The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord's throne is in heaven;
His eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face. (Psa 11:4-7)
It seems to me that for mankind as a whole, history has been comprised of a series of tests, orchestrated by God to show us how bad sin really is, and how loving, patient, merciful, and gracious God is:
Adam and Eve were created sinless, placed in the perfect environment, and enjoyed perfect fellowship with God. There was just one tree in all the world that they could not partake of in order to test the genuineness of their love for God, as manifest by their obedience to his command. (Gen 1-2) We are not told how long the state of this first test continued, but it seems to have been only a short time later that man fell.
When mankind sinned, we not only committed an act of treason against the holy King of the universe, but we were also violating the very reason God created us. Either of these facts would make the immediate forfeiture of our lives justified – however, God in his patience, love and mercy did not wipe us out instantly. Instead, He introduced disease, suffering, and a slow motion death and decay process into the world – a living parable of the awfulness of sin. The second test was whether man would repent and surrender when faced with the 24-hour-a-day visual effects of the horrors of sin, and the knowledge of his eventual demise.
Romans 5:14 says “death reigned from Adam to Moses”, but about 2,400 years after the world was created God gave us His law, which lays out in precise detail exactly what it means to live righteously. No longer could man live in a daydream of self-made standards and comparisons. The third test was whether we would give up our rebellion and repent when the light of God's law shone into our hearts to reveal the depths of the inner blackness. Yet in response, mankind coveted what was forbidden, (Rom 7:7-10) and treated the ceremonies which were designed to affect our hearts as mere mindless routines which would guarantee us God's favor. (Isa 66:3-4)
In the fullness of time, Christ came to His chosen people with an offer to forgive their sins, set up his earthly kingdom, and rule over them in righteousness. He called the Jewish people to “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”. But Christ was unattractive, poor, born to unknown parents (under questionable circumstances), uneducated, was not a member of the religious elite, and preached peace and the suffering of wrongs. Here then was God's fourth test: would man repent and surrender his rebellion if salvation was offered free of charge, even if the offer was completely devoid of earthly appeal in order to test the purity of our motives? No, the Lord Jesus Christ was a stumbling block and a rock of offense. We would not have this man rule over us.
Now the stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner upon which Christ builds his church. In this age of grace, God freely offers the gift of salvation to both Jew and Gentle. The risen Christ was personally seen by hundreds of witnesses, and throughout the ages men have shared testimonies of Jesus' saving power in their lives. The fifth test is whether we will repent and surrender after Christ's claims to be God have been abundantly proved by His resurrection and the miraculous transformations of those around us.
Soon, the church shall be raptured from the earth, and then the seven year tribulation will begin. During that time, the earth will become more and more like hell, with darkness, pain, a scorching heat, and a longing for the release of death which will flee from them. The sixth test will consist of God showing the world the end result of its rebellion and asking “are you sure this is what you want?” Once again, those who repent will be saved.
Christ then establishes his earthly kingdom and reigns with His martyrs over the unregenerate nations for 1,000 years. During this time He will rule perfectly, but strictly “with a rod of iron”. The seventh test is whether people will repent and turn to God after being given a taste of the New Earth and “the kindness and severity of God”.
For us as individuals, there is, perhaps, an interesting parallel between our personal journeys and the stages of history we've already discussed. We are all born in a fallen state and soon become aware that there's a God through the witness of nature, which portrays to us His invisible attributes, external power, and Godhead clearly so that we are without excuse according to Rom 1:20 - but we also see death all around us and know that this will be our end as well. To some people, God gives the privilege of learning about His righteous Law, the good news of the gospel, and the realities of both Heaven and Hell. The test for each of us, as always, is whether we will repent of our personal rebellion and turn to God for salvation from our sins, or whether we will not glorify Him as God, nor be thankful, but become futile in our thoughts, and let our foolish hearts be darkened. (Rom 1:21)
Most or all of us in this room have asked Christ to be our savior. The question for each of us is “What is the purpose and meaning of my life? How does God want me to live, now that I'm saved”?
The first part of the answer to that question is that we are to “deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him”. (Matt 16:24) As saved saints, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit but also still have our fleshly desires. Each day we must ask: “will I live according to my own self-centered desires and thus act like one who is still in rebellion against God – or will I die to myself, take up my cross, and follow Christ wherever he leads and thus act like one of His loyal subjects?” Jesus said that when we obey Him, we show him that we truly love Him. Anyone can speak words and make promises, but we are to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:11-12), discipline our bodies, bringing them under subjection so that we will not be disqualified from the race. (1 Cor 9:24-27) We must “endure hardship”, and “not entangle ourselves with the affairs of this life, that we may please Him who enlisted us soldiers.” (2 Tim 2:3-4)
Now, that's fairly well discussed in our Christian circles. What's less talked about is that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Heb 11:6) Taken out of context it may be tempting to think that that verse speaks about the faith we needed to have to ask God for salvation – but that's not what's spoken of in Hebrews chapter 11. Instead, the entire chapter is full of amazing acts of faith of God's saints: Abel offering his sacrifice. Noah building the ark. Abraham leaving family behind and later being willing to put his son on the altar. Moses' parents hiding him from Pharaoh. Moses forsaking Egypt. The list goes on.
Those are Old Testament examples, but think of the demands Jesus made of his disciples:
Unlike the heathen that do not know God, we are to “take no thought” of where we will get our food and clothing from, but instead we are to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” trusting that these earthly things will be given to us.
We are to love even our enemies who hate us, curse us, and spitefully use us.
We are supposed to “hate” our mothers, fathers, wives, children, and relatives for his sake - fighting against our natural desire to put our families first in order to put the Lord first instead. (Luke 14:26)
Having faith as a grain of mustard seed which can cast out demons and move mountains. (Matt 17:20)
God does not just want us to say that we “had faith” years ago that He would save us from our sins. He desires that we walk in faith today, trusting Him for what is beyond our strength or understanding. When we do so He is pleased to answer in mighty ways, that we may rejoice, and that His name might be glorified upon the earth. We are called to live radical lives for Him, which is exceedingly difficult, but He will reward our obedience in Heaven.