Perhaps you’ve heard this old illustration, as I often have. When metalworkers need to refine metals, they melt them down and then have to skim off the dross, impurities, and other metals until the product is pure. The actual process has changed over the years, but it still involves smelting, separating, and removing impurities. We’re told that the way the refiner knows that his product is pure is when he can clearly see his face reflected in the liquefied metal.
All my Christian life I have heard this refining process as an illustration of God’s sanctifying us.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts. Proverbs 17:3
Take away the dross from the silver, and the smith has material for a vessel. Proverbs 25:4
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. Isaiah 48:10
He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Malachi 3:3
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. Job 23:10
The refiner’s skill in applying just the right temperature illustrates God’s skill in adjusting our trials at just the right level. Too little “heat” might upset us but not purify us: too much might discourage or destroy us. The impurities or mixtures of other metals speaks of our need to be cleansed and purified from various sins and divided loyalties. The melting liquid shows our need to yield to the process. And since God’s goal in our sanctification is that we become like His Son, the refiner’s seeing his reflection in the melted metal is a beautiful illustration of our God’s refining and purifying us until we’re conformed to the image of His Son.
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Corinthians 3:18
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son. Romans 8:29a
These parallels have been a blessing in considering the process and end goal of God’s sanctifying work in my life.
But one particular aspect that I had not considered much before blessed me in a big way last week.
I’ve mentioned before that I am sometimes discouraged at my lack of love, my innate selfishness, and I often pray to be more loving. I know that the struggle between the Spirit and our flesh is a lifelong one that won’t end until we’re in heaven. Yet it seemed like, after around 45 years of being a Christian, I should be further along than I am now, and it should be less of a struggle.
But since that struggle doesn’t end until heaven, we’re going to continue to have our impurities brought to our attention. And that’s a good thing – not that we have them, but that they come to the surface so we can deal with them by confessing them to the Lord and seeking His grace to overcome them.
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Proverbs 28:13
When I first became a Christian, I was convicted of a lack of love and a need to be more unselfish in some areas. But they were probably big, obvious areas. The more I grow in the Lord, the more He makes me aware of smaller, deeper areas, like a harsh thought as well as harsh words.
The refining process is an answer to my prayer to be more Christlike and more loving. I can’t be more loving until I see the ways in which I am unloving. I can’t turn from selfishness until I see the ways my selfishness displays itself. I can’t grow more like Christ until I see the ways I am not yet fully like Him.
So instead of being discouraged that God continually shows me the ways in which I fall short, I can rejoice that He is continuing to refine me. And I praise Him for the grace that washes away all sin.