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Why the Christian Life is Hard

Category Articles
Date February 24, 2009

Resting in the Redeemer

Do you think that the Christian life is hard? If so, what makes it hard, and if not, why does it seem so hard for so many professing Christians?

We can begin to consider this matter in terms of the context of the question and in terms of our defining what we mean by the word hard. Regarding context, the Bible alerts us to the fact that it is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God. The sufferings of the apostles in the Book of Acts illustrate some of the sufferings of the faithful. Yet, do we always suffer? Is our calling in Christ always to be under the yoke of stress, straining, persecution, affliction, and sacrifice? And are these things the only elements that compose the Christian life? The true context in which we face the challenges and difficulties inherent in our pilgrimage of faith is one composed of trials and triumphs, sorrows and joys, pains and holy pleasures. Therefore, when we understand that the Christian life contains such mixed elements, we cannot and should not think or characterize the life of faith as being hard in the sense of it being unalloyed pain and suffering.

While the Bible is clear that the tribulations of the saints can be many, varied, and at times exquisitely painful and profoundly perplexing, the Word of God is emphatic in stating that all of our pains serve useful and sanctifying purposes in our lives. The thorns we cry to our God to remove from our flesh serve as prods to direct us to the abundantly sufficient grace of our Lord. The afflictions we endure come upon us by no accident or negligence on God’s part, but are ordained by him for the production in us of an eternal weight of glory. It is when we appropriate the divine grace that we begin to rejoice and boast in our afflictions and weaknesses, seeing the connection between them and God’s glory and our good. It is when we feed upon the sure hope of that glory in view of which all of our sufferings should be considered as momentary, light, and, in fact, beneficial producers of glorious gain, that we begin to count ourselves blessed when we suffer for Christ’s sake.

But there is more to this matter than our faithful appropriation of the truths and promises of God’s Word and the enabling grace that he minister’s to us by his Spirit. There is something intensely and essentially personal that transforms the pain of our sufferings into the blessedness of glory. We are not simply called to be nourished on grace and hope but rather to be strengthened by these qualities as they come to us in relation to their source, namely, our living and loving God. It is God’s grace that enables us not only to endure our thorns in the flesh or resign ourselves to them, but also to rejoice in them. It is the hope that God gives us that feeds and fills us with joyful anticipation of the day when we shall see the face of our Redeemer, whose loving self-sacrifice has washed away all of our sins, whose healing hand shall wipe away all of our tears, and whose glorious beauty shall perfectly and perpetually captivate us and hold us in the matrix of the holy love that blessedly holds the three persons of our triune God in most perfect and joyful unity.

There is a priority that we should ever observe when we live our lives in Christ. There are principles of godliness and ordinances of divine grace, but above and before these is the living and loving person of God. It is neither by the principles of godliness nor by the ordinances of divine grace that we are saved. It is by the person of God through the ordinances of his grace.

Jesus calls us to come to him and promises us that he will give us rest. While we can only truly come to know Christ and his will and provision for us through his written Word, we should ever bear in mind that above that written Word stands the living Word. It is that living Word who has loved us and given himself for us. It is that living Word who has reconciled us to God and brought us into his loving family and given to us glorious, eternal, abundant life.

We should learn to perceive in the written Word of Scripture not only the propositional directives and declared truths, incentives, commands, and prohibitions of God, but also the powerful and intensely pleasing aroma, the sweet, refreshing breath, the loving hand, the compassionate and merciful heart of our God. Although Scripture informs our prayers, we do not pray to the Bible, but to the living God who has revealed himself to us in Scripture. When Paul says that he can do all things, he does not say that he does so through the directives of Scripture alone, but rather through the Christ whose loving divine person and reconciling work form the central testimony of all Scripture.

God has given us his Word, not so that in it we might find the ladder of our performance that leads to heaven, but rather so that we might apprehend the beauty of our holy, loving, and redeeming Lord. It is our God who has made and redeemed us for himself. Our hearts are restless and our lives appear hard, until we find our rest, our peace, our contentment, our joy, our all in him, in whose yoke we find felicity throughout our pilgrimage on earth (Matt. 11: 28-30), and in whose presence in glory is fullness of joy, and enduring pleasures (Psa. 16:11).

William Harrell is Pastor of Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia.

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