The Refining Process

The gospel is confrontational. Just this week while having coffee with a friend, I was discussing the fact that there is never really a time when the gospel is not confrontational. Unfortunately in America, it is sometimes fairly simple to present a “gospel” message that seems harmless and is relatively easy to accept and claim. Americans tend to prefer comfort, some even expect it, but the gospel that Jesus preached rarely communicated comfort. Though, at its core, the gospel is the foundation of hope and love, no one can ever truly accept the celebratory parts of the gospel without first walking through the acknowledgement of the difficult parts. 

Some people believe that the gospel is just a simple blessing to their lives that ensures they can continue living their lives as they please, all because they attend church weekly. Don’t get me wrong, the gospel is an incomparable blessing in our lives, but to mistakenly believe that the gospel requires nothing of us robs us of experiencing God and ultimately experiencing the true gospel. It so much more than a simple blessing, and experiencing God in His fullness is so much more than simply attending a weekly church service. 

Reflecting on the fact that the gospel is confrontational, though, requires admitting that I will face this confrontation and not shy away from it. This has been a constant tug and pull in my life throughout this last year as God has continually been at work on my pride. I certainly cannot say that I have always immediately embraced the confrontation, but I am definitely able to look back and see how that confrontation has shaped me and molded my character into becoming more like God. This is why I am actually quite thankful for the confrontation of the gospel, because accepting it means that I surrender the control and power of my own will to one that is much greater than mine. 

The apostle Peter reminds his readers about this confrontation and encourages them to embrace it when he writes:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”  

1Peter 4:12-13

The fiery trial is something to be embraced and rejoiced in.

“So that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 

1 Peter 1:7

Even still, this is easier said than done. To fully understand the benefit of the testing and confrontation, we have to consider the end result. In fact, the only thing that will make the tests and trials bearable is considering the final product. Luckily for us, in this case, God is the one who must keep his eyes on the final product. As difficult as it is for us to endure these tests and trials, I imagine it is just as difficult for God to watch us experience them. Similar to when parents find it difficult to discipline their children because of the pain, tears, and feelings involved. Sometimes the only way a parent can push through on their end is to keep their eyes on the goal and prize and remember that the painful step is necessary for the end result. 

Time and time again, the Bible refers to God as a refiner. One who refines and purifies His people in the same way that precious metals are refined and purified. 

“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” 

Proverbs 17:3

“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.” 

Malachi 3:3

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.” 

Job 23:10

“For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.” 

Psalm 66:10-12

The refining, or purification process of precious metals can happen one of two ways (usually). Either fire or water can be used to refine the metals, but both involve a separation of the impure materials within the metal from the pure metal itself. Interestingly, the process of refining or purifying differs from other forms of processing metals in that no chemical changes occur with the original metal during the process. In other words, the qualities and properties of the metal are exactly the same at the end of the process as they were at the beginning. Nothing changes about the metal, it is simply purified, or rid, of any other materials present within it. These other materials do not belong. 

When God refines or purifies us, He is not changing us. He is not undoing and then remaking something He sees as faulty. He knows that our unique makeup is already perfectly pure, but He also knows that some unwanted materials have made their way into our lives, via sin. He is not changing our makeup; He is restoring us to our original and intended perfection. To be like Him. 

So often people hide from the gospel or refuse to allow its possibility because of what they do not want to give up or change about themselves. It is easy to assume that the changes that take place in the life of a person who accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior are due to God fixing them. It is also just as easy to assume that we have very little in our lives for God to fix. Both of these assumptions are hideously wrong and distort the true beauty of what God desires for His people. I see it this way: It is either like us knowing that we are full of cancer but choose not to have it removed, or it is like assuming we are perfectly healthy but we have not allowed a doctor to scan our bodies to reveal the massive amounts of cancer festering inside of us. Presented this way, I feel like many people might view sin differently. In these two pictures of a cancerous body, I venture that neither person would say that the cancer is a welcomed part of them. They both would likely want the cancerous, mutated cells to be removed from their bodies in order to feel like themselves again. 

God is not a vicious dictator forcing people to conform; He is a miraculous doctor restoring life to people. This restoration comes about through the gospel, and often through some sort of pain.

To return to the images of cancer, and purification by fire or water, it really does not matter which image you choose to think about the process. They all involve a similar process and a similar result. Refining by fire involves heating the metal to extremely high temperatures; the pure metal turns to liquid at such temperatures, and the unwanted, impure materials rise to the surface of the liquid metal. The impurities can easily be scraped off of the surface once this occurs, but it involves melting the metal first. Refining by water involves dissolving the metals in a saltwater solution, which essentially breaks apart the solid form of the metal. Once the metal is completely dissolved, a special solution is added that bonds only to the pure metal and causes the pure particles to sink to the bottom. The remaining water full of impurities can then be drained off, and the pure metal heated and melted so that it can form back together, free of impurities. Both processes involved a disembodiment of the metal. If this were possible with our human forms, I am willing to bet it would be extremely painful. Realistically, though, we can have surgeries that cut us open to remove the impurities from our bodies. Modern medicine makes this process relatively painless, but let’s be real, the pain is only masked. 

My point is this: The refining process is a necessary process if we seek purity. Humans pay loads of money for pure metals, and some of us pay loads of money for pure bodies as well. Why, then, are we so hesitant to have our souls purified? Why do we not embrace the gospel fully and allow it to work its sometimes painful process in our lives if the end result is purity? Why is it sometimes easier to desire purity of worldly materials but not purity of our spiritual selves? 

We would do well to open ourselves to the work of God’s refining process in our lives. After all, the end result is not a different us, but rather a pure us. Who would not want that?

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