Sometimes the reason for our suffering is to test our faith. It is under that testing that we prove what it is that we truly believe. Aren’t our beliefs and convictions made stronger when they are required of us? Your true beliefs and convictions come out when you are put to the test on them. Jesus warns Peter about a testing of his faith. In Luke 22:31-32: And the Lord said, “Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.
Jesus is telling Peter that Satan is going to test him, to see whether Peter would remain faithful to Jesus or not. And Jesus has even prayed that Peter’s faith would be strong and not fail. Peter was faced with the test of whether he would admit to being a follower of Jesus and risk being arrested too, or whether he would deny knowing Jesus for his own safety. We know that Peter failed this test – three times that night. But he realized immediately what he had done. And it says that he “wept bitterly” over it. It was that testing that humbled Peter and ultimately strengthened his faith to endure much more difficult trials and tests later in his life. As Jesus had said, Peter returned to Him and strengthened his brethren. This testing allowed Peter to grow stronger to never falter again. His faith was tested later through imprisonment and execution, but he had learned by then how to remain strong by relying on the strength from God instead of himself.
The definitive example of having our faith tested through suffering is found with Jesus. At first glance, it appears that the testing of His faith was in the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4, Mark 1). Those accounts actually tell us that the Spirit is what took Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. God Himself did not tempt Jesus, nor does God Himself tempt us. But God uses Satan's temptations to serve His sovereign purposes. And Jesus was tempted in all points – the “lust of the flesh,” the “lust of the eyes,” and the “pride of life.” The flesh lust was for food. Jesus had fasted forty days and forty nights and Satan tempted Him to turn the rocks into bread. The lust of the eyes was the promise of all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship Satan. The pride of life was to test the angels to save Him if he jumped off the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus had to be tempted in order to show His faithfulness and sinlessness. As with Adam and Eve in the garden, obedience cannot be proven unless there is the opportunity for disobedience. Faithfulness cannot be proven if there is never the moment for lack of faith.
In reality though, the true test of faith for Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knew the path that was before Him; He knew the suffering of the betrayal, the abandonment, the trial, and the cross that awaited Him. And He wanted more than anything for there to be some other way for man to be reconciled to God. How do we know that? Because of His prayer. It says that He was “sorrowful and deeply distressed.” He cried out for “this cup” of suffering to pass from Him. He prayed that there would be another way. The true testing here was whether Jesus would submit to God’s will or whether He would succumb to the temptation of NOT sacrificing His life on the cross. Jesus could have called down a whole host of angels to fight the Romans and overthrow the Pharisees. But that was not God’s will. The suffering that Jesus would endure was testing His faith and testing His obedience. But His faith proved true and His actions showed obedience as He submitted Himself to God’s will. “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39
James speaks on suffering used for testing our faith. In James 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James says we should find joy in our trials. That is not our natural response to hardship, but as Christians we are to consider our trials as joy and make a conscience effort to face them with joy. Why? Because we know that it tests our faith. God brings these tests to prove and increase the strength and quality of our faith. It even serves to validate our faith when we rely on Him during our trials. During our suffering, we can either respond in faith in God, which will strengthen our faith, or we can respond in human weakness, which will grow into temptation. But the result of testing is perseverance, endurance, and patience. It brings us to a spiritual maturity – a deeper trust in Christ, which is where we are complete.