Today, it is unusual for me to carry around any cash at all. I’m a debit kind of guy. There was a time, however, when I ran through a convenient store to grab a few items and paid with a $100 bill. Upon receiving payment, the cashier held the bill up to the light. I had an idea of what was taking place but asked anyway. “Just making sure,” she said.
Apparently, there is a security thread embedded in the bill that can only be seen in the light. Had the security thread been inexistent, the bill would have no value. I suppose the cost of printing it would cost more, even at its 60% increase. Practically speaking, a $100 bill without a security thread is questionable at best and completely counterfeit at worst. In either instance, it is worth very little, if anything at all.
Everything with intrinsic value is subjected to tests in order to affirm its true worth. And frankly, nothing is more valuable than the faith through which we are saved. A counterfeit kind is worthless or “dead,” as James put it (Ja. 2:17). Legitimate faith, when it is held up to the light in trials, reveals a security thread which affirms its validity and worth. This is what James has in mind when he submits to us the phrase, “the testing of your faith.”
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”James 1:2-4
Trials Approve the Validity of Your Faith
Scripture is replete with the testing of faith. It is practiced, taught, anticipated, and exemplified. The psalmist wrote, “You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me” (Ps. 17:3). The prophet Haggai spoke for the Lord who said, “Consider your ways” (Hag. 1:5). The Apostle Paul wrote, “let each one test his own work” (Gal. 6:4) and to “examine himself” (1 Cor. 11:28). Peter also concerned his writings with this (1 Pet. 1:7). When asked about it, we usually cite Job (Job 1:6-22). The “word of the Lord tested” Joseph (Ps. 105:16-19). God left Hezekiah alone “in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart” (2 Chron. 32:31). “God tested Abraham” with the sacrifice of his only son (Gen. 22:1).
The Hebrews were tested a number of times in the wilderness. “And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not” (Deut. 8:2). God also tested them with a false prophet. “The LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 13:3).
According to James, trials are meant to reveal the quality of your faith (Ja. 1:2). Not so the Lord may know. Please. We are the ones who easily counterfeit (Matt. 7:21-23), even to the extent of deceiving ourselves (Ja. 1:22). The approval or disapproval of your faith by trials is a blessing to you—assuming you end up on the better side of that result (Ja. 1:12). Trials approve the validity of your faith.
Now, in order for this proving process to work, there must exist a kind of faith with intrinsic value so that when it is appraised, it reveals a high quality that can be distinguished from a lesser, more ordinary, and earthly kind of faith. In other more fanciful words, the test won’t work if all faith is the same. There must exist a unique identifier with which we can distinguish saving faith from all others. Or, to continue the illustration, there must be a kind of faith with a security thread in it. Otherwise, these tests are a bust.
The Intrinsic Value of Christ
“Jesus Christ” is the typical answer to every Sunday School question. You can’t go wrong with it. The same is true in this case. The intrinsic value of faith is found in the giver of faith. Consider the words of Paul:
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”2 Corinthians 13:5
The obviousness of the verse is worth expressing. Jesus makes His mark. He always has. He always will. The world over has not stopped talking about Jesus since His appearing. He is the megaphone blast from the halls of history. Is He not the same in lobbies of our life? Don’t miss this: The simplest way to understand the test of your faith is this: Is Christ in you?
The Creative Work of Christ
Let’s focus on this a bit more. When we peer through the windows of our soul, do we see Christ reclining on the couch, catching z’s? Of course not. Christ is active and working. He doesn’t sit still in the residence of our life. He cleans house.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”Hebrews 12:1-2
Notice the James 1:2-4 parallels. The trial was the cross. The attitude was joy. The work was steadfastness. Jesus didn’t just pioneer our salvation. He exemplified our test. Now, look even closer. Jesus is described as the “founder and perfecter of our faith.” In other words, Jesus doesn’t just finish for us, He also finishes in us. “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Phil. 1:6). This is why Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Christ authored our faith. And, He matures our faith. Therefore, the testing of our faith is not just a look for Christ, but a look for Christ’s work.
The Distinguishing Mark of Christ
When James wrote, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness,” he meant that your faith can be validated. Saving faith, unlike non-saving faith, has the security thread of Christ which is evidenced by the work of Christ in you. “What good is it,” he says, “if someone says he has faith but does not have works [of Christ]? Can that faith save him?” (Ja. 2:14). Can the kind of faith with no evidence of Christ’s work save? Absolutely not. It is “dead” faith (Ja. 2:17). It is worthless, useless. It has no value at all. “You see that a person is justified [or proven] by works [of Christ] and not by faith alone” (Ja. 2:24).
Saving faith cannot exist without Christ. He is the “founder and perfecter” (Heb. 1:2). Paul calls this kind of faith a “gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). It is intrinsically valuable because it is divinely founded and perfected. Saving faith is heavenly faith and foreign to man, as Luke described (Acts 3:16). Peter addressed his audience as “those who have [received] a faith by the righteousness of our God” (2 Pet. 1:1). Paul says that God gives faith through Christ in order to believe in Christ (Phil. 1:29).
Here’s another way to see it. “Every spiritual blessing” that Christ has we have in Christ (Eph. 1:3-14). Ask yourself: Did Christ have mercy? Did Christ have love? Did He have hope, joy, and peace? Did He trust His heavenly Father with His life and resurrection? If yes, then so will you. “Christ in you” is synonymous with “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). If Christ is in you, then saving faith is also in you because it belongs to Christ.
The security thread in your soul is the Holy Spirit. “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:13–14). The evidence of saving faith is found in the demonstration of Christ in you. What do you see when your life is held up against the light in trials?