No sane parent has ever said, “I wish my children would misbehave,” and there’s never been a self-help book entitled How to Live an Unhappy Life. We all want blessings, happiness, and fulfillment, and we associate a happy condition with a certain amount of ease. Jesus promises blessing and fulfillment to those who follow Him (John 4:14), but many people have been surprised that the way of Christ is not as easy as they had hoped. Sometimes, following Christ can be downright difficult.
The fact is, blessing and hardship are not mutually exclusive. The disciples “left everything” to follow Christ, and the Lord promised them “a hundred times as much” blessing in return (Mark 10:28-30). Jesus warned that all who follow Him must deny themselves and bear a daily cross (Luke 9:23). Hardship, to be sure, but hardship with a purpose and leading to the joy of the Lord.
Followers of Christ also face resistance from the world. “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus did not promise His disciples that everything would be coming up roses for them; just the opposite—He promised that they would have trials in this world (John 16:33). “But take heart!” He told them, “I have overcome the world.”
God’s moral laws have been written on the heart of every human – giving all people a conscience to aid them in determining wrong from right (Romans 2:14-15). When a person becomes a follower of Christ, he not only has God’s laws in his heart, but he also has the indwelling Holy Spirit to compel him toward living righteously (Romans 8:11). This in no way means the Christian will stop sinning, but it does mean the Christian will become more aware of his own personal sin and have a genuine desire to do what is pleasing to Christ (Romans 8:14-16).
In many ways, it is after a person is saved that the struggle against sin really heats up in his life. All people are born with a nature that is bent toward sin, which is why children do not need to be taught how to misbehave – that comes naturally. When a person is converted, the sin nature does not disappear – and so the internal conflict begins in the life of every believer.
The apostle Paul, who called himself a “bondservant to Christ,” writes of the struggle with his sin nature in Romans 7:14-25. In verse 15 he says, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). Christians engaged in this battle have a true desire to avoid sin, but they also have a natural desire to indulge the flesh. They become frustrated when they find themselves “doing what they don’t want to do.” And to further complicate matters, Christians not only do not want to sin, they hate sin. Yet, they still sin.
Paul goes on to write, “It is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me” (Romans 7:17). Paul is referring to the dichotomy caused by the new birth – Paul is a “new man” through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). But he still sins because sin is still alive in the human flesh – the sin nature survives the new birth (Romans 7:18). Paul calls the internal strife a “war,” as the new man battles the old man. Paul found the battle quite distressing because he wanted to do well (Romans 7:23). “What a wretched man I am,” Paul cries out in his distress (Romans 7:24).
Every Christian who is attempting to live righteously is called to this battlefield for his entire life. We are in a spiritual battle. But in grace and mercy, God gives the faithful believer an entire suit of armor for the fight (Ephesians 6:13).
The Christian life is never easy, but the difficulties do not negate the joy. We consider Jesus, who “for the joy set before him . . . endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). God has set us free from the slavery to sin. The victory is ours (2 Corinthians 2:14). Through the Holy Spirit, believers receive encouragement, strength to persevere, and reminders of their adoption into the family of God. We know that our “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed” (Romans 8:18).