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FAITH TRIED IN THE FIRE

Preached by Dr. Gene Scott on April 26, 1981
     
      That the trial of your faith, being much more precious
      than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire,
      might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the
      appearing of Jesus Christ . . .
      1st Peter 1:7
     
      DURING TIMES OF TRIAL, GOD WILL DRIVE ME BACK to the foundational truths that have carried me for years. Our circumstances may change, but these truths never change. Turn in your Bible to 1st Peter 1. It begins, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers...” Peter was the failing apostle who preached the message on the day of Pentecost that brought the church into existence, and this is his letter “to the strangers.” That salutation makes this letter a general message to every Christian. There is no question that it is ours to claim.
     
      Most of the messages that we preach have two texts behind them. The first is 2nd Corinthians 1:20, which says, “All the promises of God in him are yea,” or yes, “and in him Amen,” or so be it unto you. That is our license to fish throughout God’s book and find any promise and make that promise ours. We can even claim promises that were given to a particular people in a particular situation that is analogous to our own situation. It is certainly our license to claim these verses in 1st Peter that are addressed “to the strangers scattered.” The second text is Numbers 23:19, which says, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” What God promises, He will do, and through His servant Peter, God is speaking to you and me today.
     
      The word translated “strangers” means sojourners. We are sojourners, pilgrims on a journey following Jesus. He is called in the book of Hebrews “the Captain of our salvation,” literally, the First-goer of our salvation. Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote to the sojourners. That is what the world cannot understand about us; they act and react as though we are permanent residents down here, seeking what they seek, needing what they need. They will never understand the sojourner for whom this world is not home. The sojourners are pilgrims on a journey who have been scattered around this globe, but they know where their true home is. In this case, they were “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect . . .” The word in the Greek is eklektois. A better word is “chosen.” I want to pause right there and say that we may be scattered sojourners, we may be flying through the fog, but our air traffic Controller knows right where we are. You and I are chosen.
     
      I have oft quoted from Psalm 139: “O LORD . . . Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising . . .” And I have preached many times on Psalm 37: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD.” How long must I live before I really know this? Peter says that we are chosen “according to the foreknowledge of God . . .” I will never fully understand that. I know that God made the choice to set us free, which lets all men have the opportunity to choose their own way. That includes the freedom to sin, which is the heartbreak of God. But as He said, we did not choose Him, He chose us. And when we finally come home and make Him our Master, “The steps of a good man are ordered” and we are “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit.”
     
     That word “sanctification” means separation. God separates us, having covered us by the blood of Jesus. There was a barrier between God and man because of our sins. The death of Christ broke the barrier and let God come back to dwell in us. He now comes to separate us out. That is what makes us sojourners. May God deliver us from today’s weak-kneed Christianity that teaches men and women to “accept” Christ! Too many people think they have God in their purse or their pocket to use as nothing more than another instrument for their own gratification. But God chooses us and makes us sojourners.
     
      That is the heart and soul of the walk of faith. Moses fled from Pharaoh’s seat to the wilderness to the place that God chose. God called Abram out of Ur. Abram got out of step, but when he returned from being out of step, he went back to the place of the altar, where he offered himself, and to the place of the tent, where he made himself available to be led. In the New Testament, the simple message of Christianity – to the tax collector, the fishermen and the net-mender – was “Follow Me.”
     
     We are chosen “through the separation of the Spirit.” In the baptism of the Holy Spirit, God possesses more of us. He comes and grabs hold of us, “unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” This is where the perfectionists come in and try to make us work our way into the kingdom. Jesus said, “he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” Jesus was not talking about winning souls; He was talking about the fruit of the Spirit that comes out when we abide in Him. He said, “for without me ye can do nothing at all.” When will we understand that righteousness is an inevitable outgrowth of being possessed by God’s Spirit? In true Christianity, you do not work at righteousness; you do not do any works of righteousness. He is righteousness, and when He is present, His nature comes out. That is why a man like Paul can say, “I am the chiefest of sinners,” so that the onlookers might see an exhibition of God’s grace in the greatest Christian ever to walk on this earth.
     
      It is the Holy Spirit who separates us, and He expresses His obedience through us. Even though the Spirit is in us, there is still warfare because the “old man” in us will rear his head. Peter is laying down truths that never change. Notice that Peter is not admonishing them to be obedient, he is not admonishing them to be chosen, and he is not even admonishing them to do what the Spirit does. He simply declares as a fact: you are chosen; you are separated of the Spirit. The Spirit has come into you. He has grabbed hold of you and His life is in you. You do not have to force yourself to do it; it is the Spirit who separates you unto obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.
     
      Peter was writing to people who understood the Old Testament truths. The high priest in the tabernacle stood before God’s presence as the representative of all the people, but he did not stand there because he had any merit of his own. He brought the blood of the sacrificed perfect animal as a substitute, and he sprinkled it seven times on the Mercy Seat and on the ground where he would stand. The sprinkled blood symbolized the life poured out for sin. And standing on that sprinkled blood, he could live in God’s presence. God did not see the priest’s inadequacy; He only saw the blood. God help us to not be beguiled! Paul wrote to the Galatians and asked, “Who has bewitched you?” Let us not be bewitched by the devil, lest having begun in faith we should slip back and try to rely on our own merits.
     
      These are declarations: you are chosen, and you are separated of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. What does Peter say next? “Grace unto you,” that is unmerited favor, “and peace,” that is cessation of againstness. We are the habitation of God through the Spirit. God, who was against us because of our sins, is no longer against us, and He gives us grace and peace. Now with that knowledge, Peter goes on to say, “Blessed by the God . . .”
     
     Let’s look at that word “blessed.” Many people like to talk about blessing. I grew up in the church, and I have heard people say at revival meetings, “it sure was a blessed service!” Or they say, “Glory, I got blessed!” Well, so what? Hallelujah, you got blessed! I am sure it felt good. To use a ludicrous analogy, I don’t hold it against a person because he enjoys being scratched when he itches. But there is nothing spiritual about that; it just feels good. I am not denying that having the Spirit can make you feel good. Paul said, “When you speak in tongues, you edify yourself.” That means you build yourself up. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but learn the difference between self-edification and the blessing that is talked about here in 1st Peter. God is the target of this blessing. Peter has already described our blessing. The real blessing we received from God has already been stated: we are chosen and separated to an obedience that He works out through us.
     
      God’s word is clear: it is the Holy Spirit who not only calls us but also enables us. I don’t care how proud you are of your own “righteous” life; it won’t buy you any more in heaven that a can of pork and beans. It is worthless! Someone might object and say, “Oh, but I have served God faithfully!” Your faith is powerful, but the “serving” part depends on what you mean. Isaiah said, “Your righteousness is as filthy rags!”
     
     The blessing is from God: I am chosen! Some people may think that I am not a very “saintly” preacher, but they do not know the meaning of the word “saint.” I am very saintly in that I have given my life to God and He has it now. I may kick and yell and talk back to God at times, but He knows that He has me. That is what makes me a saint. I may not represent what people normally expect of a preacher, but what does that matter? The Holy Spirit in me is God’s Spirit, who will always be Himself; and whatever good is ever seen in me is from Him. I thank God that He deigned to live in me because He chose me according to His foreknowledge. He decided that this earthly vessel could be taken over by His Spirit and that His Spirit would win the victory.
     
      That is the only righteousness that counts. God separated me to the obedience that He expressed through me. I stand on the sprinkled blood of Christ and I receive unmerited favor. God is at peace with me. That is true whether I feel anything or not. Don’t get me wrong: I have felt and been edified by God’s presence in my life, but that is not what this passage is about. Peter said, “Blessed by the God . . .” Literally, we are to “Eulogize God.” Understand that you are chosen by God from out of this vast domain called the world. I may get weary at times because of our battles, but I never get so tired that I do not remember that I am chosen. What a wonder that He chose us to be standing here today, still victorious! That is why we can declare, putting the future in the past tense, “We made it through this year!” And for that reason, when we understand the true state of the Christian, we are commanded to eulogize God.
     
      What if I am sick? I teach that God heals, but if you listen closely, you know that I preach faith for its own merits, even if you die not having obtained the promise of healing. I preach about healing because God’s word makes it clear that He is a healing God. Yet occasionally He delays His promise and works out something en route. Nonetheless, I am going to keep faithing every day. And in the meantime, we are to “Eulogize the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
     
     Many people know what a “eulogy” is: we usually give a eulogy when people die. I do not like that idea. A man has died and we stand up and sing his praises and everyone gathers around, including people who may not have said nice things about the man while he was still living. A man’s works follow him. I hope that when I die, someone stands up and says, “Thank God he is home where he always wanted to go,” and then everyone gets on with life. Eulogies ought to be sung to the living! And at the top of the list, “Eulogize the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which “according to his abundant mercy,” not according to my righteousness, but “according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us . . .” We are right back to that same idea of being chosen, and being regenerated. God put into us new life, the seed of the Holy Spirit.
     
      That is the logic of the virgin birth, as J. Gresham Machen pointed out. You start with the fact of the Resurrection. Then the knowledge of who Christ is, as revealed in God’s book, becomes the basis for concluding that He was born of a virgin. God can place life into an earthly vessel! In the beginning, God gave his life to man, which would have given man eternal life. But that life was withdrawn because of Adam’s sin, resulting in death. Now that same life of God was in Christ, a re-creation in the second Adam. And the Resurrection proves that His life lives on.
     
      Jesus’ death removed the scar of sin and the barrier that sin caused between God and man. His Resurrection now enables God to bring His life into these marred vessels, to put new life into a vessel driven and possessed by the old life. This new life, begotten in us, begets “us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” There is now life in us that shall prevail to eternity. That is why you are only a sojourner down here: you have an inheritance reserved in heaven for you. Those who are of the world or who are enemies of God can never understand that we are headed for an eternal inheritance. It is a tragedy that there are so many Christians who neither understand it nor desire it. They are not aimed toward eternity and therefore they support the world’s view. This is Christianity: you are “begotten . . . to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.”
     
     The church abdicated when it decided it could only win men by “selling” God as a better means to satisfy material desires down here on earth than the smorgasbord that the devil and the world serve up to the flesh. The church lost when God began to be judged by the appetites of the flesh, the corrupt man who will die here. But there are still a few sojourners who understand that we ought to eulogize God because, according to His abundant mercy, He “hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.” That is the only reason for being a Christian! Anything else is just icing on the cake. Why does the church always grow strong when it is under persecution, and become corrupt and fade into the woodwork of the world when it gains acceptance? Many times God will use this world to squeeze us into focus. We have an inheritance reserved in heaven, but there are too many Christians who would rather stay here.
     
      Peter goes on to say that we are “kept by the power of God.” Circle that word “kept.” Literally it means we are “being guarded.” Do you really know today that you are being guarded? I am telling you what Christianity is. I do not know what is causing you to cave in today, but I am not so foolish to think that I am the only one who lives under pressure. I have lived on the frontier of faith’s extremity for so many years that I have come to the state that Paul came to in the storm at sea, and I take encouragement that he came to that state. He said in Acts 27, “all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.” Only then, when all hope was lost, came the word of the Lord. It amazes me how God always seems to find the exact time and place to deliver His message. It appeared to be almost too late, but it was in time. We have often preached about Moses. When God found him on the back side of the desert at just the right time, He didn’t say, “Hey, you over there!” or “Hey, shepherd!” He said, “Moses!” God knew exactly where he was and called him by his name.
     
      No matter what is causing you to cave in today, you are seen and you are known. You are not just being observed, you are being guarded. God not only brought the Red Sea down upon Pharaoh’s army, He also pulled the wheels off of their chariots to slow them down before He did it. That same God guards you and me! You see me fighting sickness and you ask, “If you are being guarded, how did that virus get through to you?” My response is, “Wait till God gets through with that virus!” No matter what comes against us, we are still being guarded.
     
      How are we being guarded? By the power of God! How do I keep the connection? Peter says that we are “kept by the power of God through faith.” That is the key. So far everything is of God, except for two things. He chose us, He sanctified us by the Holy Spirit, He provided the blood and He gave us grace and peace. He has begotten us unto a lively hope, He is preparing an inheritance and we are kept by the power of God. All we have to do is eulogize Him and have faith. That’s it – it is that simple! We are kept by the power of God through faith. The word “faith” in the Greek is pisteos. That means I have to grab hold of this promise and not lose my grip.
     
      If you have ever done any electrical work, you know that the wires have to be connected for the power to flow. Of course it will work better if you make a nice tight connection, but even if the wires are just barely touching, the power will still flow. That is why I say you have to hold on to God’s promise, even if only with one finger. Sometimes it seems like I am holding on by only a fingernail. But as long as I do not lose my grip, I am being kept, guarded by the power of God “through faith unto salvation.” The Greek word translated “salvation” is soterian; it means God will do the complete work. He will get it done. This salvation is “ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice.”
     
     Again, to whom is Peter speaking? He is addressing the sojourners, the chosen ones, those sanctified of the Holy Spirit unto the obedience that only He can perform. He is talking to those who are standing in the grace of God, begotten unto a lively hope with new life placed in them, with an inheritance reserved in heaven, who are kept by the power of God through faith. All we have to do is keep that wire of faith touching, “unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. Wherein ye greatly rejoice.” Cross out the word “rejoice,” and write in the margin of your Bible the word exult. Exulting is deeper than simple rejoicing; Peter is describing an overflowing exultation. Get excited about this!
     
      What are you getting excited about today? What are you exulting about? This is what you should exult about: “Wherein ye greatly exult, though now for a season, if need by, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.” The word “manifold” translates a Greek word that means “many colored,” as diverse as the colors of the spectrum. The word “temptation” covers the whole gamut; there are as many temptations as there are shades of color. That means no matter how different our circumstances may be from our brethren’s circumstances, the manifold nature of temptation conceived by the devil hits all of us.
     
      How many of you have experienced temptation this past week, and how many have found it heavy? Most people have a shallow view of temptation. They think that temptation means wanting something you shouldn’t have, like when you are on a diet and you see someone eating a banana split. Or you are trying to quit smoking and you smell a cigarette and say, “Oh, God, I’d like to have one!” Or some of you men see a lady walking down the sidewalk and you fear that God will strike you blind for looking at her, so you cover one of your eyes, but you are tempted to risk the other eye! Come on now, that is not the meaning of temptation. Grow up to the real meaning of temptation: temptation is anything that puts so much pressure on you that it affects your grip of faith, because the only thing that will take you to heaven is your faith.
     
      Faith is all that God is interested in now. The devil will help you become the most righteous-appearing man in the world, if it will rob you of your faith in God. Jesus lived your righteousness and He died for your sins. You are guarded by the power of God. He is already preparing a mansion for you, and the Holy Spirit has come to live in you. Only one thing can make or break the connection, and that is your faith – period!
     
      When I ask if you have experienced temptation, I am asking you what has brought fear or what has brought anything into your relationship with God that is heavy enough to make your grip of faith slip? Stop and think about it long enough to be concerned, but then rejoice! Hallelujah! The pressure is on and you are in heaviness through manifold temptations, but that becomes an opportunity. “That the trial of your faith,” which said faith, “being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire,” may produce this result: that it “might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”
     
     We can walk into heaven with this one testimony: there was no force on this earth or of the devil that could break our grip on our Lord who gave Himself for us. We were sure that He would take us through! He covers all of our blemishes, our faults, our stumblings and our mistakes. We stand in His righteousness, we stand on His merits, we stand on His shed blood, and we stand there through our faith. That is all we offer Him.
     
      As a young man I learned the principles of bodybuilding by “pumping iron,” lifting weights. Some of you are joggers. It kills you the first time, but later on you start to reach levels of tolerance. The amazing thing about the professional athlete is his ability to recover instantly from something that might kill an ordinary person. Faith ought to grow like that. If you have been doing seven sets of bench presses with a maximum amount of weight, it does not strain you to lift up an ordinary burden and put it down. It does not even get the blood flowing in the muscles.
     
      The measure of your faith tried like gold in the fire is the “legal tender” of heaven that takes us there and secures our inheritance. If you really want to go to heaven, knowing that God provides the regenerate life, the mercy, the peace and the Holy Spirit to enable, then you will want to secure what guarantees your entrance and hear our Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We will then see our test as an opportunity to exult, because God has promised that we are being kept. There are no losers, as long as you keep your grip. When I come through my current test, I will have a better grip on God than I had when I first met the test.
     
      I can exult over that. We are fortunate people in that we are not being treated by a diaper-changing God who only provides a baby bottle and a rattle. We are not dealing with a God who only provides us with a lifestyle of entertainment. God saw something in us when He chose us, and He has allowed us to participate in a battle in the arena where we serve, that our faith might come forth as pure gold tried in the fire.
     
      Let’s jump ahead to 1st Peter 5:10. This message ought to make us exult in the certainty that “the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while,” will “make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.” Literally in the Greek, God will mend your torn net, fit you with firmness, make you forceful with strength and settle you. “To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.”
     
     Reprinted with permission from Pastor Melissa Scott
     
      *******************************************************





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