Tabletalk Subscription
You have {{ remainingArticles }} free {{ counterWords }} remaining.You've accessed all your free articles.
Unlock the Archives for Free

Request your free, three-month trial to Tabletalk magazine. You’ll receive the print issue monthly and gain immediate digital access to decades of archives. This trial is risk-free. No credit card required.

Try Tabletalk Now

Already receive Tabletalk magazine every month?

Verify your email address to gain unlimited access.

{{ error }}Need help?

Sometimes our own sin produces trials, temptations, and the testing of our faith (e.g., Ps. 106). Westminster Confession of Faith 18.4 makes clear that our sin may diminish our confidence in our assurance of salvation.

Nevertheless, sin isn’t always the direct cause of trials, temptations, and testing. Our challenge in understanding trials, temptations, and the testing of our faith becomes most poignant when our personal experience does not match up to our customary expectation for moral coherence and justice. Sometimes our own trials occur not merely because of our own personal sin. The books of Ecclesiastes and Job make this point clear. When the wicked don’t receive their comeuppance and the righteous suffer indescribably, people cry out toward heaven. “How can the wise die just like the fool?” (Eccl. 2:16, CEB). How is it that “there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous” (Eccl. 8:14)? Job’s “friends” assume that he must have sinned, considering his suffering. They wrongly deduce, based on the principle that the righteous prosper and the wicked suffer, that Job must be wicked. Yet life is not always so black and white. James, Paul, and Peter help us with these difficulties.

James has some of the most relevant teaching in Scripture on trials, temptations, and the testing of the Christian’s faith. He writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (1:2). The “trials” that he has in mind are both inward and outward, which we can see from the fact that James uses the same Greek word in verse 12 and following to refer to inward temptations. Furthermore, note that James refers to trials “of various kinds.” In short, James is speaking to everyone who undergoes trials and temptations.

James wants us to have the right attitude about our trials. When considering what our reaction to trials should be, his answer is simple and surprising: we are to welcome these trials because they strengthen our faith and perfect our Christian character. In short, trials will reap an increase in a godly life.

Specifically, James says that we should “count it all joy” when we encounter these various trials. But he would have us define joy. It’s a joy that comes from above, not below. It is the joy of one who has the end perspective—that is, a heavenly perspective.

James declares that the reason that a Christian can have such a posture during trials and tribulations is that we know something about them, something that the world does not know. James can command his audience to have joy because these trials are producing something that we must have in our character: steadfastness. This is an active quality.

Trials are producing something that we must have in our character: steadfastness.

But the Apostle doesn’t stop his train of thought here. This character quality of steadfastness leads to something further. James is concerned not merely with the development of one virtue but with the development of character itself. He continues, “And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:4). The New Testament does not teach perfectionism, or that any mere human being can achieve perfection. Our achievements in virtue will always be unstable and fall short. So what does he mean?

I think that James is turning our attention toward Christ. The reader will remember what the writer of Hebrews said:

Although Christ was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him. (Heb. 5:8–9)

The focus of this passage in Hebrews is on Jesus’ preparation for being the climactic High Priest on our behalf. Here in Hebrews, the focus is not on resisting temptation; rather, “perfect” here means “fit” for the office of High Priest by exercise of strength and positive righteousness. Think on this: our Lord overcame the natural disinclination to suffering that we all have as humans. Our Savior and sympathetic High Priest refused to choose ease; instead, He joined in a contest for us, suffering in His obedience so that we could “count it all joy” when we encounter trials and temptation. He is producing a character of steadfastness in us.

It seems that some of the members in the churches that James was writing to may have reasoned wrongly by assuming that since God is sovereign, then He must be solely responsible for their temptations (see James 1:13). Rather, James desires that they recognize that temptation has its genesis in our own inner being. Moreover, God, our heavenly Father, wants only good gifts for those who love Him (vv. 17–18).

These truths seemed to have made a deep and lasting impression on the Apostle Paul as well. He proclaimed enthusiastically after describing his visions and revelations from the Lord and his hardships about his thorn in the flesh that “for the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). He and his companions had suffered afflictions and declared that they “were so utterly burdened beyond our strength” and that they had “despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” Nevertheless, Paul affirmed that this was so in order that they might not rely “on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (1:8–9).

Peter also makes some interesting claims about trials near the beginning of his first epistle, which sound very similar to those made by James (see 1 Peter 1:6–7). How can Peter make such bold and audacious claims? The answers, of which there are two, can be found in the larger context. First, Peter claims that Christians are the new chosen people of God (2:9–10). Second, Peter directs our attention to the ultimate story of our lives: our liberation in Christ, which is grounded in the original exodus of God’s people out of Egypt but goes beyond it to achieve the deliverance of God’s people from an even greater bondage to sin, a second exodus that our Lord has procured for His chosen people.

In the first two chapters of 1 Peter, the exodus is surely a controlling metaphor. Images of the exodus from Egypt are pervasive (see especially 1:3–2:10). These allusions include the Passover, the demand to be holy, the golden calf, ransomed (i.e., redeemed) lives, and an unblemished lamb (see Ex. 12; 15:13; 32; Lev. 11:44; 19:2). The Christians whom Peter is addressing should not look back (as the Israelites did), but they should press on toward their “inheritance that is imperishable” (1 Peter 1:4). Why would Peter paint his canvas in exodus hues like this? Probably because the original audience had been catechized in their Hebrew Bible. These images provide the basis for his audience to draw analogies between God’s people of old and the new elect community of Christians with a view toward ethical conformity marked by holiness and love (vv. 13–25).

In these passages from 1 Peter, an impor­tant principle emerges: the indicative of what God has done for us in Christ precedes the imperative of what we are to do in response. In 1 Peter 1:13–21, Peter begins with the end of the story, where the “revelation” of verse 13 likely refers to the second coming of Christ. Moreover, the foundation centered on the hope of Christ in verses 17–21 is the basis for the commands and exhortations to holiness in verses 14–16. Or take another example: the command to love one another in verse 22 is grounded in the fact that his audience has been born again (v. 23), not of “perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” The verb translated “born again” is intentionally meant to be an echo from verse 3.

In short, Peter wants our minds to be transformed, and he uses powerful metaphors to that end—in this case, the exodus. But he also wants us to think about our new identity as the elect sojourners of God. By grounding us in the indicatives of our faith, he can exhort his audience to pursue greater holiness. One of the ways that he does this in the opening of his epistle is by helping these Christians think rightly about their trials:

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. (vv. 6–7)

The Strength of Weakness

The Testing of Abraham

Keep Reading Trials, Temptations, and the Testing of Our Faith

From the August 2023 Issue
Aug 2023 Issue