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TRIED AND TRUE (4): PASSING THE TEST

(James 1:12)
February 24, 2019

Read James 1:12 – A tour guide was leading a group thru Carlsbad caverns in
NM when someone in the group asked, “How many miles of undiscovered
passageways are there in this cave?” Good question, but unanswerable, right?
We might well ask the same question about ourselves – how many miles of
undiscovered passageways in our hearts? God only knows. But He’d like us
to find out as well. And that’s what trials are all about. Self-discovery.

Many of us miss that, focused only on the trial, not on the purpose! But those
who are wise have their eyes open. This verse shows how trials reveal our true
spiritual state – Xn or not! Jas gives us 4 characteristics of the person who is
“blessed”, who receives the crown of life, who loves God – in short, who’s
real and who’s not. It’s an invitation to do what II Cor 13:5 asks: “Examine
yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.” Am I? Are you? Trials reveal
who we are deep down, so join me in a mid-term examination to see if our
lives reflect what we claim. What is hardship revealing about our faith?

I. True Believers Remain Steadfast

“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.” First sign of a true
believer – doesn’t fold under pressure. They hang in. “Steadfast” is the same
word used in Jas 1:3-4 meaning “fortitude or patient endurance.” This
person doesn’t give up because it suddenly got hard. How do you measure up?

Jas’ word (υπομενω) literally means “to remain under”. The thought is,
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.” Jas is saying, “Listen,
anyone can remain faithful when the trial is lifted. Great. Sometimes it is.
But can you remain faithful when the trial continues? That’s the hallmark
of a true believer.” Sometimes God lifts the trial – like Peter released from
prison in Acts 12. Sometimes God does not lift the trial, as when Stephen and
James were jailed and killed. The true believer trusts God whether the trial is
lifted or whether it remains. The issue isn’t what God does with the test. The
issue is what we do with the test – and what it reveals about us.

Remember God is active in every trial, doing what? Testing, revealing what’s
inside so we can cultivate greater faith. Steadfastness is not simply the ability
to bear things; it is the ability to turn them to greatness. Early non-Xns
marveled at how Xn martyrs died -- often died singing. Steadfastness is not
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simply the ability to suffer under the circumstances but to overcome the
circumstances by faith. That’s what true believers do – and that’s revealing!

In Lu 8 Jesus gave a parable likening people’s hearts to four kinds of soil. One
type was filled with rocks. Jesus explained the meaning this way in Lu 8:13:
“And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it
with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of
testing fall away.” Trials revealed the faith they claimed had no root. They
were fine in good times. But hard hearts caused them to fade under adversity.

Not a true believer. Under adversity, true believers cling even harder to Jesus.
They may lose heart for awhile, but they come around. The pattern of their
life is steadfastness under trial. There are moments of doubt, self-pity,
despair. But that’s not their lifestyle. They don’t fall away as those who have
no root. The fire applied to the ore soon reveals what is real gold and what is
fake. So trials reveal true faith as believers remain steadfast under trial.

C. J. Mahaney tells of a family Xmas where a young relative Dave asked


prayer for some physical difficulties. They prayed, but within a week he was
diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor. After surgery and unsuccessful
chemo, Dave came home under hospice care. Shortly he went to be with the
Lord. Meantime a stream of visitors came thru to visit him and his wife,
Sharon, as she cared for him. One visitor – a non-believer -- expressed anger
at God for allowing Dave to die young, leaving a wife and children. He asked
Sharon, “Why are you not angry?” She replied, "Here’s why. David deserved
hell for his sins, just like you and me, and yet God, in His mercy, forgave
him because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Dave is
going to heaven. How can I be angry at God for taking him to heaven?"
That’s steadfast under trial, isn’t it? That’s what marks true believers.

II. True Believers Pass the Test

Now Jas turns a corner. When he says, “remains steadfast under trial,” he is
speaking of any hardship life may impose. But then he says, “for when he has
stood the test he will receive the crown of life,” he’s moved from an single
trial, to the whole test of life. This person’s been steadfast right up to the end.
He passed the test of life, maintaining his faith all the way.

There’s great unseen hope in that statement, because, let’s face it, we all
occasionally fail individual tests, right? We do. So did many of God’s choicest
servants. Abraham lied about his wife not once, but twice – double F on the
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same issue. Yet in the end he stands as one of the great champions of faith in
the Bible. Moses killed a man once, and then later, disobeyed God and struck
a rock to get water rather than speaking to it. He didn’t get to go into the land
with the Israelites – not then. But in Lu 9, who is not only in the land but in a
glorified state on the Mt of Transfiguration with Jesus? Moses, who had stood
the ultimate test of a lifetime of faith, interrupted by brief periods of failure.

David, a man after God’s own heart, had stupendous failure when he took
Bathsheba and murdered her husband. But that failure did not define him –
his repentance and faith defined him. Peter disavowed Jesus the night He
was arrested – and later showed partiality against Gentiles in Antioch. But he
still passed the final. Do you see, we may fail a pop quiz now and then –
perhaps even the mid-term – but the true believer will be there at the end. So if
you feel yourself sinking this morning, hang on, turn again to God, cling to
Him whatever the trial. Do not let the failures of the past define your future.

Get back on track by turning again to God, confessing your doubt, or despair,
or lack of faith, or fear – whatever it is – give it to Him. That’s what believers
do. They don’t cut and run – not permanently. They find their way to
submission to the Father. He knows we don’t always get it right. He is far
more ready to receive us back than we are to return. But that’s where true
believers end up. They return. They take the final. They pass the test.

Like the little boy all dressed up for a special party -- jumping around, full of
energy. Mom warned, “Calm down or you’re going to fall down and get all
messed up!” And it wasn’t long before he did – just off the sidewalk into
some mud. Mom stopped, hands on hips and said, “Now what are you going
to do?” With amazing composure he said, “I’m going to get up.” Brilliant!
That’s what believers do. Whatever foolishness took them down, they get up.

Martin Luther once got despondent for days. Nothing wife Katherine did
helped. So she came down one morning dressed all in black. Luther asked
why. She said, “Someone has died.” He asked, “Who?” She said, “It must
have been God the way you’ve been acting.” But God hadn’t died. And He
hasn’t died. So take heart. Get back in the game. If you’ve failed the mid-term,
you still have the final. True believers pass the test.

III. True Believers are Motivated by Love

Now, in many ways, the secret behind it all is in Jas’ last phrase – “which God
has promised to those who love him.” That’s not really what we’d expect, is
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it? You’d expect: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for
when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has
promised to those who trust him.” That would be an appropriate thing to say,
right? None of this works if you don’t trust God. You’ll never embrace trials
and pass the tests if you don’t trust the God who is allowing them.

But James has gone to the deepest level of motivation here. Why should we
embrace trials, and want with all our hearts to pass the tests? Bc we love the
Father. If love isn’t the motivation, it all falls apart. In the end, there really
are only two great motivators – love and fear. And while fear is sometimes
necessary, like Jesus used the specter of judgment to get people to look at
reality and come to faith – the thing that sustains us in our faith like no other is
not fear but love. Love is without question the greatest motivator in the
universe. So James has taken all the way down the elevator – past fear, past
trust, past obedience to the bottom floor of love. Do you love God?

Jesus made this very simple. John 14:15: “If you love me, you will keep my
commandments.” You will. You’ll want to. Because you love me. Why do we
have a joyful attitude as we face trials? Because we love God, and He loves
us, and He will not harm us. Love of God is the ultimate driver for Xns.

Remember the first time you fell in love with that someone special? All the
special things you did for them. You wanted to know them so you could do for
them. You made a CD of her favorite songs and gave it to her. She said, “Oh,
John, you shouldn’t have.” And you said, “Well, after all, it was my duty. I
cannot expect you to do for me unless I do for you – so there you are.”
You’d quickly learn the dif between love and fear as motivator. Also be
looking for a new girl! You did it because you loved her, with no expectation
of anything in return. And that’s what God has been seeking since the Garden
of Eden – those who will obey because they love. Do you love God?

I’m afraid many of us have loved God, but the love is gone. Obedience has
become a duty the interferes with our own game plan. It can happen so easily.
We wouldn’t be the first. Only thirty years after Paul wrote Ephesians
complimenting them on their love for God and one another, Jesus told them in
Rev 3:3: I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s
sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you
have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where
you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to
you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” They were
theologically sound, dutifully obedient! But going thru the motions. They’d
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abandoned – not lost, but abandoned – allowing other things to intrude – like a
marriage gone bad for lack of communication and intimacy – they’d
abandoned that first love, and the way to get it back was – repentance!

It’s easy to see God as the great Interferer, as C. S. Lewis called Him – no
longer wanting to please Him, but fearing to disobey. We’ve left our love. We
see God as the Admiral at the Naval Academy standing by the candy machine.
A plebe walked by and the Admiral said, “Sailor, do you have change for a
dollar?” The plebe answered, “Sure, buddy,” and began fishing in his pocket.
The admiral bristled and said, “That’s no way to address an officer! Let’s try
that again. Do you have change for a dollar?” The plebe snapped to attention
and said, “No, Sir!” That’ll be us if we see God’s tests as intrusions into our
perfect existence. But when we view Him as the loving Father He is and
ourselves and honored and willing participants in His great, universal and
eternal plans – what a difference, right? Motivated by love. I suspect a lot of
us have some repenting to do this morning to get back to that first love. So
let’s do it. Let’s be with Jesus, and let’s fall in love with Him all over again.

IV. True Believers Receive Life

The ultimate reward for those who remain steadfast under trial and who love
God? They “will receive the crown of life.” God never asks something for
nothing. He never asks us to endure just for the sake of enduring. He is not a
sadist. He always has our back; always has our best interests at heart; always
is looking to help us fulfill our ultimate purpose of glorifying Him. And the
end promise is the “crown of life.” It doesn’t get better than that.

The Greek language knows of two kinds of crown – the diadem worn by kings
and princes, and the word used here -- στέφανος, the special wreath placed on
the head of the victor in athletic events. This crown is eternal life. And it
belongs to the one who demonstrates saving faith by having a pattern of
enduring under trials. Perseverance does not produce eternal life, but it
demonstrates a faith whose fruit is eternal life. The grammar used here
suggests that crown and life are one and the same – those who pass the test
will receive the crown which is life – eternal life!

In II Tim 4:8 Paul speaks to the same idea when he says, “Henceforth there is
laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous
judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who
have loved his appearing.” In order to have eternal life, you must have
Christ’s righteousness which is awarded by the Father to those who’ve trusted
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Christ and love His appearing. Why would you love his appearing? Bc you
love Him. We’re back to that again, right? I used to travel a lot, but every time
I could hardly sleep the night before returning home. Why? I could hardly
wait to get back to see Patty. It drove my existence on those days, just as love
for seeing Christ ought to drive our existence now. The crown of life awaits.

Peter calls it the crown of glory. I Pet 5:4: “And when the chief Shepherd
appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” The “crown of life”,
the “crown of righteousness,” and the “crown of glory” – all referring to the
same things – eternal life. These are not rewards spoken of in I Cor 3. They
are one and the same – the promise of eternal life with God in heaven. I’ll
never forget hearing one of the Prosperity Gospel preachers talking about
insisting that God give him his due now. He said, “I want to know to live in a
mansion now! I want to live in a penthouse now!” How little he understood
the promises of God. How much finer to endure with patient steadfastness
what He asks now for the glorious future that awaits those who love Him.

Conc – This is a message of hope. Whatever the trial God sent your way, stay
the course. After many battles, Frodo, in Lord of the Rings, says, “I wish it
need not have happened in my time.” Gandalf replies, “So do I, and so do all
who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to
decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” So what are we doing
with our time? Paul tells us how to think about trials. Rom 8:18: “For I
consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with
the glory that is to be revealed to us.” That’s why we embrace trials – because
of the glory of where they lead.

So, stay the course for love of Him. Believe me, you can never love Him as
He loves you. Let’s pray.