The Meaning of Trials

One of the quotes that is often repeated among the faithful goes something like this: “Life in this world is the non-Christian’s heaven and the Christian’s hell.”

The pen of inspiration states it this way in Life Sketches, pages 239, 240: “This life at best is but the Christian’s winter; and the bleak winds of winter—disappointments, losses, pain, and anguish—are our lot here; but our hopes are reaching forward to the Christian’s summer, when we shall change climate, leave all the wintry blasts and fierce tempests behind, and be taken to those mansions Jesus has gone to prepare for those that love Him.”

Indeed, this world is not the Christian’s heaven. Rather it is the place in which to fit up for heaven through successfully meeting the trials and temptations of life that God deems us capable of bearing. Life in this world is the scene of our life-battles, our conflicts, and our sorrows. If we are to be successful in our Christian walk, we must have a firm grasp on our hope for a better world, where we will find peace and ever-increasing bliss and joy when our warfare is ended.

“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most miserable/pitiable.” I Corinthians 15:19.

What are some of the Bible texts that give us great hope?

“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.” I Corinthians 2:9.

“For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, Who is even at the right hand of God, Who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For Thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:28–39.

“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.

Who is it that has a right to hold this hope of victory before them? Scripture makes it “too plain to be misunderstood” that it is the righteous—and only the righteous—who will be given the crown of eternal life.

“The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.” Psalm 37:29.

“Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto Thy name: the upright shall dwell in Thy presence.” Psalm 140:13.

“For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it.” Proverbs 2:21.

“Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Behold, I will save my people from the east country, and from the west country; and I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness.” Zechariah 8:7, 8.

“Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness.” II Peter 3:13.

Through all of our various and on-going trials, some of which have never been fully revealed to others—even to our spouses, for surely each of us has trials that we keep between ourselves and God only—we have had an unfailing Friend, who has said, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” Hebrews 13:5, and “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Matthew 28:20.

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” I Peter 4:12, 13.

The International Standard Version translates I Peter 4:12 a little more clearly: “Dear friends, do not be surprised by the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

We need to keep in mind always that while Jesus was here on earth, He became intimately familiar with human woe, and although He is now back in His homeland, His heart, which loved, pitied, and sympathized with men, still identifies with humanity. Sister White says that His heart remains a heart of “unchangeable tenderness.” Paul tells us in Hebrews 13:8 that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We do not have to worry about His forgetting the purchase of His blood, or even of something being acceptable with Him today and not acceptable tomorrow. Hebrews 4:15 reminds us that, “We have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are.”

“Jesus is acquainted with all our trials. He does not leave us to struggle alone with temptations, or to battle alone with sin, and to be finally crushed with burden and sorrow. Through His angels He whispers to us, ‘Fear not; for I am with thee’ (Genesis 26:24). ‘I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore’ (Revelation 1:18).” The Review and Herald, April 17, 1894.

As He pleads His blood for our salvation, standing before the altar in the heavenly sanctuary, He tells us, “I know your sorrows; I have endured them. I am acquainted with your struggles; I have experienced them. I know your temptations; I have encountered them. I have seen your tears; I also have wept. Your earthly hopes are crushed, but let the eye of faith be uplifted, and penetrate the veil, and there anchor your hopes. The everlasting assurance shall be yours that you have a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Ibid.

Why has God always tried his people in the furnace of affliction? The common response to children when they murmur about what they perceive to be some injustice they have incurred is that “it builds character.” It wasn’t until I became a Seventh-day Adventist and began studying the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy that I truly began to understand the truth to that statement.

Our trials, the temptations that we face, the experiences and providences of life are simply God’s way of developing within us the character we must have to be fit to accept by faith Christ’s robe of righteousness, to purge from us all impurity and unrighteousness. God’s work of pruning and purifying His people for heaven is a great work, and it cannot be accomplished without great suffering on the part of the servants of God, because it costs something to bring our wills into harmony with the will of Christ. We must go through the furnace till the fires have consumed the dross—the unchristlike impurities, and we are purified so that we reflect the divine image.

A common experiment among those taking advanced chemistry in college is a challenge to determine the percent of pure precious metal in a small amount of silver. To accomplish that task, a small piece of silver is heated to great heat in a crucible—a small ceramic pot that can withstand extremely high temperatures. After a while, the metal will melt. The impurities in it will form a dull film on top. Eventually, these impurities will boil off and only the precious metal will remain. The students are told that they will know when all of the impurities have been eliminated when they can see their reflections in the molten silver. Such is the case in our characters. God knows that all of the impurities in our characters have been purged when He can see a perfect reflection of Himself in us.

Most of us are not good judges of what God is doing. When trials and difficulties occur, we are often prone to murmur and complain. Too often, we see failure where there is indeed triumph, or a great loss, where there is actually gain. Like Jacob, we are ready to exclaim when trial comes upon us, “All these things are against me” (Genesis 42:36)! when the fact is that the very things of which we complain are working for our good.

There is a common expression in Christendom: “No cross, no crown.” That is simply a shortened version of Christ’s statement to His disciples in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” We know that only by following Christ can we be awarded the crown of life.

No one can be strong in the Lord without experiencing trials. To have physical strength, we must have physical exercise. To have spiritual strength, we must have spiritual exercise. To have strong faith we must be placed in circumstances that require the exercise of our faith to withstand those circumstances.

Just before his martyrdom, the apostle Paul said to Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and self-discipline. Therefore, never be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, His prisoner. Instead, by God’s power, join me in suffering for the sake of the gospel.” II Timothy 1:7, 8 ISV.

When Luke wrote of Paul’s preaching in the areas visited on their very first journey, he reported in Acts 14:22, “It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of heaven.” Luke noted that this was the message preached in at least four cities of Asia Minor, and he preached it in his earliest efforts at spreading the gospel. Paul knew that the Christian walk is “a battle and a march,” and he was careful to warn the new converts of the trials that they were going to encounter.

“If Satan sees that he is in danger of losing one soul, he will exert himself to the utmost to keep that one. And when the individual is aroused to his danger, and, with distress and fervor, looks to Jesus for strength, Satan fears that he will lose a captive, and he calls a reinforcement of his angels to hedge in the poor soul, and form a wall of darkness around him, that heaven’s light may not reach him. But if the one in danger perseveres, and in his helplessness casts himself upon the merits of the blood of Christ, our Saviour listens to the earnest prayer of faith, and sends a reinforcement of those angels that excel in strength to deliver him.” Counsels for the Church, 319.

The Spirit of Prophecy makes this statement: “Our Saviour was tried in every possible way, and yet he triumphed in God continually.” God’s Amazing Grace, 90. This is one of those statements that on initial reading takes a good deal of faith to believe. While He may not have experienced the exact same trials as we have—for example, He was never married and never had teenagers He had to cope with—nevertheless, He encountered the same principles in His relationships with His family and His disciples.

It is our privilege under all circumstances to be strong in the strength of God and to glory in the cross of Christ. That is sometimes a very tough calling—much more easily said than done.

Every follower of Christ will have a cross to bear. This cross is different in different individuals. It may be food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, passion, kleptomania, improper speech, family or personal relationships, or one (or more) of any number of snares that Satan will use to try to knock us from the path of truth and righteousness, but rest assured that every follower of Jesus has a cross, a burden, to bear—a “sin which doth so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1).

When we face it resolutely, determined to overcome, even though it may be in weakness and trembling, we will find that that which seemed so terrible to us in fact is a source of strength and blessing and courage. Remember that it is in our weakness that the strength of Christ is revealed.

If we do suffer, let us remember that our Lord and Master suffered before us. Jesus, our Redeemer, our representative and head, has already endured this testing process. He suffered more than we can be called upon to suffer. He bore our infirmities and was in all points tempted like as we are. He did not suffer for Himself, but He suffered because of my sins, that I, relying on the merits of my Overcomer, might be victorious in His name.

Christ was the exalted and glorious commander of heaven, before Whom the angelic hosts bowed in adoration, yet He condescended to give up his glory that He had with the Father, that He might save a fallen race; and shall we, in our turn, refuse to deny ourselves for His sake and the gospel’s?

Let the words of Paul be the language of our hearts: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Galatians 6:14.

Christ requires all from me. His sacrifice was too great, too costly, too dear, for me to give less than my all, and be accepted.

The Scripture says, “Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2. The way to heaven is a self-denying way. But when I am tempted to think that the way is too strait, and there is too much self-denial in the narrow path; when I want to say it’s too hard to give up everything in this world, I ask myself, “What did Christ give up for me?”

This question puts anything that I might call self-denial to the test. As I imagine Him in the Garden of Gethsemane and envision the great drops of blood that forced themselves from His pores while He bore the inexpressible agony of soul, and look upon Him in the judgment hall while He was derided, mocked, and insulted by the infuriated mob … as I behold Him clothed in that old purple robe, and hear the coarse jest and cruel mocking and see them place the crown of thorns on that noble brow, and smite Him with a reed, causing the thorns to penetrate His holy temples, so that the blood-drops trickle down His face and fall upon the ground, then hear the murderous throng eagerly crying for the blood of the Son of God while He is delivered into their hands—pale, weak, and fainting, being led away to the hill of crucifixion, then lie without resisting upon the cross as nails are driven through his hands and feet, as in my imagination I behold him hanging upon the cross through dreadful hours of agony until angels veil their faces from the scene, and the sun hides its light, refusing to shine upon the dreadful sight. Can I think of these things, and then ask, Is the way too strait?

We must realize that Jesus has something in store for us that is vastly better than that which we would choose for ourselves! Remember, eyes have not seen nor ear heard neither entered into the imagination of man the things that God has prepared for them that love Him (I Corinthians 2:9)!

How mightily and how often we should pray that we might come to understand the exceeding sinfulness of sin and the blessedness of righteousness!

The most trying experiences in the Christian life may be the most blessed. The special providences of the dark hours will strengthen and give courage to the soul in the future attacks of Satan, and equip the soul to stand most fiery trials.

The trial of our faith is more precious than gold. But in order to endure the test, we must have that faith, that abiding confidence in God, that will not be disturbed by the arguments and temptations of the deceiver. Let us learn to take the Lord at his word, while it is day. Let us study the promises, and appropriate them as we have need. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17. “Happy is the man, who, when tempted, finds his soul rich in the knowledge of the Scriptures, who finds shelter beneath the promises of God. ‘Thy word,’ said the psalmist, ‘have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee’ (Psalm 119:11).” The Faith I Live By, 8. We need that calm, steady faith, that undaunted moral courage, that none but Christ can give, in order that we may be braced for trial and strengthened for duty.

“While on earth there will be no escape from conflicts and temptations; but in every storm we have a sure refuge. Jesus has told us, ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). The forces of Satan are marshaled against us, and we have to meet a diligent foe; but if we take heed to the admonition of Christ, we shall be safe. ‘Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation’ (Matthew 26:41). There are foes to be resisted and overcome, but Jesus is by our side, ready to strengthen us for every attack. ‘This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith’ (I John 5:4).

“Faith sees Jesus standing as our Mediator at the right hand of God. Faith beholds the mansions that Jesus has gone to prepare for those who love Him. Faith sees the robe and the crown prepared for the overcomer. Faith hears the song of the redeemed, and brings eternal glories near. We must come close to Jesus in loving obedience if we would see the King in his beauty.

“There is peace in believing, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Believe! Believe! … Rest in God. He is able to keep that which you have committed to Him, and will bring you off more than conqueror through Him that has loved you (II Timothy 1:12; Romans 8:37).

“But remember that every one who shall be found with the wedding garment on will have come out of great tribulation. The mighty surges of temptation will beat upon all of us. But the long night of watching, of toil, of hardship, is nearly past. Christ is soon to come. Get ready! The angels of God are seeking to attract you from yourself and from earthly things. Let them not labor in vain. Faith, living faith, is what you need; the faith that works by love and purifies the soul. Remember Calvary and the awful, the infinite sacrifice made there for man. Jesus now invites us to come to Him, just as you are, and make Him your strength and your everlasting Friend.” The Review and Herald, April 17, 1894.

John Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. After retiring as chief financial officer for the Grand Canyon Association, Grand Canyon, Arizona, he moved to Wichita, Kansas, to join the Steps team. He may be contacted by email at: