Struggle is an essential part of the spiritual life. A profession of faith and performance in service just aren’t enough…It is not enough to superficially say we believe in Christ and then go on our merry way. It is not enough to mechanically function in one or more church jobs. Spiritual experiences aren’t enough. Jesus said that even those casting out demons and performing miracles could be self-deceived. Since not many can lay claim to such feats, His words should make us pause.
Faith itself is not easy. Those who think it is have never exercised the real thing. Faith does not mean a carefree absence of doubt, but it means acting on God’s trustworthiness in spite of the doubts we have. Do we think it was easy for Abraham to go out from Ur not knowing where he was going (Hebrews 11:8) or to offer his son Isaac as God commanded (Genesis 22:1019)? If faith is easy, then some of Jesus’ sayings concerning His kingdom become quite difficult to understand: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).
Entering God’s kingdom by violence or force? C.S. Lewis said he was dragged into the kingdom kicking and screaming. Many have become Christians only after the intellectual equivalent of storming the Bastille – leveling the fortresses of ideologies and thought that are much harder to pull down than mortar and brick.
In the services at our church, we give evangelistic invitations. To Christans who have never done it, let me say that coming down an aisle is a traumatic experience. Big, strong men come shaking and with tears. Some have told me they felt the whole world was fastened on their coattails like an anchor. But still they come to exercise faith, to take hold of Christ, to strain against the gravitational pull of their own deadness with a force that scripture calls violence.
Christian growth almost invariably involves struggle. Paul says in Galatians 5:24, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” What he means is that, as Christians, we should consider our old lives to be nailed to the cross of Christ, stripping our sin of all power over us as we choose to live by faith in Christ (Romans 6:1-11).
I believe there is an additional reason Paul chose the metaphor of crucifixion to express what our attitude toward the flesh would be. Crucifixion was a slow, painful death. It was not the only method of capital punishment in those days. There were certainly quicker ones. Quite simply, the flesh dies hard. Few Christians bypass the feeling of certain conceit or cockiness over a rapid spurt of growth, only to fall in an area of their lives they thought was cleaned up. Christian growth involves struggle.
All those who set out to seek the kingdom of God must pay the price of a disciplined life. Discipline is the mark where faith struggles against areas of the flesh that are in disrepair. The writer to the Hebrews said it well: “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11).
We are continually under construction. Certain areas of life will provide spiritual workouts as long as we live. We can mark and engage them and grow. If we ignore them, our Christian life and pursuit of God’s kingdom will flounder badly.
– David Swartz
“Not everyone who calls out to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to Me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in Your name and cast out demons in Your name and performed many miracles in Your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you who break God’s laws.’”
– Matthew 7:21-23 (NLT)
Photo by Susie Stewart