The Refiner’s Fire
God ordains trials to test the reality of our faith in a way that’s similar to the process of purifying precious metals. Gold, for example, is purified through a process of high temperature heating or chemical exposure. According to Sciencing, an online magazine, “If the gold is a low grade ore, then it is broken up into chunks that are then put in carefully lined pads and treated with a dilute cyanide solution, which dissolves the gold. For high grade ore, the metal is sent to a grinding mill and made into a powder. Refractory ore contains carbon and is heated to over 1000 degrees.”
But God says that our faith is even more precious than gold, which is perishable. For this reason, He sometimes turns up the thermostat. He heats up the furnace of affliction, in order to reveal impurity in our hearts, so that it can be skimmed off. As the apostle Peter writes, our faith is “tested by fire” when we are “grieved by various trials.” Greek scholar, Kenneth Wuest, provides a beautiful illustration of God’s refining fire.
The picture here is of an ancient goldsmith who puts his crude gold ore in a crucible, subjects it to intense heat, and thus liquefies the mass. The impurities rise to the surface and are skimmed off. When the metalworker is able to see the reflection of his face clearly mirrored in the surface of the liquid, he takes it off the fire, for he knows that the contents are pure gold. So it is with God and His child. He puts us in the crucible of Christian suffering, in which process sin is gradually put out of our lives, our faith is purified from the slag of unbelief that somehow mingles with it so often, and the result is the reflection of the face of Jesus Christ in the character of the Christian. This, above all, God the Father desires to see. Christlikeness is God’s ideal for His child. Christian suffering is one of the most potent means to that end.
Job, the Old Testament hero of the faith, understood this picture. It was after his horrendous trial, which is beyond anything we have yet to experience, he testified of God, “When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). It is my prayer that the Lord would so work in our hearts during our times of testing, so that we may one day say the same. Oh, may He purify His church!
The teaching of Scripture is clear: In order to produce a godly, mature Christian, God increases the temperature of life, in order to bring to the surface the sin that is already in our hearts, which we may be blinded from seeing, or just too stubborn to address. To use a similar metaphor, like the boiling hot water that steeps the tea out of the bag, trials draw out the issues of life that reside in our heart. The trial is not the problem, nor does it create the issues of the heart. They are already “in the tea bag,” so to speak.
The purpose of the trial is to draw out our hidden sins (Ps 139:23), so that they may be repented of, and the process of sanctification may be stimulated. As we make sometimes-slow, gradual progress, we become like Christ, in whose image we are being re-made (Col 3:10). This is the refiner’s fire, of which Scripture speaks.
The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts.Proverbs 17:3
And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested, they will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, `They are My people,’ and they will say, `The Lord is My God.’Zechariah 13:9 [referring to the end-time remnant of Israel]
He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.Malachi 3:3 [prophetic of Christ]
Just as the refining process is used to remove impurities, in order to bring out the beauty of gold, so trials reveal our inner self. This gives us the opportunity to repent of sin, and be made more like Christ. For this reason, we know at least some of the good that God is up to in our trials.
In 1 Peter 1:6-9, we get a glimpse of God’s will for our 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. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
God wants you to understand His good will in all that He is doing—right now—in your life. So when you find yourself under a trial God wants you to respond in three ways:
- Rejoice in the superior promise of your inheritance (v. 6).
- Recognize the sanctifying purpose of your trials (v. 7).
- Remain steadfast in the perseverance of faith (vv. 8-9).
The point is clear: God uses suffering to heat up our lives in order to bring the scum of our hearts into full view in order that we may repent and be refined—to reflect more accurately the beauty of Jesus.
Watch or listen to the sermon by searching on the title here.