One of the disappointing moments in a new Christian’s life happens when they realize that following Christ isn’t going to make their life easier. Instead, it makes it harder. In fact, things aren’t just going to get harder, they’re going to get more complicated.
Take the question of evil. If you’re not a Christ follower, the question of evil is nothing more than a frustrating parlor game. After all, if you don’t have a theology to confuse, why struggle to find an answer to evil? Evil just is, and the “why” really doesn’t matter. Evil is like the air around us. Moreover, if you want to do evil, you can use evil as a justification for your own evil choices.
But if you’ve decided to follow Jesus, then the answer is doubly difficult. Not only can we not use the existence of evil to justify or excuse our own evil behavior, but we have to deal with the spiritual question of how a good God could permit evil to exist in the world.
New believers begin their walk by hearing that God has a plan for their lives, a life filled with joy and grace. And then, reality bites – and it bites hard. A lot of new believers never get past this moment. They are surprised and discouraged at how hard life gets when you’re trying to follow Jesus. In our evangelistic fervor to “sell” the faith, we tend to leave out certain parts…like obedience and crosses.
In his book, Letters from the Earth, Mark Twain writes about the day Adam discovered that water runs downhill. If Adam had paid attention, he would have soon discovered that EVERYTHING flows downhill. Societies, nations, cultures, and even nature itself. Left to themselves, nothing gets better on its own. The difference is this: when you are living as an unbeliever, you are just going with the flow and everything in the world is flowing with you.
When you REPENT, which means to change direction, you turn and suddenly find out that everything that was flowing with you is now flowing AT you. You begin to see the world as it is and the first thing you discover is that most of what is around us isn’t healthy for our spiritual lives. Living a holy life involves saying no to the things of this world – and it means saying no a lot.
The second part of this challenge is discovering how much that is in us that isn’t like Jesus. If the goal of discipleship is to become more like Christ, the first part of this process is to identify and remove everything in our lives that doesn’t look like Jesus.
This starts out easily enough. All of us have obvious sins that we know shouldn’t be part of our lives. Most of those are superficial. That is, they aren’t ingrained into our souls. We can walk away from them fairly easily. It’s those sins we like, the ones we’ve carefully nurtured over our lifetimes that are the most difficult to deal with. You know the ones – the ones we aren’t really sure are sins in the first place…like pride and ego. I mean, after all, aren’t you supposed to be confident in yourself? Didn’t Jesus say to love yourself? How can that be wrong?
These sins have pushed their roots deep into our souls. They are part of who we are. They define us and we like the way they make us feel. They’re addictive.
The second reason these sins are hard to deal with is that we have to deal with them at different levels. We want to think about our spiritual life as a staircase. One step, deal with it, move on, and you’re done. It doesn’t work that way. In actuality, Jacob’s ladder is more like a spiral staircase than a ladder. We deal with our sins, but we keep having to deal with them at a deeper level.
Have you ever forgiven someone and then later gotten mad at them again? You say to yourself, “I thought I had dealt with this.” You had, but not at this level. Now you have to go through the process of forgiving the person who hurt you, but at a deeper level.
The challenge of our spiritual journeys being a spiral staircase is that we’re making progress, but we feel like we’re going in circles.
The other challenge of swimming against the current is, well, swimming against the current. You can never relax. You can never float. If you do, the current will drag you downstream and under. You have to maintain constant awareness and vigilance, or you will be swept away.
This is what most people don’t understand. They don’t decide to quit. They just decide to stop swimming and, when they do, the current pulls them away.
Our culture isn’t trying to pull us toward Christ, but away from Him. We have to keep swimming and remain faithful in order to stay close to Him.
Sadly, here’s the good news that few of us actually realize. There is a beautiful and simple grace when you are close to Christ. Life has a perspective that you can’t find anywhere else. We soon discover that the things that clutter our lives aren’t really necessary in the first place.
We can live easier and more at home with ourselves, our friends, and even with the world. That’s the grace Christ gives you and most of us don’t even know it. It just happens because His habits soon rub off on us and soon, you’ll find yourself not having to think about being like Christ because being like Christ is just who you are.