The apostle of Peter is writing to the church at Rome where Christians are experiencing great trials. They are being persecuted in various ways. I’m sure some of them are beginning to doubt their faith, so Peter is writing to encourage them and explain to them that their suffering serves a purpose in God’s plan. God is going to use this suffering to strengthen their faith, to prove to them and through them the reality of the gospel. Here is what he says toward the beginning of the letter.
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 (1 Peter 1:6–9).
When I read this passage, I remembered a phrase that I have seen in the writings of D. Martin Lloyd Jones, who was a famous preacher of the Westminster Chapel in London for many years. He was a medical doctor turned preacher. Many of us have found great encouragement from his preaching, either as we’ve read it or listened to recordings. I remembered a phrase he used often to describe the way our faith is proved to be true. He talks about the acid test of the Christian life.
You may remember from chemistry that an acid test was used in the old days to see if a piece of medal was gold or some other kind of base medal. So, the chemist, or the one doing the testing, would drop some nitric acid on the piece of medal, and if it dissolved quickly, then they knew it was not gold, because gold dissolves much less readily. That acid applied to that piece of medal either proved that the medal was gold or some lesser medal, something that wasn’t worth anything.
So, Martin Lloyd Jones was asking, “what is the acid test of the Christian faith? What is that certain test when applied to us, reveals that we really are Christians?” So, I found a sermon that he had preached called “The Acid Test of the Christian Profession,” and it was really special to me, because he preached it in 1969 at McIlwain Presbyterian Church in Pensacola, FL at the Pensacola Theological Institute. It’s at that Pensacola Theological Institute that I really came to understand the reformed faith. That was a special conference to me (although I was there later than 1969 when Martin Lloyd Jones preached).
Apparently on that particular occasion, a hurricane was headed toward Pensacola. In response, they moved the meeting from the evening up to two o’clock so that Lloyd Jones could preach, and people could hunker down in their houses later on. That’s amazing in itself that they still met to hear the word preached even though a hurricane was headed their way. Lloyd Jones changed his sermon and he preached on this idea of the acid test of the Christian life from 2 Corinthians 4. In his sermon, he asked some questions about this acid test.
First, he asked, “is it orthodoxy?” Is the real test of the Christian that he or she believes the right things? Well that can’t be, because we know that even the devil believes, and the demons believe and shudder (James 2:19).
Second, he asked, “is it morality? Is it doing good things?” Of course, we all know people who do good things who don’t believe in Jesus. Jesus himself said that the day is coming when many would come to him proclaiming many good things they had done, but “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Although both orthodoxy and morality are important, it can’t be just those things.
Third, he asked, “is it experience? Is it the person who says, ‘I’ve been born again? I know I’m a Christian because experienced a born-again experience.” It can’t be that either, because every religion claims experience. If experience was the only test of faith, then every faith would be true.
Lloyd Jones concluded that the acid test of the Christian faith is given away in the time of testing and trial. That’s the point Peter is making here. He says this suffering is “necessary” (v. 6). That was a great encouragement to Charles Spurgeon. In the old King James, instead of “if necessary,” it said “if needs be.” Spurgeon, who battled depression and anxiety his whole life, read that on one occasion when he was battling anxiety and depression and he was comforted by the fact that God saw this suffering as something that was necessary in his life. It was necessary to do something. And that something was to reveal the deeper reality of the presence of Christ.
Might I suggest that this suffering we are currently going through – this panic, this pandemic, this time when we’re facing shortages, financial trials, sickness, quarantines, even death – is not something that catches God off guard. It’s something that he, from all eternity, foreordained as necessary for the revelation of the glory of his gospel to us and through us. It’s an acid test. This suffering is an acid test to reveal whether we possess the gold faith of Jesus Christ or some imitation.
I also understand that some of you are thinking, “I’m really trying to believe but I’m really struggling. Maybe I’m not a Christian.” Maybe you’re beginning to doubt your salvation, because you are anxious and worried and depressed. I battle anxiety myself, so I know what you mean. But I find encouragement in this passage for anxious souls, for weak faith. These sufferings are not testing how strong your faith is, the faith that you create (or muster up within yourself). This suffering reveals the faith that Christ has created in you, or not.
Here is how you can tell if Christ has created faith in you. Peter says, “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” (v. 8). In other words, when you can believe, when you can rejoice, and when you can love him. in the midst of trial, you may know that in you has been worked an inexpressible faith, a joy that is indescribable and is filled with glory. That is, it is a visitation of the Heaven that awaits you. Let me suggest that if these kinds of things are occurring in you, as anxious as you are, as worried as you and I are about the future, we may know that Christ lives in us.
The first question is, “do you believe?” This is the reason we “exercise our faith muscles so strenuously in corporate worship. It is to prepare for times like this. The reason we repeat the Apostles’ Creed so much is so that in times like this, we can say it. Can you say, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of Heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord. Perhaps you can but only faintly, with trembling lips and shaking hands. If you can say, “I believe” instead of saying, “I don’t believe anymore because of this suffering,” then your faith is true. And you only do believe, because Christ has enabled you to.
Secondly, can you rejoice? Perhaps you’re thinking, “I’m not really happy about anything right now.” Well can you sing a hymn, or even just hum it. Can you sing, “when peace like a river attendeth my soul, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, ‘it is well with my soul.’“ Can you sing, “great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father.” You may be singing it with tears but you’re singing it! You’re rejoicing with a joy that is inexpressible, indescribable, one that must have come from Heaven to you.
Finally, do you love him? Perhaps you respond, “yes, but I’m still worried.” But can you say with the psalmist in Psalm 18, “I love you, O Lord, my strength” (v. 1). If you’re not saying, “I hate you. I don’t want anything to do with you. I reject you,” if you can say, even with faltering lips, “I love you, O Lord, my strength,” then this suffering has caused your faith to shine forth as gold, because this suffering is an acid test. Only those who are in Christ pass it.
Perhaps you have taken those tests and concluded that you aren’t a Christian. There is an easy solution to that. God in his mercy, but this pandemic has pushed you to the end of your resources. You thought that you were taking care of yourself. You thought that you could save yourself. But now you realize that you are no match for the things in this universe that are out to kill you. Jesus stretches out his arms to you and says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
Brothers and sisters, I hope this is an encouragement to you. You see, when that faith that is tested by suffering and can endure is experiential. That faith that is proven to be gold in suffering is moral. That hope purifies us (1 John 3:3). And that faith is true; it’s orthodox. It’s the only faith. It’s the only truth. And we would never be as convinced of it had we not gone through this suffering. And those observing us would not be nearly as convinced that the gospel is true if they did not see us continuing to praise God even from the dust.
May God protect us, strengthen us, and use us to give an answer, an explanation for the hope that is within us to a very hopeless world. I love you Second Presbyterian Church. And I thank you for loving me and my family. I consider it the greatest privilege to be your pastor at this time in history. God help us, and may the Lord get a name for himself.
Lord Jesus, please draw near to us, as the great shepherd of our souls. bear us up in your arms and on your shoulders. Cause us to know in a fresh way that God our heavenly father loves us. Would the Holy Spirit pour out his love in our hearts that we might be assured of hope and convinced that nothing, nothing in this world or in the world to come is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. in his name we pray, Amen.
- Consider getting together virtually with a few friends and discussing some of the questions of the “acid test” together.
- How are you struggling during this time? What is worrying you? How does God seem to you right now?
- What reassurance have you gained from scripture and/or other believers? What (if any) songs/hymns have helped you rejoice?
- Share prayer requests and pray for one another.