One re-occurring theme in the Bible is that from time to time God tests believers. Tests have some similarity with trials, but differ in one important respect. Tests are initiated by God, while trials are not. Trials are simply blatant attacks against Christians.
But as we will see in the life of Peter, some tests can have a demonic origin.
So why does God test us?
4 On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NIV)
There are three key words in this verse: approved, entrusted and tests and they are all connected. God wants to entrust us with more responsibility, but He needs to know how we are going to respond. So God tests our hearts, often through difficult situations, to see how we respond.
Are we going to give up? Are we going to back away when the going gets tough? A life of faith is a struggle. Not everything goes right. We also have an adversary looking to attack. How will we respond during spiritual confrontations?
Depending on how we respond to our tests, God can then approve us and entrust us with more responsibility.
Probably a classic example of this is seen in David’s battle with the Philistine giant. Buried in this story is a small test. Every morning Goliath was parading in front of the Israeli army and challenging any of them to a one-on-one fight.
Not one soldier was willing to step forward and the Israeli army was becoming disillusioned by the giant’s constant taunts. At this point, the battle was already lost and Saul knew it, so when a small shepherd boy volunteered, Saul quickly agreed realizing he had nothing to lose.
But then King Saul offered his own personal armor to David. It would have been the lightest and strongest quality armor of the day. They put Saul’s bronze helmet and breast-plate on David.
But look how David responded:
39 David girded his sword over his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them. So David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” And David took them off. (1 Samuel 17: 39 NASV)
David was not a soldier. He was a shepherd boy with a sling. Because he had not tested Saul’s armor in a true battle situation, David had no idea if it would work for him in what would be a life and death struggle.
So David rejected Saul’s armor and chose instead a sling, a tested weapon that he had used successfully in previous battles while protecting the sheep.
Similarly God wants to use us in critical situations, but He needs to know how we are going to react. We need to be tested and proven for battle.
But perhaps the most important aspect of testing is that it reveals to us what is really in our hearts.
Shortly after Satan had used Judas to betray Jesus (Luke 22:2-3), the devil asked for permission to sift Peter’s heart. Jesus warned Peter what was about to take place. In his typical bombastic style, Peter boasted that he was willing to face prison, even death in the service of Christ:
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” 34 And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:31-34 NASV)
Peter did not know his own heart. He was comparing himself to Judas and thinking he would never betray Christ. Peter thought he was a cut above Judas as his boasting revealed.
But notice how Jesus said that Peter’s faith was about to be tested. Did he really believe Jesus was the Messiah?
While Peter was ready to stare down the Roman guard, what actually tripped him up was a small servant girl who accused him of being with the disciples (Luke 22:56-57). Peter buckled, denied Christ, and proved he was no different from Judas.
The test revealed Peter’s heart to Peter. But though he failed this test, in one important aspect he didn’t. Though disillusioned, in the end there was still a spark of faith, and after the resurrection, when Jesus called for His Apostle to return, Peter followed Christ.
Perhaps reflecting on his own faith test, Peter would later write:
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 1:7 NASV)