The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Passing the Test’ preached by Pastor Michael White on Sunday, 5/5/2019, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click
Testing of the Lord
Do you ever feel like God is “testing” you? Like He is allowing certain undesirable situations in your life to persist, so you can grow? Are you in the middle of a test right now?
David was a man who experienced the “testing” of the Lord. Remember that David was anointed to be king between the age of 10 and 15 years old; yet it would be twenty years before David became king: first over Judah (age 30), and then over all of Israel (age 37). So, what took God so long? Why didn’t God thrust David into his destiny immediately? If God knew David was His guy, why did He make him wait so long?
David experienced the “testing” of the Lord. But he wasn’t afraid of it; in fact, David welcomed it:
Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity. I have also trusted in the Lord; I shall not slip. Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my mind and my heart. For Your loving kindness is before my eyes, and I have walked in Your truth. I have not sat with idolatrous mortals, nor will I go in with hypocrites. I have hated the assembly of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked. – Ps 26:1-5
David invited God to test him. Look at verse 2: “examine me, O lord, and prove me; try mind and my heart.” David knew something we should know: God already sees what’s going in in your mind and heart; so instead of pretending nothing is wrong, why not run to Him? Instead of trying to block Him out (knowing He sees what’s inside anyway), why not invite Him in to do some Holy Spirit surgery?
David not only welcomed the tests; he also valued the tests:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. – Ps 139:23-24
David knew that inviting God into his heart was a litmus test for his true internal condition. If there was any wicked way in him, David wanted God to know. He wanted God to get it out! And he knew that it was only by giving God an invitation to test him – to try him and examine him – that his heart could be healed.
What I want you to see here is that David did not fear the testing of the Lord. He didn’t run from it! In fact, he embraced it.
God Tests Us
God tests His people. However, the way He requires you to “pass” the test is probably different than you’d expect. We have to understand that the “testing” of the Lord is very different under the Old Covenant, versus under our New Covenant of grace through Jesus Christ.
Under the Old Covenant, God tested His people with a very specific purpose. We see this explained after the death of Joshua. The people of Israel had just settled in the Promised Land; but they were still surrounded by enemies.
By the way, this speaks to your current situation. Scripture says that we are “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor 5:20). We are in this world; but not of this world. God has made us messengers in this fallen world, with a mission to show the world the love of God. He has given us an inheritance – salvation – but for the time being, we are in hostile territory. We are surrounded by the work of the “prince of the powers of the air” (Eph 2:2); and in that condition, God wants us not only to survive, but also thrive!
So when God’s people were surrounded by enemies, what did they do?
Then the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not.” Therefore the Lord left those nations, without driving them out immediately; nor did He deliver them into the hand of Joshua. – Judges 2:20-23
They failed! God was angry at His people because they couldn’t pass the test! God allowed Israel’s enemies to persist because He needed to know if they really loved Him. He needed to know if they would follow His word – even when things got tough – before He trusted them with more.
But no matter how hard God’s people tried, they couldn’t get it right. They couldn’t pass the test!
In Judges 3, the pattern continued:
Now these are the nations which the Lord left, that He might test Israel by them, that is, all who had not known any of the wars in Canaan (this was only so that the generations of the children of Israel might be taught to know war, at least those who had not formerly known it), namely, five lords of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites who dwelt in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal Hermon to the entrance of Hamath. And they were left, that He might test Israel by them, to know whether they would obey the commandments of the Lord, which He had commanded their fathers by the hand of Moses. – Judges 3:1-4
God had a very specific purpose in His testing. He was testing His people to teach His people (v 2). There was a new generation of Israelites who did not “know war” (v 2). They hadn’t experienced victory firsthand. They hadn’t seen God’s faithfulness with their own eyes. God allowed enemies to persist: not so His people could be defeated, but so His people could experience victory!
So why didn’t His people experience victory? Because they wouldn’t listen to Him. God was angry (Judges 2:20) because no matter how much instruction He gave His people, they just wouldn’t do what He asked!
I have a 5-year-old son. My wife is home full-time with our three children, so she makes dinner most of the time; but every once and a while, it will be my turn. Whenever I make dinner (disclaimer: it’s usually mac and cheese!), my son and I have an exercise. Before I start to cook, I ask him to go and sit at the table. All I want him to do is sit in his chair! It’s an exercise in waiting in obedience; if he will just stay where I ask him to stay, I will bring him what I promised to bring!
But guess what happens as soon as I turn my back and walk into the kitchen? He gets up from the chair! All he has to do is sit still – in the boundaries I have set for him, for his own good – and I’m going to bring something satisfying to him. But he just can’t do it. He doesn’t have the maturity. He has too much energy! He goes and gets a toy, or a book – or he just runs around the table – and before he knows it, he’s in trouble.
This is why God was so angry with His people! They just couldn’t stay in the chair. He asked them to do simple things – love Me with all your heart! (Deut 6:5) – but they kept getting up and taking matters into their own hands.
How Do We Pass the Test?
So, how do we keep God from being angry with us? How do we pass the test?
I recently conducted an informal survey among our congregation. I asked two questions. The first: does God still test us? No less than one hundred percent of respondents said yes. The second question was more difficult (and open ended): If God tests us, how do we pass the test?
The responses to the first question were uniform; but the answers to the second question were all over the map! One person said “perseverance and faith.” Another said, “By letting go and accepting that we can’t be perfect.” Yet another replied, “We endure” (with a crying face after her answer). Perhaps the best response was, “I can’t pass; so I fail, and I pray.”
Here’s the point: we all agree that God tests us; but none of us agree how to pass the test! And that is a big problem! What good does it do to know God tests us, if we don’t know how to pass?
Under the Old Covenant, God was testing His people’s behavior. The way His people had to “pass the test” under the Law was doing exactly what He said. Perfect obedience! That should be a terrifying realization for us. Why? Because no matter how many times God’s people tried to get it right, they couldn’t! They always ended up failing. So if His people failed, how do you and I stand a chance?
If the only way to “pass the test” is with perfect behavior, we are all out of luck. None of us is perfect, and we know it! James puts it this way:
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. – Jas 2:8-10
James lays out the startling reality that if we’re anything short of perfect; we’re completely imperfect. If we choose to be judged under the Law by trying to “pass the test” with good behavior, we are setting ourselves up for failure. But aren’t you glad there is a better way to “pass the test” on this side of the Cross?
Jesus Already Passed
The Cross of Jesus Christ changes everything. You and I could never pass the test on our own. We could never do exactly what God has asked us to do, 100% of the time! But what if Someone else has already “passed the test” for you?
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Heb 4:14-16
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, already passed the test! God requires perfection; and Jesus is perfect! He was “in all points tempted as we are” (v 15). He was exposed to every temptation, struggle, sickness, and hardship you and I could ever face! But the difference between Him and us is, while we always fail, Jesus is PERFECT! HE PASSED THE TEST!
You are not under the Old Covenant anymore. You don’t have to be judged by the Law! You are under the New Covenant of grace! That means the way you “pass the test” is no longer by being perfect! It is by having faith that Jesus was perfect in your place: by believing that He passed the test for you!
Under the Old Covenant (the Law), your behavior was tested. But under the New Covenant (grace), your faith is tested! Aren’t you so glad you live on this side of the Cross!
The Point of the Test
God is not testing you to break you; He is testing you to refine you. It is for this reason that David was grateful for the tests:
For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. – Ps 66: 10
David trusted that the testing was producing something. He knew that even though it wasn’t always comfortable, God was refining him in the testing.
Before the Industrial Revolution, there was a person called a silversmith. His responsibility was to take silver that was mined from the earth, and turn it into the finished product you would find in a jewelry store. The silversmith would take the unrefined metal and put it in a huge pot. Then, he would turn up the heat. As heat was applied, he would stir the metal.
As he stirred, impurities (“dross;” Prov 25:4) would rise to the surface. Whenever something “wicked” (Ps 139:24) rose to the surface, he would skim it out! This is what God is doing as you are going through the testing! He is allowing anything that does not need to be in you to come to the surface, so He can take it out! The testing removes impurities! It kills impatience! It extracts “selfish ambition and conceit” (Phil 2:3)! The testing of the Lord causes every unholy thing in you to rise to the surface: not so that God can make you feel bad about your shortcomings, but so He can strain them out!
God’s testing is doing something in you. He is making you more refined. He is making you more like Him! The silversmith would stir and stir – removing impurities as they came up – until the process came to a close. Do you know how he would know his work was done? He would be able to see his reflection in the silver. What was once a messy hunk of metal had become a pure, undefiled final product!
And God is doing the same thing in you. The testing may be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. You may not like it! But it is the process God uses to conform us to the “image of His Son” (Rom 8:29).
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. – Jas 1:2-4
© Michael D. White, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael D. White with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.