During the California gold rush (from 1848 to 1855), gold dealers needed to be sure the metal that prospectors were trying to sell to them was actually gold. They did that by using the acid test. They would apply a few drops of nitric acid to the metal. If the acid dissolved it, they knew that it wasn’t really gold. If the metal was unchanged by the acid, though, they knew it was genuine–real gold.
God also tests our faith, and sometimes those tests feel like acid. He wants us to know, and He wants us to show to the world, that our faith is genuine, that we have real, saving faith.
Jesus emphasized how important real faith is in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:21-23 He describes a tragic scene involving people who stand before God’s final judgment throne. These people are wrongly convinced that their kind of faith will be enough to get them into heaven. They are so convinced of their own goodness that they argue with the Lord Himself, boldly claiming that their good works were done in Christ’s name. God knows the hearts, though. Their faith was in their own goodness, not in Him. Despite their confidence in their faith, Jesus warns them that they will never get into heaven. He says they will hear God say, “…I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
Jesus is warning us all that we need to make sure we have that genuine, saving faith. We need a faith that will pass God’s acid test, and we need to know for sure before we get to His final judgment. We can KNOW this, as the Bible makes clear in I John 5:13. It says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
How can we know that our faith is genuine? Here is a three-point “acid test” we can all take to help us evaluate whether or not our faith is real.
#1. Real faith trusts that God is in control of everything, including suffering. Even fake faith can feel like it is trusting in God when things are going well. Real faith, on the other hand, continues to trust in God even when things are hard. Real faith knows that He is completely and lovingly in control. “The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these” (Isaiah 45:7). Also, see Psalm 119:67 & 71 and Deuteronomy 32:39.
#2. Real faith does not question whether or not God is good. If God chooses for a follower of His to endure suffering, then He is in the process of producing a good result through it. Notice this beautiful promise: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect,[or bring to wholeness] confirm,[or make you firm] strengthen [or give you strength] and establish you [or give you a firm foundation]” (1 Peter 5:10).
All followers of Jesus Christ want to have a stronger faith. For that reason, even in the midst of pain or disappointment, they can say, “…We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope” (Romans 5:3–4).
#3. Real faith longs to experience God’s eternal glory. Let’s never forget that believers have everlasting life. Eternity with Christ is infinitely valuable. “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).
True followers of Jesus Christ long to be with Him because He gave His life on the Cross for our sins. Jesus “…having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him” (Hebrews 9:28).
Suffering has real meaning for a follower of Jesus Christ, but there are no such promises for the non-believer. Pastor John MacArthur bluntly warns us that, “Those who do not know Christ have no hope when they suffer. Whatever the reason for their affliction, it does not come upon them for Christ’s sake, or righteousness’s sake, and therefore cannot produce for them any spiritual blessing or glory. Those who live only for this life cannot look forward to any resolution of wrongs or to any comfort for their souls. Their pain, loneliness, and afflictions serve no divine purpose and bring no divine reward.” [John F. MacArthur Jr., Romans, MacArthur New Testament Commentary, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 1:450.]
To some degree, everyone suffers. Those without Christ suffer with no real purpose or hope. When believers suffer, though, they have the Lord’s comfort, as well as the promise of a joy-filled eternity ahead of them. That kind of perseverance during suffering shows genuine faith.
If you know Christ as your Savior, then you can sing (or say) this hymn by Esther Kerr Rusthoi:
It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race till we see Christ.