Testing, Vindication, Spiritual Growth. Genesis 22:1
Testing is the key mechanism for advancing in the spiritual life. When we are walking by means of the Holy Spirit, applying the Word that we have learned and studied—Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them through thy word, thy word is truth"—and that produces divine good. When we sin we quit walking by the Spirit, so that we are living according to the works of the flesh—Galatians 5:16ff, we produce sin, human good [morality produced apart from dependence upon God], and this leads to temporal death—dead works. That in turn leads to further spiritual weakness and inability, and if we continue in that state the spiritual regression leads to a hardened heart, and before long the carnal believer's life doesn't look any different from the unbeliever's life. The only way to move from this cycle is to confess our sins and then to continue to walk by means of the Holy Spirit, abide in Christ.
Sanctification is related to learning obedience, developing a consistent obedience to the Word of God. Jesus said in John 14:15, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." So that love for God is demonstrated by obedience to His Word. Love for God is not demonstrated by how we feel. 1 John 2:3, "And we come to know [and that is not salvation] that we know him, if we keep his commandments." Coming to know, that exact same phrase in the Greek, was used by Jesus in the upper room discourse when He turned to Philip and said, "Philip, how long have you been with me, and yet you haven't come to know me?" Philip was saved but he didn't know Jesus. Biblically, coming to know God is a post-salvation growth issue; it is not salvation. So John says we know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commandments. Again, it is related to an objective standard. Cf. 1 John 5:2.
If we go back into the Old Testament there are about eight times in the book of Deuteronomy where God says, If you love me, keep my commandments." Deuteronomy is all about love. When Jesus summarized the law in Matthew 22:27, 38, He said, "You shall love the Lord thy God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment." The whole summary of the Mosaic law, which is what Deuteronomy is, starts with loving God, and loving God is demonstrated by applying the Word in our life. That is what keeping the commandments means. It doesn't mean keeping the ten commandments, it means applying the mandates of Scripture whether it is the positive mandates or the negative prohibitions. It is doing what the Word of God says to do and not doing what the Word of God says not to do. This is how we measure spiritual growth: in terms of obedience and that capacity which comes from the Word of God. Notice that we have to know His commandments [mandates] to keep His commandments. To know the commandments we have to read the Scripture on a regular basis, go to Bible class and study the Word so that we can properly interpret the commandments. If we don't take the time to read the Word, study the Word, learn the Word under a pastor-teacher that is qualified and trained and is teaching the Word in detail, you can't grow. It is the study and application of the Word that is the focal point throughout the Scriptures. We grow through the study of the Word.
All of this demonstrates the core principle that sanctification, spiritual growth, or whatever term we want to use, is measured by learning to obey the Word and its application in our lives.
Hebrews 11:9-19 focuses on Abraham and gives us a key element of the importance of Abraham's life as it is understood in the New Testament. In verse 17 we read, "By faith [by means of trusting the promises, the principles and procedures God had revealed] Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son." Faith is operational in relationship to testing, and the object of faith is the promises, principles, and procedures revealed in the Word of God.
The life of Abraham is picked up in the New Testament to illustrate six different things. This is important to understand what is happening in Genesis chapter 22.
1) It is God's provision for the human race, through the Abrahamic covenant. He makes specific promises to Abraham and the seed related to the land and that the blessing is going to come through his seed. Paul picks that up in Galatians chapter three and applies it to the Lord Jesus Christ, but ultimately there will eb a blessing to all mankind through Abraham.
2) Election: God's choice or selection of Abraham and the Jews in the Old Testament becomes the picture for understanding what Paul discusses on election in the New Testament.
3) Justification by faith alone when the believer understands the gospel and puts his faith alone in Christ alone. This is what we refer to as phase one salvation, the first stage of salvation. It is instant and complete. Cf. Genesis 15:6.
4) Another kind of justification is given in James chapter two, and this is a vindication before man and before the angels.
5) We have the principles of spiritual growth and spiritual advance illustrated in Hebrews 11:9-19, "By faith Abraham." So Abraham is a picture of how to be saved—justification by faith alone; he is the picture of mature justification—vindication before man and angels; and in Hebrews 11 he is the picture of how to get from spiritual birth to spiritual maturity. This is indicated through the process of testing, and the classic test in Abraham's life is Genesis chapter twenty-two.
6) Abraham is the basis for missions because it is through the seed of Abraham that all the nations will be blessed. So when we understand the Abrahamic covenant it drives us straight to the cross, and then the cross almost acts like a blessing prism and spreads it out for all the nations. So the responsibility of church age believers is to promote the expansion of the gospel throughout all the nations of the earth.
Abraham's final exam comes in Genesis 22. God tests Abraham with respect to the promises He has given. The same kind of thing happens to us in the church age. The tests that God brings into our lives during our spiritual advance are related to the provisions that He gave us at the instant of salvation. Those unshakeable provisions that are a part of our spiritual asset package are what God tests as we advance through the Christian life. So Abraham is a picture of the faith-rest drill, and we see basically three things that are going on here.
1) Abraham is tested to see if he understood these doctrines that God has been teaching him.
2) Abraham provides a shadow imagery that will later be fulfilled down to the minutest detail. So Genesis 22 picks up typologically certain images. We are told in v.2, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac." In the Greek translation the phrase "only son" is translated with the Greek word MONOGENES [monogenhj]. The word can be broken down to MONO, meanings one, GENES is related to GENAO, which means generation, or uniquely generated one, or it can refer to one of a kind, and that is the main idea. It is one of a kind. It is applied here to Isaac, he was one of a kind. He was not the only son, but he is a uniquely provided son. It is applied later to Jephthah's daughter, his only daughter, and refers to the uniqueness of the child. So Isaac is a picture and a type of Jesus Christ. The ram that is provided in the bushes is a picture and type of the substitutionary atonement. So there is this typological detail that is given.
3) Then we see that this is all a picture of how God uses testing for spiritual advance in the believer.
How does testing work?
1) The tests referred to in Scripture for spiritual advance are more than just the negative vicissitudes and problems that we run into in life. Most of those things that we deal with on a day to day basis don't really rise to the same level of those situations in the Scripture that are designed as tests. These are specific events that are designed God for each one of us to produce momentum in our spiritual advance.
2) We see from the illustration of Abraham's spiritual life that the tests are negative circumstances that are directly related to the promises God made in the Abrahamic covenant.
3) We see that the tests are specifically designed by God. Genesis 22:1, "And it came to pass after these things, that God did test Abraham." So it is a divinely designed test, not just the negative things that happen because we live in a fallen world. These are of a higher quality.
4) Tests are for the benefit of the one tested in terms of spiritual growth. They are designed to produce momentum in our spiritual growth, to use particular doctrines we have earned, and to deal specifically with us in terms of the weaknesses of our sin nature so that those weaknesses can be dealt with by the Word of God. It allows the believer to convert the potential, which is the doctrine in the soul, into reality. Since God is omniscient He knows exactly what each of our weaknesses are; we have to figure out what doctrine to use. He is going to push everybody's button differently.
5) The ultimate purpose is for the believer to demonstrate love for God through obedience and application of doctrine. That is what God is after; that is why the test.
6) God promises the believer that He is in charge of all these tests. 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No testing has overtaken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able." The testing doesn't come into our life by chance but under the sovereign direction of God. What does "above that you are able" mean" It doesn't mean that God is not going to give you more than you can handle. There is more to it than that. It goes on from there: "but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to endure it"—that you can stay under the testing, the pressure; that you can continue to live in the midst of the pressure cooker day in and day out by means of the promises of God and the filling of the Holy Spirit. The reason we can handle these testings and bear them is because God has given us positionally as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ everything that we need to be able to handle them. But the tests don't come randomly, they come under the sovereign control of God, so we can relax and know that no matter how horrible it may be God is in control and He has designed this test specifically for our needs in order that we can advance in our spiritual lives.
7) The test is designed to manifest God's grace and power, and to be a testimony to other human beings and to the angels. The test gives the believer an opportunity to be a spotlighted example of the grace of God. Genesis 22:1, "And it came to pass after these things, that God did test Abraham." The word there for test is the Hebrew word massah, which means to test, to try, to prove in the sense of assaying gold and proving its value. It is translated "tempt" but in the sense of testing. The word etymologically derives from a Hebrew word which means a signal pole, a standard, an ensign, a banner or sign, and it shows that the understanding in Hebrew and the concept of testing is that it gave an opportunity of raising a banner that illustrated the grace of God; that you were posting a billboard over you life, that "I am being tested by God and this gives me a chance of testifying and being a witness to the sufficiency of God's grace and power in my life. That is exactly what we see revealed in the New Testament: that every time we have a test it is an opportunity to be, as it were, a legal witness in a courtroom to the grace of God, the sufficiency of His grace and the Word of God, and His ability to take care of us even under the most dire of circumstances.