Q. Last Sunday at my church, our pastor talked about the refiners fire’s process and he said that God wants us to suffer so he can cleanse us. He used 1 Peter 1:6-7 to support his position. Is this true?
A. The “refiner’s fire” analogy is used in the Old Testament as a model of the Great Tribulation, as in Zechariah 13:8-9, to describe Israel’s purification. But the context there is to separate believers from unbelievers, to purify the nation in advance of the coming kingdom, not purify individuals who are already believers.
The Church was made clean at the cross. If any one is in Christ He’s a new creation, as righteous as God himself (2 Cor 5:17,21). In the Lord’s eyes we have been washed in the water of His word, and are without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:25-27). And while Jesus said we would have difficulties in this world (John 16:33) He didn’t associate them with our cleansing. The writer of Hebrews said that God disciplines those He loves, but again His discipline is for teaching, not cleansing. From Hebrews 10:12-14 we learn that by His once for all time sacrifice for sins, the Lord has made us perfect forever.
In 1 Peter 1:6-7 Peter was writing to first century Christians who had suffered persecution for their faith, reminding them that their faith was made stronger because of it. James wrote about the same thing in James 1:2-4 even promising a crown to those who persevere under trial (James 1:12). Paul also mentioned this in several of his letters, as did the writer of Hebrews.
Christians have suffered persecution for their faith at various times and in various places through out history, and even today we read of Christians being imprisoned for their faith, driven from their homes, having their churches burned down, their families massacred, or living in fear of these things happening. That’s who these passages are written to and for. But this is not common to Christianity in general. And as we can see from the above verses, it is definitely not something God requires of us.