The Refiner's Fire
The ancient process of refining gold was to heat the metal until the metal and impurities melted, and then to pour off the lighter material, the dross, and leave the pure and precious metal in its refined condition. Gold assayers used nitric acid to test gold, because it would dissolve other elements and compounds, but leave the gold untouched. From this practice came our expression, “This is the acid test.” Trial by suffering is the acid test and the refiner’s fire for our work and our faith.
Paul warned evangelists to be careful how they work, because their work will be tested by fire, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. (1 Cor 3:11-14, NIV)
A time of trial comes for every person’s work and faith, and what is built upon a permanent foundation, and of durable material, survives. Jesus Christ is the only foundation for the building up of God’s people. And the only spiritual building that will survive the test of trials is built up by faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot make ourselves righteous, but must learn to trust in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
There are many religious groups that teach the importance of keeping man-made rules about what we touch, taste, and handle in order to establish our righteousness. This is not building on faith in Jesus Christ, but faith in ourselves. When we trust in our ability to keep self-imposed rules, we will likely fail. And the keeping of such rules does not make us righteous. Paul taught this clearly to the Christians at Colosse, “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (Col 2:16-23, NIV)
Self-righteousness will not endure the test of fire. Jesus taught about the problem with self righteousness, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men-robbers, evildoers, adulterers-or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'”
"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'”
"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:9-14, NIV)
Paul wrote about the righteousness that endures, speaking about his past accomplishments in comparison to faith in Jesus: “I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil 3:8-10, NIV)
That which is valuable in our lives must be established by faith in Jesus Christ. When our motive is to glorify our Lord, we will welcome the process of refinement, and rejoice that what is of value is being revealed in us. As Peter wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Pet 1:6-7, NASU
Faith makes the difference when we go through the fire of testing. Faith comes by study of God’s word. Paul instructed Timothy about the importance of correct instruction in God’s word with these words. “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim 1:5, NASU)