“Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
— Exodus 20:20 (NIV)
Whenever we meet the real living God He scares us. Not because God is scary, but because He is so awesome — in the more traditional meaning, not the slang, of that word. That’s the nature of Divine encounter. In coming face-to-face with God, we would not be human if we were unafraid.
He scares us because we know He sees us as we are, and, because He sees us as we are, and because He desires so much that we grow, He is testing us so we meet His approval. Not that we aren’t already approved of through Christ. But there is a difference between our status as human beings and our status as disciples. Those who take up the cudgel of faith agree to surrender themselves to God — to do His will. Doing that will means God will require us to grow.
Approval, in this context, is about improvement for leadership ahead.
Dokimazo (Greek) – Strongs 1381
The New Testament is littered with this word, Dokimazo, which means simply, “tested for the purpose of approval.” It occurs in the gospel of Luke, in many of Paul’s letters, and once each in 1 Peter and 1 John. The purpose of approval is not about being good enough to be a member of God’s church, for which everyone is approved.
Such testing that’s required for the purpose of approval is for discipleship. Interestingly, both words “test” (i.e. prove) and “approve” are from the same root word.
Where This Gets Personal
The first period of testing I was aware of in my own life was in the church that both accepted me with open arms yet also demanded I meet certain behavioural criteria whilst making a way for me to enter leadership, for which they knew I was called, even if I did not yet recognise the calling on my life!
In Exodus 20:20, Moses tells the people not to be scared, because God’s testing is a good thing. It’s designed to keep us from sinning. In other words, God’s testing is a sign of God’s Presence (as it was for the Israelites in the Exodus). Being that God is entirely trustworthy and faithful, we can trust that His testing us is for our own good. After all, how awesome is it that God shows Himself as real, and His Presence is known through testing which is known through the consistency and constancy of things that could only come from God, through belief.
In that first period of testing, I knew all along I was being tested by God, simply because all the events in my life at the time were both hard yet achievable — too coincidental to be random, yet never more relevant to my life in the midst of my own challenges. It seemed that God wanted to show me that I could endure the toughest season of my life, and do it easily, because I knew surrendering to Him was all I could do, because He was with me. It was actually a very comforting feeling knowing that, whilst life was harder than ever, He who could help me like no other could, was indeed helping, and, in that, I knew I would get through! It doesn’t matter when life is super hard if we know we’ll get through; that there’s a purpose in it. It was most comforting because I had a tremendous purpose: God had chosen me for a mission, He was real in my experience, and He had vouchsafed me. He was making for me a way. In this way testing makes us feel very special, which is no small compensation for the adversity suffered.
God was testing me in ways that I could both endure and appreciate, and He was allowing this testing for the purpose of my approval. I was becoming a leader in Christ’s church. And all leaders must be tested, for if leaders aren’t tested how are we to know if they meet God’s holy standard or not?
Legalism can twist what was designed for our betterment and encouragement, and principally our preparation, and make of it, abuse.
God never wills it that a church, entity or individual lord it over an individual in the name of testing. Authoritarian leadership is a power out of line. Always has been. Always will be.
But where we subject ourselves to leadership, God and the church have every right, and certainly the role, to test us. Every leader must be tested and approved. But there is, of course, a fine line between blessing and belligerence. Testing from God is never belligerent. It never maims. It is always something that is highly reasonable, and not impossible to endure, and, because God communicates the purpose of His testing, there is strength to endure adversity.
This year has been a particularly testing year for me, personally. There were some fundamentals in the Christian growth journey I’ve needed to stow. It’s been agonising. It’s been frustrating. I’ve experienced much anger; much anguish and sorrow. Time and again I’ve had to learn a new submission; that God is in control, not me.
At this point, though I haven’t always enjoyed the process of testing this year, I have almost always been able to see God’s purpose in it.
Discipleship is growth in the destiny of becoming good. The key process is testing. Unless our growth is tested we don’t know if our growth is good.
Testing is never truly enjoyable, but afterward (Hebrews 12:11) we see it’s benefit, particularly when we saw its benefit throughout the process.