Romans 5:1 "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." There comes a sense that the war has ended and God's justice has been satisfied. You start to see, in a clearer way, your righteousness in Christ. You begin to experience a deepening reality of the truth expressed in Philippians 3:12. "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own." I realize, at this point, that I am doing more than mentioning evidence. It is really a two-fold point that I am trying to make - find the evidence and then make the evidence stronger. Paul says as much in this passage - "There is more, press on." There should also be evidence in terms of a desire and thirst to hear God speak. 1 Peter 2:2 says, "Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—" There is also the matter of evidence seen in the driving force of one's life. What do we want the most? In Philippians 3:8, Paul says, "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ." I have to say again, that, within each of us, these witnesses, if present, may only be faintly heard. That will have a lot to do with the extent of our growth into Christlikeness or our sanctification.

In "The Trial of Faith (Part 2)" we will consider the evidence of birth traits in those born of God. We will be looking at something akin to DNA results that aid in determining family relationships. However, this will be DNA of a spiritual nature. There is a condition when it comes to considering evidence of spiritual birth traits. In order to recognize this evidence we have to know something. We will consider that condition in part 2 of "The Trial of Faith." The trial of faith is not an ordinary or simple endeavor. It is one that demands utmost seriousness and effort. But behind this trial is an awesome promise. It is found in Colossians 1:27 where Paul says, "To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of the mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." Paul says that this is God's promise to the saints. Announce ready for trial. Gain a growing awareness of Christ in you - not just ideas or knowledge about Christ that you may have, but CHRIST IN YOU - for real through faith.

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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