Authenticity boils down to being fully known in the deepest, truest part of who you are. This is God’s jealous desire (1) for us because what is most fulfilling for us is to be fully known and loved by Him. And this is the true purpose of spiritual testing.
Testing teaches us to find grace at the bone. To be known by God at our core. But we can’t accept this grace of spiritual testing without first building an altar.
What does that mean? The Church is full of living stones (us) that make up a temple for our High Priest (Jesus). As living stones in that temple, our obedience can be built into spiritual altars of sacrificial love.
This sounds great in theory, but building an altar is often a terrifying, lonely and painful process. Let’s look at the altar Abraham built as an example:
“And they came to the place that God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood” (Ge 22:9a).
God offered Abraham a test by requesting that he put to death his prophetic hope and best dream in Isaac, his son. This trial pushed into Abraham’s life without warning. He carried the pain of this to a remote mountain peak. He built an altar where God told him, but it was a lonely place. He was accompanied only by the son he had been promised, the son he had waited on for years, the son he knew was about to die. Building an altar, preparing to love sacrificially is often a solitary and frightening task.
We don’t chose the place of an altar, it is chosen for us. Abraham didn’t get a say in which sacrifice he would make. But he built the altar anyways, with his own hands. God doesn’t build the altar for us, we build the platform of death, stone by stone. This is part of why the offer of spiritual trial is a grace gift. God seeks to know us, not to control us. He guides us into obedience and unearths the depths of our heart. He wakes up things in our heart that are in the dark, hidden from experiencing him.
“Then he bound Isaac his son and placed him on the altar atop the wood” (Ge 22:9b).
Why did Abraham bind Isaac? Shouldn’t he go obediently to lay upon the altar? Isaac should have known this sacrifice was a customary honor for many firstborn in the Canaanite land. The depths of our hearts cannot be plundered for heaven if we aren’t willing to bind our idols, to lay our highest callings, hopes and dreams on the altar. We are to give them no chance of escape.
Jesus too was prepared as a sacrifice, he too laid down his will into the Father’s and was bound for burial. This plundering and binding of the strongman (personal autonomy) in our hearts, unites us with Jesus in his death, so that the promise may live by resurrection power instead of human strength. (2)
“And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! …“Do not lay a hand on the boy.” …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” (Ge 22:10-13).
When the knife hovered above Isaac’s heart, did a wound form between father and son? Or did the wonder of the angel’s voice and the ram’s bleating erase the terror and tears? Sacrifice will leave a scar. Do we really think we can escape scarring if Jesus did not from his cross? Our scars tell the love story of our redemption, becoming tattoo art on our bodies, our hearts and our souls. They remind us of the incredible redemptive grace of God that transforms fear, loneliness and pain.
“Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh [which means ‘the Lord will provide’]” (Ge 22:14, The Message).
Yaweh-Yireh reflects more than just “God will provide,” but God will see the binding, scarring and tearing of our hearts in the test and will provide. The provision is not only a physical answer (in this case a ram) but also a spiritual answer, a revelation of the cross and how it applies to our current world. Jesus’ sacrifice heals the pain of our sacrifices on our own altars when we are tested.
Once we see the circumstance that tests us through the lens of Jesus’ cross, that viewpoint sets us free from the burden of that circumstance — forever — it now becomes grace. The joy of being fully known, fully seen and fully ourselves before God through the power of Jesus outshines any shadow of pain. Our circumstance may remain the same. Our cross may still be daunting, but the grip of death is crucified with Christ.
Spiritual testing is forever about us becoming more authentic, signature works of God. Being authentic means we have deep value, a spiritual mettle that when seen by others inspires faith. Tests like these are not random or shallow, they are invitations to be truly known in a satisfying way.
(1) “God yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us” (James 4:5b).
(2) “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).
If you’d like to read more about Authenticity, check out my previous blogs on the topic: The Test of Authenticity and The Challenge of Authenticity. They will lay a backdrop for what authenticity truly is and the challenges it presents.