Dynamics of Spiritual Advance
Adversity and prosperity testing
There are two forms of testing that we encounter: direct testing and indirect testing. By direct testing is meant that the testing is somehow directly related to decisions that we make in life. Indirect testing is situations that come up that are indirectly related and which you can't tie to any decision that you make. For example Pharaoh is going through some testing but it is not related to any decision he has made, it is related to a decision that Abraham has made.
Direct testing is the result of sinful choices and actions. We get out of fellowship by making a sinful choice. We can't get out of fellowship through human good, the first decision we make to get out of fellowship is always a sin. This is the simple principle of volitional responsibility, that whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap. So we get certain negative consequences. A second problem is foolish choices, and this is what happens once we are out of fellowship. We are not going to operate on divine viewpoint, we are going to operate on human viewpoint and produce human good. This is the contrast that is seen in Proverbs, the contrast between wisdom and foolishness. Wisdom is the result of that accumulation of doctrine in the soul, and the believer who advances and grows and learns doctrine makes wise decisions because he has a reservoir of truth in his soul. Whereas the carnal believer and the unbeliever has a reservoir of human viewpoint in his soul, and what comes out of that are foolish choices. Those foolish choices eventually come back to hurt us. We can classify this as self-induced misery but the Lord gives us suffering for discipline for the believer and it is directly related to our own decisions.
On the other hand we have indirect testing. It is not directly related to a volitional choice on our part. In indirect testing we face adversity because we live in the cosmic system, we live in Satan's world. Because we live in Satan's world we are going to experience all of the flaws and problems that are the consequence of Adam's original sin. We are going to face health problems, meteorological disasters, geophysical disasters, financial problems, problems in warfare, problems in poverty, and many others. This is simply because we live in Satan's system and it is a fallen world.
A second category of indirect testing has to do with suffering by association. We live with fallen creatures. Because others make sinful choices we are going to have to suffer along with them. We may work in a corporation where the management makes foolish decisions and therefore we suffer the consequences. We may live in a nation where the leadership is going to make many decisions that out are out of carnality and foolish choices and we are going to suffer the consequences. It is indirect testing and if we are in fellowship, walking by the Spirit and applying doctrine then it becomes a blessing. All suffering for discipline can be converted into suffering for blessing by using 1 John 1:9.
The thing we never talk about is prosperity testing, and this is the second aspect. This also has direct and indirect categories. Direct testing can be traced back to specific decisions we make, wise choices based on divine viewpoint and functioning in the realm of divine good. This is based on application of doctrine. On the other side we may have indirect testing. We may have prosperity that comes our way simply because of common grace: you may have been born in a country that is going through a period of affluence. This is common grace, logistical grace. God gives us many things to survive and which have nothing to do with the decisions that we make but have everything to do with God's decision—where He wants us in life, the ministry He wants us to have, the impact He wants us to have. Then we have blessing by association. We are married to somebody who has good business sense, or we went to work for a company and the leadership in that country is making good decisions and consequently we are blessed by that. Or we may be just living in a nation going through a period of blessing. So this testing can be indirect or direct, and as we go through prosperity testing it is another opportunity for spiritual advance.
The key issue is that every time we have a decision to make that involves application of doctrine or not, it is a test. It may not be a big test. We tend to think of tests as something major, but a test is any decision. It may involve getting irritated with somebody or just remaining relaxed, trusting the Lord, utilizing a little grace orientation and a relaxed mental attitude. Ninety per cent of the tests that most of us flunk are the little ones that seem to be a bit inconsequential.
When we look at Abraham we see that he has devised a strategy, like we all do, in order to make life work apart from God. That is the subtlety of the sin nature. The strategy is always directed toward a goal, and the unstated goal of our sin nature is to make life work apart from God. Whether we want to admit it or not that is the drive of every one of our sin natures. That is exactly what Abraham has done. He is motivated by fear: fear of death, fear of suffering through hunger, fear for those around him perhaps. So he devises a strategy which involves deceit and lying.
Note that Abraham has quite a bit of prosperity while he is out of fellowship. But when we have prosperity that is a consequence of being out of fellowship what is going to happen inevitably is that part of that prosperity is going to come back and kick us in the rear. What we see here is that Abraham increases in his physical possessions—sheep, oxen, male donkeys, and male and female servants. One of those female servants is Hagar. When he goes back to the land he has Hagar with him and that is one of the consequences of his being out of fellowship. If he had never gone to Egypt he would never have picked up Hagar. There would not have been the whole problem of Ishmael. All of this is a consequence of Abraham heading south and trying to solve his problems through what appeared to be a good solution but was the production of his own carnality.
We have building blocks in our spiritual life and we relate them to the problem solving devices or the stress busters. In essence they become the means by which God strengthens our soul and builds spiritual Christ-like character in our souls, so that we can then further handle greater and greater tests. In spiritual childhood there are five of these problem-solving devices that are foundational: confession (1 John 1:9), filling of the Holy Spirit, walking by means of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18; Galatians 5:16), the faith-rest drill. The faith-rest drill is where Abraham is being tested, and he fails. Also in grace orientation because he is failing to trust that God in His grace is going to take care of him in the midst of the famine. So it can be seen that at this fundamental level we have to apply these problem-solving devices. This is where we need to focus as we go through the life of Abraham. We will see how these are lived out in a person's life.
Life doesn't flow in logical patterns, it is rather messy, dynamic. In spiritual adolescence we develop a personal sense of our eternal destiny. Then is spiritual adulthood we build on grace orientation and doctrinal orientation, we develop a real love for God. We develop impersonal love for all mankind and occupation with Christ. It culminates in a genuine peace and stability. That is the logical relationship but we don't all grow that way. For example, we come into Bible class and hear teaching on occupation with Christ, so we begin to learn there before we learn something else. It is rather messy. So we build some kind of foundation and then as time goes by we learn a little of that doctrine, a little of this doctrine, and we build this whole spiritual soul fortress one brick at a time, but not on a logical order. It is dynamic. Abraham recovers through confession, and we see this in the first three verses. We see this where he goes back to Bethel and Ai where he erected an altar to the Lord before, and there we are told in 13:4, "…and there Abram called on the name of the LORD." That is his return back to reliance upon God. And what happens as soon as he gets back in fellowship? There is another land test, v.6, "And the land was not able to support them."