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13. How to Pass God’s Tests (Genesis 22)

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Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide… (Genesis 22)

Interpretation Question: What is the difference between a test (or a trial) and a temptation?

What are characteristics of God’s tests and how can we faithfully pass them?

As we study Abraham’s life, it is clear God brought him through many tests. In Genesis 12, he was called to leave his home and family to go to a land that God would show him. He was challenged with the family test. For many of us, leaving our family to do what God has called us to do, or doing what God has called us to do in spite of family is a difficult test.

Abraham arrived at the promised land only to find a famine. He lacked resources and had to decide whether to trust God or not. He had the famine test. In Genesis 13, Abraham’s herdsmen and Lot’s herdsmen had a conflict in the promised land. There he encountered the conflict test. In Genesis 14, he went to fight against the four armies of the east with his 300 men and a few alliances. Abraham had the warfare test.

While Abraham followed God, he faced many tests, and we will as well. James 1:2–3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

God takes us through tests to try our faith and discern its composition. Is it genuine or false? Is it weak or strong? Furthermore, since God has great plans for each of his children, tests are preparation for greater works, just as tests in school. Believers go through tests to build and strengthen their faith. Without believing in God, nothing is possible. Therefore, tests are the lot of God’s children because they must be prepared for the things God desires them to accomplish.

In this narrative, Abraham encountered a very difficult test primarily because of the great call on his life. Abraham was called to be a great nation and through his seed all nations would be blessed. Essentially, the gospel was to come through Abraham and his family. In order to fulfill this, Abraham needed to be tested and built up, and so do we.

How do we pass God’s tests? In considering this, let’s clarify that God never tempts believers to sin. James 1:13–14 says,

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.

God does not tempt anyone because he is holy and perfect; however, he does test believers. God tests his children to make their faith strong, and Satan tempts them to make it weak. In fact, I would add that whenever God tests believers, Satan always comes behind to tempt them. God tested Adam and Eve in the garden. He said, “Do not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and if you do, you will surely die.” Then Satan came and tempted them to fail the test.

In every trial God brings, we can be sure that Satan comes behind to tempt us with our own natural desires (cf. James 1:14). Maybe, he tempts us with our desire for safety, for pleasure, or to be known and esteemed. But, he tempts us to fail God’s tests by using our natural desires within us.

How can we pass God’s tests? In Genesis 22, we learn a great deal from Abraham about passing God’s tests.

Big Question: What can we learn about passing God’s tests from the Genesis 22 narrative?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Expect Them

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. (Genesis 22:1–3)

After God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Abraham did not question God or respond with shock or anger, he just went to bed and the next day obeyed. In contrast with previous narratives, Abraham often dialogued with God.

In Genesis 15:1, God showed up to Abraham and said, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” Abraham replied, “‘O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’ … ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir’” (v. 2–3). This is not a man who is afraid to converse with God, especially when he doesn’t understand or agree.

In Genesis 17:18, when God told Abraham that he was going to have a son in his old age with Sarah, he responded by requesting a blessing over Ishmael. He said, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Abraham essentially said, “What about Ishmael?”

In Genesis 18, when God told Abraham he was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, where Lot lived, Abraham immediately responded by questioning and petitioning God. Genesis 18:23–25 says,

Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

The word “approached” in Genesis 18:23 was used of a lawyer about to plead his case. Abraham went before God and pleaded Sodom and Gomorrah’s case. He, in humility, challenged the Lord’s righteousness. He essentially said, “Lord, you are righteous, you will not do such a thing.” However, when God called Abraham to sacrifice his own son, he said nothing.

I think he had learned to expect tests from God and also to trust him. Since Abraham began following God, he experienced many tests and for each one God showed himself faithful, even when Abraham wasn’t faithful. When Abraham lied to Pharaoh and Abimelech about his wife, each time God protected him and his wife. Abraham knew God was faithful, and he had learned to trust him.

With that said, one of things that we must learn if we are going to pass God’s tests is to expect them. As a general rule, if we take a test without knowing about it, we typically fail.

And, to be honest, many believers fail God’s tests, in part, by not expecting them. They get mad at God. They are shocked by the difficulty they encountered. Some even fall away from God when tests come.

In Matthew 13:20–21, the Parable of the Sower, Jesus describes people who receive the Word of God on stony ground. They receive it with joy, but when trouble or persecution comes they quickly fall away. The implication is that these people weren’t expecting it and, therefore, weren’t prepared.

Peter said this to Christians suffering for their faith in the Roman Empire: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet 4:12). He said don’t be surprised and don’t think it’s strange. Essentially, he says, “Expect it.”

James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” James doesn’t say “if” you face trials of many kinds but “whenever” you face trials of many kinds. We should expect them.

The Christian life is a series of trials and tests because these reveal and strengthen our faith. If we are going to pass God’s tests, we must expect them. They are part of life.

Application Question: What is your typical response to a trial? How can you respond better?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand God Already Prepared Us

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:1–2)

The next thing we must understand about passing God’s test is that God has already prepared us. Now, as we read this narrative on Abraham, we cannot but notice the similarity to what happened in the previous chapter. In Genesis 21, Isaac was a toddler, and the family celebrated his weaning. During this celebration, Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, stood at a distance and mocked Isaac. In Galatians 4:29, Paul actually says he “persecuted” him.

When Sarah saw this, she became angry and told Abraham to throw Hagar and Ishmael out, for the son of the slave woman would not share the inheritance of her son, Isaac. The text said this greatly distressed Abraham (Gen 21:11). He loved his son. However, God spoke to Abraham and comforted him. He told Abraham to let him go, that God’s presence would be with Ishmael, and that Ishmael would become a nation (v. 12–13). Therefore, Abraham let his son go.

Now only a chapter later, God asks for Abraham’s other son. With Ishmael, Abraham could send him away because he knew that God was faithful and that he would provide for him. And now, in this narrative, probably well over ten years later, Abraham had watched God’s faithfulness with his son Ishmael. He married and God was prospering him, which only further confirmed Abraham’s faith. Abraham had been trained, not only because of that test, but because of many previous tests.

This is true for us, as well. God never takes us through a test that he has not prepared us for. That wouldn’t be fair. Why give his children tests they couldn’t pass? He only gives what we can handle by his grace. Consider 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

God is faithful; he will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and with the temptation he always provides away to “stand up” or bear it. I cannot but think of the disciples right before Christ went to the cross. John 18:7–9 describes the events:

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” (John 18:7–9)

Why did Christ ask the soldiers who they wanted? It was because he was protecting his disciples. They were not yet ready to be martyrs, and he was making sure none of them would ultimately turn away from him. He was keeping their faith.

God does the same with us. He only puts us into trials he has prepared us for. Now, we still have to make use of that preparation. We must use the resources God gave us in the church—godly counsel and mentors. We must continually discipline ourselves unto godliness by studying Scripture, prayer, and serving (cf. 1 Tim 4:7). We must also flee from all appearance of evil as he has taught us (1 Thess 5:22). In doing this, we put on the armor of God to stand against spiritual attacks (Eph 6:10–13). If we fail the test, it is not for lack of preparation or resources. God has given us everything needed for life and godliness (cf. 2 Pet 1:3).

The trial may seem like too much, but if we look back over previous tests encountered and teachings received, he has prepared us to faithfully stand. We must take comfort in this, as we go through tests. He is a loving father who never allows us to encounter something we are unprepared for.

Application Question: As you consider the various tests you’ve encountered, how can you see God’s faithful preparation for these tests?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand They Will Often Seem Illogical

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:1–2)

As we consider the Lord’s command, it must have seemed illogical to Abraham, as it may to us. God promised Abraham that Isaac would become a great nation and all nations would be blessed through him (cf. Gen 12:1–3, 21:12). How could this happen if Abraham sacrificed Isaac?

Interestingly, “to an ancient Middle Easterner, ‘burnt offering’ suggested a process: first cutting the offering’s throat, then dismemberment, and then a sacrifice by fire in which the body parts were completely consumed on the altar.”1 How could Abraham even bare this image? And, how could this fit with the Lord’s previous promises? It must have clearly sounded illogical to Abraham.

No doubt, many times in our lives, the tests God allowed us to go through, at least at first, didn’t make any sense. We asked ourselves these types of questions, “Why would God allow me to go through this?” “Why did this happen to my friend or my family member?” God’s tests often are confusing.

For Abraham, sacrificing one’s son to a deity was not foreign to his worldview. This was common to the Canaanite religions. The people sacrificed children to appease their gods (cf. Lev 18:21, 24). Maybe, Abraham reasoned to himself, “If the pagan gods are worthy of such affection, then most certainly it must be true of my God.” We can only speculate.

Abraham did not have the benefit of the progressive revelation that God has given us in Scripture. In the Mosaic law, human sacrifice was clearly forbidden. Again, this must have been very confusing and difficult for Abraham, as it is for us to understand. I’m not sure one can give a fully satisfying answer to the morality of God’s command. However, with that said, we can say that God is all wise and all just. Therefore, his will is always perfect. Secondly, we can also, unequivocally, say that this is nothing God would ever require today. It is clearly forbidden throughout Scripture.

But the point remains the same; many times God’s tests will be a logical struggle for us. We must take comfort in the fact that God is infinite and that we are finite. He knows all things and our insight is limited at best. Consider what God said in Isaiah 55:8–10:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God’s ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts. His thoughts and ways are higher than ours, and we must take great comfort in this. And for that reason, we must, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

We must trust him with all our heart because our understanding is flawed and there is no better guide or leader than him. Unless we do that, God’s tests and trials will lead us to bitterness, anger, frustration, and confusion, instead of a deeper trust in his faithfulness. Lord, we trust you.

Application Question: Have you ever experienced or witnessed a test that seemed illogical, at least at first? How can we trust God at those times?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand They Often Involve Our Greatest Treasures

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:1–2)

Next, we must notice that God’s test potentially involved Abraham’s greatest treasure—his only son. As a father, I can say that the most sensitive and vulnerable area in my life is my daughter. I remember when she was a toddler, I would often go to bed at night praying over her feet, toes, and head. I wanted God to protect every part of her body. I got scared when seeing doors. Just the reality that her finger could get caught in a door frightened me. It is very common for children to take this special place in a parent’s heart.

In fact, I cannot but wonder if Abraham’s affection for his son took a dangerous place in his heart. He wanted a child with Sarah, probably, ever since he was married. His previous name, Abram, meant “exalted father.” As he started to age, the snickers around him probably increased. His name meant exalted father, but he had no children. And for a time, after God named him “Abraham,” meaning “father of a nation,” at ninety-nine years old, maybe the snickers turned into roars. People probably said, “You’re changing your name to what? Why? Sarah, your wife is barren!”

Therefore, when God gave him a miracle child at the age of 100, maybe his affection grew too deep, bordering on idolatry. And the depth of his affection, no doubt, grew as he dealt with the pain of Ishmael’s leaving. Quite possibly, he dealt with his hurt by loving Isaac even more.

This is the reason that when we start following Christ, he calls us to hate our father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister, and even our own life to be his disciple (Luke 14:26). Our love for anything else, including family, must look like hate in comparison to our love for God. The greatest command is to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. God will not have any rivals for our love.

Perhaps, this is why God asked for his son. Maybe, his love progressed to the brink of idolatry. But, we must hear and understand that this is common for God’s test. God often tests us where our affections are strongest.

Do you find your identity in work, studies, hobbies, friends, family, or a significant other? Then have no doubt that is where God will test you. Where ever our heart is, God will test us.

When God tests our most vulnerable areas, the tests are meant to help loosen our grip on these things and make our hearts cling more to God.

Application Question: How should we respond to this reality of God testing us in the areas of our greatest treasures?

  1. It should deliver us from surprise when encountering such tests.
  2. It should warn us against idolizing anything.
  3. It should challenge us to make God our focus.

Are you guarding and protecting your heart (Prov 4:23)? God must always be first.

Application Question: What areas of your life are you most prone to idolize? How have you experienced God’s tests in your most sensitive areas, your treasures? How can we protect our hearts from loving gifts over the Giver?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Practice Immediate Obedience

Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. (Genesis 22:3)

Interpretation Question: What can we discern from the fact that in the morning Abraham got up, saddled the donkey, took two servants and Isaac, cut the wood, and then set out for the place God called him to?

After God spoke to Abraham, presumably at night, the narrator tells us that the next morning Abraham saddled the donkey, gathered two servants and Isaac, cut the wood, and set out for the place God called him to go. He immediately obeyed.

Now certainly this wasn’t easy. In fact, some commentators have noted the fact that Abraham saddled his donkey before he cut the wood, which doesn’t make any sense.2 Normally, one would cut the wood and then saddle the donkey. Maybe, he was a little disoriented after a night without sleep. However, he still immediately obeyed God. This must be true of us as well. We must practice immediate obedience when we encounter God’s tests.

Application Question: What happens if we practice delayed obedience or rebellion in response to God’s test?

When we do not practice immediate obedience, it opens the door for the enemy to tempt us. He will try to draw us into questioning God. He will lead us to depression, discouragement, and ultimately sin. To sin in God’s test only leads to repeating the test. Like Israel, we end up spending years going around the same mountain in the wilderness. To practice disobedience, only brings God’s discipline and a repetition of the test. In addition, the repeated test only gets harder because our hearts become even more attached to whatever sin we struggle with.

Application Question: What happens when we practice immediate obedience?

When practicing immediate obedience to God’s tests, instead of receiving his discipline, we experience God’s blessing. James 1:25 says, “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.”

The doer of God’s Word receives his blessings. God’s blessing may manifest as joy in the trial. While being disobedient in God’s tests, we often experience discouragement and depression (cf. Ps 32), but while being faithful, God enables us to find joy even in hard times. God’s blessing also gives us strength to persevere and be faithful. No doubt, Abraham experienced many of these blessings as he immediately obeyed God. If he had stayed at home and delayed obedience, the enemy of our souls and his would have tempted and tormented him.

Are you practicing immediate obedience in your trial? Or are you practicing procrastination and disobedience?

Application Question: Why is immediate obedience in trials so important? What are some of the consequences of delayed obedience or disobedience to God in trials?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Have the Right Attitude

On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” (Genesis 22:4–5)

The trip took about three days to get to the region of Moriah (v. 4), which is where Jerusalem is today.3 Many believe Abraham, his servants, and his son ascended Golgotha, the same mountain Christ was crucified on, outside the gate of Jerusalem.

When they saw the place in the distance, Abraham told his servants to stay while he and the boy went up the mountain to “worship.” What stands out about this is Abraham’s view of this test. He called the sacrifice of his son worship to God.

I don’t think Abraham was lying or being deceptive. It was indeed worship to God. He was on his way to sacrifice to the Lord, and he saw it as worship.

This must be true of us as well when going through God’s tests. We must see them as our reasonable worship. Romans 12:1 says: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Paul said that we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God, as an act of worship. Sacrifice is never easy. Sacrifice has the connotation of pain, and pain is not enjoyable. However, sacrifice can be worship to God if offered and given with the right attitude. And that is how Abraham saw his life and sacrifice, as worship to God.

The very reason many of us get angry at God, when going through trials, is because we see our life as worship to us. If a trial brings pain or discomfort, we get upset, because our lives are often more about ourselves than God. Our lives are about our success and happiness and anything that hinders those goals creates anger or animosity in us.

However, when we see our lives as sacrificial worship to God, it will change our response to tests and trials. Romans 5:3–4 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

We rejoice in trials because they ultimately lead us to hope in God. Trials take our hopes off our jobs, hobbies, family, friends, and dreams, and help us place our hopes, where they belong—with God. That is why going through tests and trials can cause rejoicing. It can only cause rejoicing when the purpose of our life is really God. We rejoice because trials help us ultimately know and trust God more.

Our attitude is very important in trials. If we have the wrong attitude, if we are complainers and whiners, then we will fail the test and bring God’s discipline on our lives. Philippians 2:14 says, “Do all things without complaining and arguing.” First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances because this is God’s will for our lives.”

When Israel complained while being tested in the wilderness, God disciplined them (1 Cor 10:10). The wilderness was not worship to them, because it took away their comfort. But if their true desire was to know and trust God more, the wilderness could have become their greatest joy.

Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s trials became the subject of his boast because it was when he was weak that Christ’s power rested on him. For Paul the tests were worship, as it was with Abraham. Tests drew them both closer to God which was their ultimate desire. This should be true for us as well.

What is your attitude while going through tests?

Application Question: What is your typical attitude when God’s tests you? How can we learn to be thankful instead of bitter in our tests?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Have Faith

On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together. (Genesis 22:4–8)

Interpretation Question: Why did Abraham tell his servants that he and Isaac would go up the mountain and then come back? What was his reasoning?

We also must notice how Abraham not only shares that he and his son were going to worship but also that he said, “we will come back to you.” Now, was Abraham lying? We know Abraham had a tendency to stretch the truth. However, it seems Abraham was responding in faith. Hebrews 11:17–19 says:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.

The author of Hebrews says the reason Abraham offered his son was because he reasoned that God could raise the dead. When Abraham said, “we will come back to you,” it was because he believed that if he sacrificed his son, God would raise him from the dead. This was great faith, especially since up to this point in biblical history there were no previous resurrections.

Abraham throughout his journey learned that God was trustworthy and that he could not tell a lie. If God said it was through Isaac that his offspring would be reckoned, then it made sense that God would indeed raise him from the dead.

We also see his faith in how he responded to Isaac when asked about the lamb. Abraham responded, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son” (v. 8). Abraham didn’t exactly know how, but he knew that God would provide.

This must be true of us as well, when going through God’s test. We must have faith. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” In order to please God in a test, we must believe in him. We must believe in his goodness and his faithfulness to his people. We may not fully understand why or how, but we must trust him. The writer of Hebrews says that God rewards those who come to him with faith.

Are you trusting God in your trial? Faith is necessary to please God and to pass the test.

Application Question: Why should we trust God when going through trials? How can we increase our faith as we go through them?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Depend on Others

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. (Genesis 22:9–10)

When they reached the place God told Abraham to go, Abraham built an altar, arranged the wood on it, and then bound Isaac and placed him on the altar. The narrator mentions nothing about a struggle. Abraham was probably at least 116 years old at this time. We can guess this by the fact that the same Hebrew word for “boy” used of Isaac in this text was used of Ishmael in Genesis 21, who was sixteen at the time.4 Abraham was an old man. Isaac was stronger and faster at sixteen years old, and therefore, it would have been very difficult for Abraham to bind and place him on the altar without his cooperation.

The implication is that Isaac cooperated with Abraham. Maybe, while on top of the mountain, Abraham shared God’s command to sacrifice him and, at the same time, assured him of God’s faithfulness. No doubt, Abraham taught Isaac many times that a great nation would come through him, and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. It is clear that not only did Abraham have great faith, but so did his son.

With that said, one of the principles we can learn from this about passing God’s tests is that we will also commonly need the cooperation and support of other believers to pass God’s tests. The Christian life was never meant to be walked alone. We need brothers and sisters supporting us and helping us get through.

In fact, if God calls us to any great work or to go through any great test, one of the right answers to the test will be, “Phone a friend”—get help. Scripture teaches that as Christians we are part of the body of Christ. One person is the hand, another is an eye, another is the liver, and another is a leg. In order for me to accomplish anything with my body, I need the cooperation of other parts. My leg cannot function without my hip, knees, and muscles doing their part.

Is it any surprise that this reality also applies to us when going through tests? We need the wisdom, the insight, the prayers, and support of others to be faithful in tests. Consider what Paul said about him being a prisoner in Rome and his eventual deliverance in Philippians 1:19: “for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

Paul was convinced that the prayers of a tiny congregation in Philippi were enough to thwart the plans of the Roman Empire. That is how confident he was in their prayers. It also showed his dependence upon them to receive deliverance.

What are you seeking deliverance from? Is it unforgiveness, anger, discord, depression, or some other sin? You can be confident that much of the grace of God needed to pass that test will come through the body of Christ. If you neglect the body of Christ, if you are not integrated into the life of a church, you will find yourself spiritually impoverished and failing most tests you go through.

We need one another. In order for Abraham to offer his son in obedience to God, he needed his son’s cooperation and faith as well.

Application Question: In what ways have you received grace through God’s body to pass tests or trials? How has God revealed your need to depend on brothers and sisters in Christ?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand His Purpose of Revealing What Is in Our Hearts

Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” (Genesis 22:11–12)

As Abraham was about to slay his son, the angel of the Lord commanded him to not lay a hand on the boy. The angel of the Lord was a theophany—a temporary appearance of God in order to reveal himself to his people. Many believe this was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. The angel of the Lord said, “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (v. 12).

We can discern from the angel’s words one of God’s purposes in Abraham’s trial. It revealed what was in Abraham’s heart. He said, “Now I know that you fear God.” The test revealed that Abraham feared God even more than losing his son. He truly did hate his mother, father, wife, children, brother, sister and even his own life for the Lord’s sake (cf. Luke 14:26–27), as we each are called to do.

In the same way, one of God’s purposes in trials is to reveal what is in our hearts. Consider what Peter said to the Christians suffering in the Roman Empire in 1 Peter 1:6–7:

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Peter said the trials these Christians were encountering were to prove their faith genuine. The Greek word for “proved” was used of a metallurgist purifying or testing a metal to see if it was genuine.

Now the reality is that God doesn’t need to know what is in our hearts; we need to know what is in our hearts. God already knows everything.

For some professing Christians, trials essentially prove if God is their Lord at all. Remember in Matthew 13:21, the stony ground received the seed of the Word of God, but when trials came, the plant withered because it lacked deep roots. For many going through various trials with church, work, or family instead of drawing them to God, the trials push them away—never to return. They fall away proving that their faith was shallow and not genuine, as Christ taught. Maybe, it was more centered on the church rather than God, and therefore when the church failed them, they fell away. Or, following Christ was more focused on their prosperity, and therefore, when they experienced sickness or difficulty, they left God.

Trials come to reveal what is in our hearts. God said this to the Israelites while they were in the wilderness in Deuteronomy 8:2: “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”

God took them through the desert (or the wilderness) to test them and see what was in their hearts. As you know, while the Israelites were in the wilderness, trials revealed complaining, idol worship, sexual immorality, and rebellion. It revealed that “Egypt” was still in their hearts.

This is how many Christians are. When God brings them into a trial, it reveals that the world really rules their hearts. They complain, get drunk, commit sexual immorality, and rebel against authority, just like the Israelites did.

Sometimes people blame their actions on a certain situation or relationship; however, the blame is misdirected. They may say, “I only act this way when I’m around this person.” They say this to relieve blame from themselves. However, the situation or difficult person is really like a fire that brings all the impurities to the surface. It brings anger, lust, bitterness, and lack of faith; it shows what is already in the heart. The person or situation is not the cause—our heart is. The person or situation only revealed the sin already in our heart, which needed to be removed.

I remember stepping down from my pastoral ministry in Chicago and moving back to Texas with my parents, as I applied for new ministry positions. While waiting, I started struggling with my identity. I stepped down from my job in December and wasn’t hired to a new position until June. During that time, I realized that at some point while in ministry, I stopped seeing myself as, “God’s child.” I had become, “Pastor Greg, God’s child.” My identity started to come from my ministry position and not simply my identity in Christ. The trial of waiting revealed what was in my heart.

During that season of waiting, I really drew near God by being in his Word and prayer—to restore my identity as his child. Trials reveal what is in our hearts. That is part of the reason God allows them.

Again, for Abraham, the trial revealed that he feared God, even more than the loss of his son. What do your trials and tests reveal about your heart? Does it reveal anger, pride, lack of faith, or worldliness? Does “Egypt” come out of your heart, as it did with the Israelites while in the wilderness?

One of the reasons God allows tests and trials is to help us know our hearts, so we can repent and be transformed. In the midst of a test, it is good to pray, “Lord, what are you trying to show me about my heart, and how can I change?”

Application Question: What has God revealed about your heart through tests and trials? How has God called you to work on those issues?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Depend on God

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:13–14)

After the Lord stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, God provided a ram to sacrifice instead. In response to this, Abraham named the place, “The LORD Will Provide,” Jehovah Jireh. Literally, it can be translated, “The Lord Will See to It.”5

To pass God’s tests not only do we need others’ cooperation and support, but we need God’s. God is the one who provides us with grace to make it through trials or to escape them. Remember 1 Corinthians 10:13 says,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

With every trial or temptation, God always provides a way out or the ability to persevere through the trial.

It is for this reason that we must draw near God in trials (James 4:8). God provides wisdom, strength, and endurance for us to be faithful in it. James said that in every trial we should ask God for wisdom since he provides liberally (James 1:5). Again, Paul said this in Philippians 1:19, “for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

Not only was Paul confident of deliverance because of the saint’s prayers but the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Paul knew Christ was faithful. He would carry him through. And, Christ will do the same for us during trials. In fact, it is during trials that we will find his grace abundant. Paul said in his weakness, God’s power was made perfect (cf. 2 Cor 12:9).

One of the ways we depend on God and experience his grace in the trials is by abiding in him. Jesus said: “‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Whatever fruit needed to pass God’s test grows as we make our home in him. We abide in him through worship, prayer, time in the Word, and fellowship with saints. It was in the midst of Abraham’s worship that God provided a ram, and he will often do the same for us as well.

Are you bearing God’s fruit through abiding in him during trials? God is Jehovah Jireh—our Provider.

He will see to it. He will make sure we have everything needed.

Application Question: In what ways have you seen God miraculously meet your needs or provide grace for you in a trial? What do we have to do in order to receive his grace and provisions?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand His Purpose of Revealing More of Himself to Us

So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:14)

Not only must we notice that God met Abraham’s needs, but also that Abraham came to know God in a new and deeper way. This is the first time Abraham called God, Jehovah Jireh. As we walked through Abraham’s story, we saw God reveal himself in special ways through each test or trial. When God called Abraham to leave his family and home, he was YAHWEH the covenant God, in Genesis 12:1. When God empowered Abraham to defeat the four armies from the east, God revealed himself as his shield—his very great reward—in Genesis 15:1. In Genesis 17:1, when God told Abraham he was going to have a child in his old age through Sarah, he revealed himself as God Almighty, El Shaddai.

In each trial, we get to know God’s character and person more deeply. In many ways, it is like any close relationship. Our deepest and most intimate relationships typically are formed by going through hard times together. It is in those hard times, we learn to trust them more, and we learn more about their character. That is just what God desires to do with us through trials. He wants to reveal himself in a deeper and more intimate way.

How has God revealed himself to you in the past? Has he shown himself as YAHWEH—the God you are in covenant with? Has he revealed himself as El Shaddai—the God who does miracles? Has he revealed himself as Jehovah Jireh—the one who provides all your needs?

God has many names/character traits he wants to reveal to you. He wants to reveal that he is Jehovah Sabaoth, “The LORD of Hosts.” He is the Lord of the armies of heaven who fights your battles. He wants to reveal that he is Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals you. He wants to reveal that he is Jehovah Roi, the Shepherd who leads you. He wants to reveal that he is Jehovah Shalom, the Lord who gives you peace, even in the midst of storms.

That is one of the greatest things that God does in our lives through tests. He reveals more of who he is to us. Lord, make yourself known. We want to see your glory.

Application Question: What characteristic of God is he revealing to you at this stage of your life?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Focus on God’s Reward

The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:15–18)

Observation Question: What blessings did God give Abraham after he passed the test?

After God provided the ram for Abraham to sacrifice, he pronounced a blessing on Abraham. He reassured Abraham of his promise to make his descendants like the stars in the sky and the sand of the seashore. But he also gave a further promise of the messiah coming through Abraham’s lineage. He said, “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (v. 18). In Galatians 3:16, Paul teaches that the word “offspring” is singular—referring to Christ.

The reward for being faithful in the test was reassurance and the privilege of the messiah coming through his lineage. It is no different for us. Faithfully navigating the trials of life opens the door for greater rewards from God. Understanding this, helps encourage us to be faithful.

After Job faithfully persevered through his trials, God rewarded him with a double blessing. Paul said this in 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 about the trials God allowed him and his associates to go through:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

God comforted them in their trials so that they could comfort those in “any trouble” with the comfort they received. When God comforts a believer in a trial, he enables them to comfort others going through various trials, not just the same one. Through trials God equips believers for ministry and expands their outreach.

Have you experienced this before? Sometimes God equips and expands our ministry through trials by giving us not only comfort but compassion. This happened to me. Before going through a battle with depression in college, I had problems crying. I had been hardened by life. But when God took me through a season of struggle, I began to weep—not only for myself, but for others. I began to develop empathy—I could feel the pain of others. He prepared me for ministry through struggle. He enabled me not just to feel but to comfort others with the comfort he gave me.

One of the greatest encouragements to pass God’s test is looking at his reward. James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” There is reward on earth, as God matures us and opens doors for further ministry, but there is also great reward in heaven (cf. 2 Cor 4:17–18).

Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s reward by faithfully going through his tests? In what ways has he expanded your ministry and your ability to minister?

To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Seek to Magnify Christ

Observation Question: How does Isaac resemble Christ in this text?

As we consider this text, it is almost impossible to miss Isaac’s resemblance to Christ. We see this in many ways:

  1. Like Isaac, Jesus was the only begotten of the Father, whom the Father loved.
  2. Like Isaac, Jesus carried his cross up the hill to the place he would be sacrificed.
  3. Like Isaac, Jesus offered himself willingly. He said, “Father, take this cup from me, nevertheless your will be done.”
  4. Like Isaac, Jesus was crucified on a hill in Jerusalem.
  5. Like Isaac, Jesus was delivered from death on the third day.

The parallels are impossible to miss.

But the reality is this is God’s purpose in every trial and circumstance we encounter in life. Romans 8:28–29 says,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

God works everything for the purpose of conforming us to Christ’s image and that includes both blessings and trials. They all are for the purpose of making us like Jesus. Therefore, our primary purpose in trials must be becoming like Christ. If we had this mindset in the midst of difficulty, instead of primarily seeking to lessen pain or embarrassment, then we would pass our tests.

It’s a lot easier to pass an exam or a paper if we know what the professor is looking for. God’s purpose in trials is to make us look just like himself. In this text, Abraham looks just like God the Father, and Isaac looks like Jesus the Son. Paul said this about his imprisonment and possible death sentence in Rome:

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:20–21)

What was his expectation, his hope in his trial? It wasn’t to be delivered from death. That was not Paul’s focus. His focus was Christ being exalted in his body whether by life or death. If he lived, he wanted Christ exalted, and if he died, he wanted Christ exalted. That was all that mattered.

The word “exalted” can also be translated “magnified.” He wanted to display the magnificence of Christ in his trial. In the midst of his test, he wanted his body to be a theater where all could clearly see Christ.

Is that your desire when going through a trial or test? Is it that Christ be magnified, both so you could see him more clearly and others as well? Or is it simply to escape the trial? Resembling and glorifying Christ must be our goal in every aspect of life, including our trials.

And for that reason, while going through tests, we must ask ourselves and God, “How can I glorify Christ best?” This is something we must ask because that question leads us to the right answers to pass God’s test.

Application Question: How can we develop a mindset of seeking to glorify Christ in every test or trial? Why is this mindset so difficult to maintain?

Conclusion

How can we pass God’s tests?

  1. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Expect Them
  2. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand God Already Prepared Us
  3. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand They Often Seem Illogical
  4. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand They Often Involve Our Greatest Treasures
  5. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Practice Immediate Obedience
  6. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Have the Right Attitude
  7. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Have Faith
  8. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Depend on Others
  9. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand His Purpose of Revealing What Is in Our Hearts
  10. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Depend on God
  11. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Understand His Purpose of Revealing More of Himself to Us
  12. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Focus on God’s Reward
  13. To Pass God’s Tests, We Must Seek to Magnify Christ

Copyright © 2017 Gregory Brown

The primary Scriptures used are New International Version (1984) unless otherwise noted. Other versions include English Standard Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, and King James Version.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations have been added.


1 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (p. 301). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

2 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (p. 302). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

3 Guzik, David (2012-12-08). Genesis (Kindle Locations 3563–3564). Enduring Word Media. Kindle Edition.

4 Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (p. 301). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1991). Be Obedient (p. 110). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Related Topics: Christian Life