Haunted House or War Zone: Does God Test Our Faith?

Now that we are saved, why aren’t things awesome all the time?  Why isn’t life one continuous ascent into the perfect life with God?

And why are we told that God is testing us?

As 1 Peter 1:6 says,

In this [salvation] you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Why would God test faith like that?

Answering this question properly all depends on how we image these tests. It depends on whether we think of life as in a haunted house or a war zone.

Is God Scaring us or Leading Us?

Ready to Jump Out

Our youngest son loves to scare people when they enter the house.  He will hide behind a doorway or some furniture, lying in wait.  And then he pounces. Sometimes he scares us. Sometimes not. Sometimes we see him getting into place. Sometimes we don’t.

It’s in all good fun.

Except when we think of God acting like this?

Sometimes we image our Christian lives as if God is lying in wait, ready to spring out and test us. We think that God is actively testing us, laying out traps to see if we will fall away or lose our faith.

Sometimes we think God is testing us to see if we really, Really, REALLY believe.  And if we fail the test then God is going to…well, who knows what will happen.

The Haunted House of Faith

Sometimes we can image our life of faith like a haunted house.  God is actively trying to scare us, jumping out unexpectedly and tripping us up.

But—as the idea goes—if we can get through without freaking out too much then we will be saved.   If we prove to God that we won’t doubt or run away then we will be saved.

But his image of God actively testing us is horrible—and inaccurate. This view of God lurking behind doors to test us distorts who really God is and how God is accomplishing salvation for us.

Ready to Rescue

Life is not an artificially created haunted house where we need to steel our nerves against any surprises.

Rather, life is better thought as a war zone.

We live in a war zone full of hazards and dangers.  And it is filled roaming spiritual forces seeking to destroy us.

But God, in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, has promised to rescue us from this war zone.  Not only is this promised, but God IS rescuing us and saving us as the one who has come to us and is leading us to safety.

And the only way out of this war zone is to stay close to Jesus, to stay on the straight and narrow path that will leads to life.

The Loyalty in the War Zone

And the question is this, Will you give your trust, your allegiance, your loyalty to Jesus who is rescuing us, who leading us through this war zone?

Or will you, when trials and suffering and sorrows come, will you abandon him for something else? Will you put your trust and loyalty somewhere else when the attack comes?

In this war zone of life, the genuineness of our faith will be tested. But not because God is creating ways to scare us. But because this war zone is already scary enough, and we have continual opportunities to break loyalty with Jesus.

Jesus has the power to save and rescue us. And Jesus is willing to protect us. Jesus is leading us to life.  Will we trust him? Will we place our faith in him?

The Testing of Faith

God is not testing our faith.
But our faith will be tested.

Our faith–allegiance in Jesus is the beginning of our rescue. And our faith–allegiance to Jesus will lead us safely home.

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At-home-ment: Born Again in the Bible

We need to change our understanding of being born-again. And we need to change our emphasis on atonement.

“You’re a ‘born-again Christian’, right?”

I was asked this while at O’Mei, a fine dining Chinese restaurant I worked at through college.

My first thought was, Aren’t all Christians born-again?  But I said, “I don’t know. What do you mean?”

There, in the back room of O’Mei my religious understanding of Christianity in America changed.  My co-worker had just taken a sociology class on “Born-Again Christian Religion in America.”

But I didn’t know what a “Born-again Christian” was. I thought every Christian emphasized the need for adult conversion, the deep spiritual crisis brought on by consciousness of sin, resolved through faith in Jesus who died to forgiveness our sins.

In those years of college I was slowly learning that was an evangelical, a ‘born-again Christian’ who believed I needed to made a decision for Christ and believe with my heart in order to be saved.

Born-Again Atonement

Being ‘born-again’ roughly consists of two major movements (depending on which evangelist or tradition you come from).

First, you need to become aware of your sin and the consequences of sin.  This usually entails fiery illustrations used to scared the hell out of you, or to put the fear of hell in you.

Second, you needed to have faith in Jesus to forgive your sins because he had paid the penalty for your sins. He paid the penalty by dying on the cross as a substitute for us.

This is the “penal-substitutionary” view of the atonement (a theological word I wouldn’t learn until seminary a couple years later).

Atonement = At-one-ment

Atonement is a funny word.

It is an English word created—yes, it was created—in order to translate the Greek words for sacrifice for the King James Bible.

People often break up the word “atonement” as “at-one-ment” to emphasize how the sacrifices bring people into relationship with God. They are now “one” with God.

We usually think this is just a cute preaching device to teach a concept. But funny thing, this is EXACTLY what the word means!  It was created to mean coming to be “at-one” with God.

Trouble with Atonement

The trouble with focusing on the idea of atonement is that the process of often overwhelms the purpose.

We now have so many atonement theories, so many mechanisms for explaining what Christ’s death accomplishes, and so many disagreements about what is “most important”, that we often forget the goal of atonement.

And the goal of atonement is union with God, it is to live with God.

Born again into a new family

To be “born-again” is a fairly rare concept in the New Testament (though you might not know this in certain conservative circles).  It shows up in John 3:3-7 and in 1 Peter 1:3 and 1:23.

From use in evangelical circles “born again”, one might think it means individual salvation from the consequences of sin. But this is wrong.

Being “born again” is a family term.  It emphasizes one entering into a new family and living in a new household, a new home.  To be “born again” is to enter God’s new home and live with God.

At-home-ment

John H. Elliott says that one of the main themes in 1 Peter is the “at-home-ment” accomplished by God. In Jesus we can now approach God, live in God’s home, and call God Father.

Through God’s at-home-ment we live with God and God lives with us. 

Now, if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you know that “God with us” is a major theme for me.  In fact, I think it is the theme the holds the entire Bible together, and indeed, it is the fabric of salvation itself—and the cosmos too.

(In fact, if you Subscribe to the blog I’ll send you the first chapter of a book I’m writing with my wife about all this “God with us” stuff.)

Two Things

So I submit before you two things for consideration.

  1. Being “born-again” is all about salvation, but not salvation through some atonement theory.  It is salvation through entrance into a new family and a new home.
  2. We should focus less on theories of atonement and more on practices of at-home-ment—”at home” with God and “at home” with one another.

How would a focus on at-home-ment change your understanding of the Gospel, of life, and the church? (Non-rhetorical question. I would love to hear your thoughts).


If this post has been helpful or thought provoking, please consider sharing it. Thanks.

The Other Bridge Illustration: Visual Christus Victor

For all those visual learners who need to see it to understand it. This is the “Other Bridge Illustration.” And yes, I drew these while at Starbucks.

(David Fitch and I did an entire podcast on this topic if you are interested.)

The Original Bridge Illustration

But first we must talk about the Original Bridge Illustration, that staple of evangelism in my corner of evangelicalism.

The Original Bridge Illustration (pardon my drawing)

This is how I was taught to explain it.

On one side is humanity. Humanity sins (Rom. 3:23). And the wages of sin—what you earn—is death (Rom. 6:23). So “sin”, “wages”, and “death” mark the cliff separating humanity from God.

But on God’s side, God chooses to forgive our sin, which is a gift of grace—not earned like wages.  And this gift leads to life (Rom. 6:23).  So “forgiveness”, “gift”, and “life” are on God’s side.

The death of Jesus—his cross—becomes the bridge by which we cross over from sin and death and receive forgiveness and life.

We cross over to God through the cross of Jesus.

Simple, right?

Problems with this Bridge Illustration

Often—but not always—this presentation of salvation emphasizes individual sin and individual responsibility and individual salvation (notice a theme?).  It also assumes a movement from the side of humanity (on “earth”) to God’s side (in “heaven”).

Also, this view, when unpacked, usually holds to certain understandings of God’s wrath against humanity and how Jesus’s death satisfies God’s wrath so that we can avoid hell fire (drawn at the bottom of the chasm—too bad I didn’t have a red sharpie).

And lastly, this view can lead to truncated understanding that “Jesus came to die” or “Jesus was born to die“—which I regularly hear on Facebook or Twitter when I emphasize the significance of Jesus’s ministry or the kingdom of God.

The Other Bridge Illustration

But humanity IS separated from God.
Something needs to be done.
We need salvation.

So here is the Other Bridge Illustration.

The Other Bridge Illustration (the bridge if made of stones, if you couldn’t tell)

On one side is humanity. We are within the kingdom (or reign) of death (Rom. 5:14-17). We are slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17).  And we are captives of the powers (Col. 1:13).

But on God’s side is the kingdom of life, the redemption from sin, and liberation from the powers.

The bridge is made of three stones—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (I don’t know why stones. It’s just what came to me).

God coming to us.

But here is the main twist.
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God is coming to us.

God comes from heaven to earth. God comes to the damned and the sinners. God comes to the enslaved and captives. God comes to seek and save the lost.

The totality of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection witnesses to this. 

Salvation comes to where we are. And this has always been the case. From Genesis to Revelation, God seeks to dwell with humanity. And God is pursuing humanity, bridging every divide, overcoming every obstacle.

This is the victory of God—not that we leave the place of sin and death, but that God overcomes by coming to our place of need, of desperation, of death.

Both/And…ish

To be fair, parts of the Original Bridge Illustration are true and we shouldn’t ignore them.  But we must place them in the larger context of the Other Bridge Illustration—The Christus Victor Illustration.

What needs to be added?

What would you add to make this better?

(I want to figure out the best was to add the Holy Spirit to this illustration.)


(This post it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days [BUT I WENT WAY OVER TODAY].  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

Life is Short, But God is Long

God is long

“A gospel shout
And a gospel song:
Life is short
But God is long!”

Langston Hughes, from “Tambourines”

The aftermath of hurricane Harvey and the approach of Irma, the repeal of DACA by President Trump, disasters all around the world, the rise of North Korea and return of nuclear fear—on our own, in the face of these all we can say is “Life is Short”, and with the Teacher, “Everything is meaningless.

But God is long.

Long enough to stretch to all the places I can’t go and don’t know about. Long enough to reach to every place of hidden from the cameras and interests and policies of the West. Long enough to wrap the oppressed and forgotten in hope and love.

But God is long.

Long enough to see the beginning and the end, to be the beginning and the end.  Long enough to be before we invented of racism and long enough to see the hope of reconciliation.  Long enough to see the restoration of all evil.  Long enough to hope the hope when we have no more.

Can we offer this gospel shout—this gospel song?

Can we offer it to ourselves?
Can we offer it others?
Can we offer it to God?

A gospel shout
And a gospel song:
Life is short
But God is long!

Amen.



(This post it is part of my “
20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days.  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)