The separation of two entities is a principle that occurs several times in the Scriptures. In the Genesis, God separated the light from the darkness; the land from the water; one firmament from another, and so on. And all the way to Revelation, we see God continuing this process of separation, which He often calls sifting.
Indeed, The Scripture shows us that, after creation, God has turned His attention to sifting us. And that elicits the question: When and why does God sift us? Or What are God’s reasons for sifting us?
Thus far, we have found two types of sifting in Scripture:
- Sifting for Salvation
- Sifting for Sanctification
1. Sifting for Salvation
The first type of sifting we will look at is sifting for salvation. John the Baptist described this type of sifting when He introduced Jesus ministry:
“…[Christ] shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire: Whose fan is in His hand [to SIFT], and He will throughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”Matthew 3:11-12
In this passage, Christ is likened to a farmer winnowing, i.e., sifting, wheat. The purpose of the sifting is to separate the grain from the chaff. The grain is then gathered into His barn (garner), but the chaff is burned. This imagery precisely describes the meaning of salvation.
The saved are those that, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), have become useful to God; like grain is to a farmer. The unsaved, by their rejection of God, are unuseful, inedible, and so must be burned. In which pile will you find yourself on Jesus’ threshing floor?
“And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats” ~ Matthew 25:32
Interestingly, this sifting only separates the wheat from the chaff: It does not address the quality of the grain. That requires a different kind of sifting, which we will examine next.
2. Sifting for Sanctification
The second type of sifting is sifting for sanctification. Jesus described this type of sifting when He counseled Peter:
“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.”Luke 22:31-32
We can also see this type of sifting in work in the Book of Job.
The symbols are the same as before, but here the chaff represents the bad aspects of ourselves that remain, even after salvation. After we are saved we still have bad habits and attitudes to deal with. Peter was saved (John 17:6-19) but he still had to grapple with his own prejudice (Acts 10-11), his anger (John 18:10), his impulsiveness (Matthew 17:4), and his hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-16).
We should note here that previously God was the one sifting everyone to separate the saved from the unsaved. However, God allows/permits satan to effect this type of sifting. God would allow satan to sift Peter just as He allowed him to sift Job centuries earlier. And God will allow satan to sift Believers today.
“Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy word is truth. ” ~ John 17:17
We should never forget, however, that the sifting is for our GOOD. Satan wants to harm us for sure, but God uses satans ill-intended actions for our benefit. Notice that
- Jesus has already prayed for Peter so that his faith would not fail: Peter would be able to endure satan’s sifting.
- Jesus said “…when thou art converted” NOT “…if thou art converted“. Jesus already gave Peter victory over satan’s sifting.
- The purpose of sifting was Peters conversion: Peter would be blessed by the sifting because it would change him for the better.
Crucially, we see here that the process of conversion takes place AFTER salvation. At salvation, we become new spiritual creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10). But we still have our old corrupt flesh present.
The conversion process, which is otherwise called sanctification, takes us from being dominated by our flesh to being willingly submitted to the Holy Spirit. And God allows trials to come into our lives so that by them our sanctification can be accomplished.
Finally, after his conversion was complete, Peter’s next step was to “strengthen thy brethren“. In other words, Peter was to be sifted so that he could thereby be sanctified; and then become useful to help his fellow Believers grow stronger. What satan meant for evil would end up being a great blessing to many.
Similarly, when Job’s trials were complete, he was able to help his friends who had been wrong about God (Job 42:7-10). Therefore, when we are sifted we should keep in mind that we will endure because God will give us victory and enable our ministry.
“And not only so , but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”Romans 5:3-5
It’s too late to change when the chaff hits the fan.