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The Refiner’s Fire

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The Refiner’s Fire

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God compares the process of our conversion and overcoming to that of a metal being purified and refined in a fire. That process becomes evident in our lives when we face various trials and tests and then come to see that God is working with us to learn to trust Him and to take comfort in His goodness and love. Psalm 66 states, “Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men” (Psalm 66:5) and then, “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined” (Psalm 66:10). The psalmist then states further, “We went through fire and through water; but You brought us out to rich fulfillment” (Psalm 66:12).

Being refined by fire is a very real process. When I was a child our family lived in Montana near copper mining and smelting operations, and as an adult I worked at copper smelters in both New Mexico and Tennessee. Copper ore is a mineral, and large deposits can have less than even 1 percent purity and still be commercially viable. That means that over 99 percent of what is mined must eventually be removed and cast aside. Still, the value of the purified metal is such that it is worth expending the tremendous amounts of labor and energy required to obtain it.

Refining copper to purity is an extensive process, and even the metal that comes out of the massive blast furnaces and is poured into ingots is still not yet ready to use. While only about 2 percent of the impurities remain, it must be refined further. In order to be drawn into wire, copper needs to be 99.999 percent pure. In one finishing process, the copper is transferred molecule by molecule, from an anode to a cathode, to achieve the desired end.

Man has learned to purify various metals, but God is the One who created both the metals and their process of refinement, and He uses it as a lesson. We are to be pure. Christ’s return to the earth is portrayed as “but who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2-3).

Eventually, all the earth will be purified and cleansed, but the time of cleansing and purification for the firstfruits of God’s harvest is now. The book of Proverbs includes the observation, “Take away the dross from silver, and it will go to the silversmith for jewelry” (Proverbs 25:4). Dross is the scum of impurities that separates and floats on top of the molten metal. Separating the dross is a necessary part of refining, and it has no salvage value. It is simply cast off as waste. Once the dross has been removed the silver can be formed into something of increasing value.

Each of us needs the shed blood of Jesus Christ applied to our sins. At that point in our lives, we are justified or made right before God. We are clean but we are not yet pure. Purification takes place throughout our lives. It is the casting off of the works of our flesh, that which afflicts us, and our bearing the fruit of God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23), that which profits to the saving of our souls.

Enduring and overcoming in difficult and stressful circumstances is an important and necessary part of our lives. Peter declared: “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold which perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:6-9).

My wife, Michelle, had a very difficult delivery with our first child. She had to endure 20 hours of hard labor because our daughter’s position in the womb prevented her birth. As those hours slowly passed, Michelle began to weaken and we prayed and cried out for God to intervene. 

We knew He could easily move our daughter just a little and we wondered why He did not seem to be responding to our need. Our daughter had to finally be delivered by surgery and it was only then the doctor realized that Michelle had a serious medical condition. The placenta was not detaching from the uterus. If a normal delivery had taken place, Michelle might have bled to death before the resulting tear in the uterine wall could have been addressed.

God is always there, and He is in complete control, but many times we just don’t understand. At those times our faith is tested but we must learn to hold on to the assurance that God is perfectly good and His desire on our behalf is for our blessing.

In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet cried out against the increase and continuance of the wicked in the face of the trials and suffering of the righteous. God’s response was: “But the just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). The assurance then follows: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14). Habakkuk’s final response to God is striking. “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the field yields no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

God works with each of us in a loving and personal way. It is easy enough for us to rejoice in times of abundance, but we generally only learn patience when we have to wait. God knows our needs, and He works with us through the choices we make. We must hold on to the things that produce purity and cast off the things that defile. Unfortunately though, sometimes we hold on to the things we most need to cast away: our anger and bitterness over some slight or injustice; the selfish use of our time and resources; or our pursuit of material comforts and pleasures ahead of seeking God’s ways.

I wish I could say that I have always sought God’s ways, but the reality is that God has often had to allow me to experience the discomfort of my pursuits until I wanted them no more. We generally try to avoid discomfort, but we must be purified for God’s Spirit to flow freely and for the fullness of the fruit of that Spirit to be realized.

God declared seven times in the book of Revelation, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (chapters 2 and 3). We need to consider and apply each of the messages in a personal way. To the church of Laodicea God said: “I counsel you to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:18-19).

God works with each of us to refine us and bring us to purity. That which is produced by God’s Spirit has great value and will never pass away, and that which is not must be removed. Any impurities that remain are a weight that spoils and encumbers us and need to be cast away. God, in His love and mercy, wants to be with us and He wants us to be with Him. But God will not dwell with sin. God is holy and perfect, and we must be refined and purified in order to be like Him.