I have been thinking about the topic of trials and temptations in the Christian's life a lot recently. The topic has come up in email discussions in the church and I have been independently thinking about this myself as well. All of these discussions have helped me see things that I had not seen about this reality in all of our lives, but I have many unanswered questions still, one of which I will bring up here. I will explain what it is I have been thinking and hopefully some who read this can weigh in on what it is I had to say.
My view on trials has been that a trial is a time when one's life isn't going the way it 'should' be going. Like if your wife gets cancer, we would call this a trial. Or if you get beat up for preaching the gospel, this is a trial. I could go on listing the endless 'bad' things that could happen to each one of us, but I think you get the idea. A trial is something considered 'bad' that tries us in our reactions towards that particular situation and the passing of those trials is determined as to whether or not we acted according to how God has deemed what we ought to do in those situations. And yet, I wonder if this view of what a trial actually is would be too narrow to fit into what is actually meant by our faith being tried by various trials (James 1 and 1Peter 1).
To be sure, the early church suffered persecution on a grand scale and in geographical pockets they were being physically abused, even unto death, by their persecutors. And so I am certain that this sort of persecution was what was being written about in many places in the New Testament, but I do not think that just because we do not see this sort of persecution in America that we are to conclude that our faith is not being tried by what Peter calls, 'various trials'. I do not think that we are left out of what James describes as a blessing given to those who persevere under trial, just because we are not being beaten for the faith.
What I would like to do is lay out what I think may have been the greater principle behind this perseverance and hopefully it will become more applicable to your and my life. I would like to state from the start that I am unsure about this and am not holding to this with a tight grasp by any means. This is just my thoughts, written out for other Christians to see and ponder with me.
If someone were to say, 'I prefer a life without trials' what they would be saying is something like this: "I prefer a life of relative ease as opposed to a life filled with sorrows and grief." But, within this statement is found an incorrect definition of what a trial is. I will now go on the record as saying that maybe all of the Christian's life after conversion is a trial or is a continual life of going from one trial to the next. There is no such thing as having a life apart from trials. There is also no such thing as being in a time when there are no trials going on in your life if you are a Christian. The trial begins when you are given a new heart and you encounter your first decision to be made with this new heart. The nature your given and the faith given with it is being tried as to whether or not it is indeed obedient to God. It is continually being tempted by the devil to do things contrary to what God has commanded and written in your heart to do and at times your own flesh is appealing to your heart to do things contrary to what it is you know you ought to do.
With this view of what a trial is, we can now see how it doesn't have to be something that we view as 'bad' but could also be things that we view as 'good'. Let me give you an example. I am sitting on my couch on a Saturday afternoon, doing nothing but wasting time. The Lord wants me to go out and pass out tracts in Kansas City with my free time and has actually given me plenty of ideas about how and where and when to do this but instead of acting on these numerous promptings of the Holy Spirit I decide to be lazy and sit around. Now, no American will walk up to me and accuse me of living in sin. After all, I am a working man and need to relax from time to time. Who wants to work 50 plus hours a week, just to have to spend the only time you get to relax out walking around passing out information that you are certain will make it to the trash unless God intervenes? I would say that this Saturday afternoon was a trial for me. My faith was tried as to whether I was going to be obey God or not. Principally, it is no different than a man being threatened with death if he doesn't renounce his faith before the Roman empire. The question that always needs to be asked is 'Am I doing the will of the Father?'. That being said, it could have been just the opposite. God could have wanted me to stay at home and relax, but instead I went out passing out tracts. Every decision I make is a trial, as to whether or not I will obey God. I would say that we are tried moment by moment in this life, every time a situation arises where we have the option to be disobedient to God or to obey Him. We pass through more trials without us ever being aware that they are trials that, I believe, when Jesus returns, the saints truly will be shown to have been people with pure motives and clean hearts. We notice the trials we struggle with, because our new heart and the Spirit of God is silently rebuking our flesh as it rises up to burn up a Saturday on ourselves instead of doing what it has been telling us to do all along. We notice our corruptions more than our devout obedience because our nature isn't going to allow us to live in this sort of disobedience for long.
To summarize what I have said: Trials are ever present in our lives and we ought not to think of them only as the things that we readily see as 'bad' in our lives, but we ought to see every decision, every moment as a trial, a time when we are being tested as to whether we will or will not be obedient to God. Every moment of our lives after conversion is an opportunity to prove ourselves.
This thought strung out to involve unbelievers would look like this. Unbelievers do not undergo trials (in the sense I am using the term) in this life as Christians do because the purpose of trials is to prove oneself a possessor of the Spirit of God. This, of course, cannot be done by unbelievers. This also shows unbeliever's lack of concern for desiring to be obedient to God in any truthful sense. Sure, we have those who are desiring to obey God according to other religions or even imposters amongst Christian brethren, but these are only so motivated as to make God their debtors by keeping religion so God will be their benefactor and not out of true love for God, which is what defines a Christian. If trials are only those things considered 'bad' then it is true that unbelievers undergo trials just the same as believers.
Again, I am not certain that what I have shared here is truth, but I have thought much on this and have linked together many things concerning this topic.