Why is Christianity so Difficult?
On the night of my baptism in the winter of 1996, the pastor who baptized me, warned me as I left the church that the devil hates what I had just done. After that, we used to refer to 1996 as, “the year from hell.” That is, until worse years superseded it. Why is Christianity so difficult?
We must first dispel the myth of Christian cults. The prosperity cult is notorious for promoting a deviation of Christianity that promises a life of health and wealth. Most Christians I know struggle with finances and health. There is also the clean cut, good life façade that cults like to portray. Long-haired Mormon missionaries and poorly dressed Jehovah’s Witnesses do not exist. The religious dress and icon crowd seem to think they will suffer for their external projection, but the world loves religion and cannot tell them apart from their costumed counterparts in other religions. Evangelicals fall into the trap of T-shirt and bumper sticker theology. The philosophy is that everyone should join our group and buy into the way we do religion. This is not Christianity. Christianity is difficult…very difficult.
Christianity is Christ. Christ means Messiah. Messiah means “the anointed one.” The Messiah, foretold and long expected in the Hebrew Scriptures, was to be God’s deliverer of Israel. Unfortunately, ethnic Israel interpreted this to mean a deliverance from world powers, especially the irritant nations around them. When Jesus Messiah appeared, He reproved this wrong view. Israel’s true enemies were sin and death. The land of Promise was only a type for the new heavens and the new earth that God would create through Messiah (see Daniel). Christ is the true Israel (Is 49:3), and everything is fulfilled in Him.
The apostle Paul had favorite phrases in his writings. “In Christ” was one concept Paul loved. The idea of union with Christ meant Christ, through the Holy Spirit, was in the heart of the believer in Jesus. It also meant the believer was in Christ. Union produces unity in the Spirit, a bond of peace between man and God. It promotes brotherly love, too. It is an intertwined life.
Christ in me means a new life, powered by a new Spirit. It changes a person’s identity, affections, and practices. Christ is forming in the Christian, and the Christian is being conformed to the image of Christ. Paul said, “It is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20).” Therefore, we can see that Christianity is a radical transformation. One’s thoughts, words, and actions are all different from what they were before they were re-made to be Christians. Change is difficult.
Christianity is a position. When the world identifies a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus Christ, it is not thinking about position. This is essential, however. A Christian has been moved from the domain of darkness (Col 1:13). She lives in a position of light. People can see in the light of day, but they cannot see in the dark of night. A Christian has a new legal position, too. She is no longer a guilty criminal avoiding the Law of God, for fear of just judgment against her. She lives in a position of grace because her legal position is one of justification. She is in Christ, and Christ has right standing before God. She approached God through the one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. She would never approach God through Mohammed, Mary, saints or angels. This would deny her position of having permanent and privileged access to the throne of God’s grace.
Position in Christ is a blessing and a curse. All the spiritual blessings of God are in Christ (Eph 1:3). Christ is on the throne of God because He is God (Mk 16:19). The throne of God is in heavenly places (Rev 7:17), and we are seated with Him in the heavenlies (Eph 2:6). This is a spiritual position that will also have a physical reality, after the bodily resurrection from the dead. Truly, we are blessed in every way for He has given us life abundant and eternal (Jn 10:10, 28). When two people are granted a child, they have a new position as parents. This is a blessing, but it comes with much responsibility. It is difficult.
The curse of being positioned in Christ is that the world hates Christ (Jn 7:7); and therefore, it hates Christians (Jn 15:18). This means Christians have trouble in the world. Atheists and religious people alike despise Christians because we are peculiar people. Without religious costumes, the only way the world knows a Christian is by her testimony of love for Jesus and familial love for other Christians. When Jesus did a miracle, people loved Him. When He opened His mouth and told the people the truth, they either left Him or plotted to kill Him. The world celebrates sin, so God has positioned government authorities to curb human penchant for sinful behavior (Rom 13). God has positioned the church to herald the Gospel message of the kingdom of God and Christ. Although this is for the world’s benefit, the message is rejected. The world has a tendency to kill the messengers sent by God. Our position is difficult.
Christianity is a call to faith and suffering. It is intriguing that both of these dimensions are granted by God. People place their trust in Christ because they have heard a profoundly different message from Christians than from the world. Christians have been entrusted with stewardship of the Word of God (1 Cor 4, 9). We preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2). The Word made flesh is Christ (Jn 1:14). Therefore, we speak what we believe. We believe and preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2). Our faith is personal because it is in a Person, who has done what we could not do, in order to be reconciled to God.
Men hate Christ, as we have noted. Christ is God come into the world. The world did not know Him (Jn 1:5). The world, like Adam and Eve, avoids God. Humanity is at enmity with God (Eph 2:1–3, 12). People are hostile toward God and the things of God (Rom 1:30). Resistance to the Holy Spirit is natural for sinful man. God is holy, and man is unholy. Christ is God, and man is ungodly (Rom 1:18). There is nothing in man that desires God. Man does not seek God (Rom 3:11). Faith in Christ is never the prerogative of sinful man. Christians believe something entirely untenable to the people around us. This makes our existence and our commission to make Christ known very difficult.
Called out from a life of sin (Gal 5:19–20) and to spiritual life in the Spirit of God positions a Christian in tension with the laws and behaviors of the world system. Christians cannot love God and love the world system at the same time (1 Jn 2:15–17). Both demand allegiance and obedience, but they remain diametrically opposed. This means our entire environment makes us aliens. Suffering under these conditions has been “granted” in the same way faith has been “granted” to us (Phil 1:29). This is troubling because it means God has given us what we need most, and at the same time, the trouble we must endure. This is the difficulty of being disciplined by our God and Father (Heb 12). Christians are being sanctified (Jn 17:17). We are in a process of purification. Water and fire are common elements employed to purify something. Christians are washed by the Word (Eph 5:26), and we have the baptism of fire from the Spirit of Christ (Mt 3:11).
Christianity is tested. A discipline must be learned. That is difficult, but it also must be tested. Most students in an education process dislike being tested. It is a great pressure. Although human testing is imperfect, every learning system of any value has testing as an integral component. Christians must test to see if the Spirit of God lives in them by faith (2 Cor 13:5). They must test, to see of the spirits they are dealing with are from God (1 Jn 4:1). They must endure to the end as a test, to prove the preservation grace of God. Christians are Christians to the end. If a person falls away from their testimony of Christ, then they were never Christians in the first place (Heb 6). Christ saves, and Christ preserves His people in the faith, by giving them His abiding Spirit (Rom 8:9, 11; Heb 13:5).
The clean-up process, that is, the education and testing process are removing sin and ignorance. It is agitating to experience both of these processes. We are exposed for being mired in sins of every kind. We are humiliated by our lack of knowledge of God. We are then mocked and scoffed at by those around us in the world. Christianity is not for the proud. Christianity is not for the powerful. Christianity is not for the rich. Although, we must confess God has mercy on some of these kinds of sinners. They usually become humble, meek, and poor as part of their transformation. How different this is from the Christianity of the cults. That is a difficult thing for people in the world to endure, in coming to Christ. Christianity is loss for the sake of gain. It is a costly sacrifice. Still, blessed are they when they come (Mt 5:1–11) despite the difficulties.
Christianity is a war. This was evident when Paul encouraged the Ephesians to put on the whole armor of God (Eph 6:10–20). Our war is not with people in the world, but it is a spiritual warfare with principalities and powers in heavenly places (Eph 6:12). Demonic spirits animate and stimulate sinful people to sin and rebel against God. They cause people to build altars in their homes, to worship them through idols. The spirit of disobedience is at work in the world. Satan blinds men from seeing God’s salvation (2 Cor 4:4), and men walk in futility as a result. Demons love religion. They love the worship that men give to them instead of God and Christ.
Christians shine the light of God’s truth into the darkness of a man’s heart and mind. Men hate the light that exposes them for being evil (Eph 5:11). Instead of heeding the Christian message and humbly repenting to God, who is merciful and gracious, they blaspheme Christ and the Holy Spirit, in denying God’s message as being true. Jesus fought the devil by quoting the Word of God accurately (Mt 4; Lk 4). Our weapon of offense is the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. In other words, we have defected from the armies of darkness and have been enlisted in the armies of the living God, who is the Lord of hosts. War is difficult, but thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ (2 Cor 2:14a).
Christianity is glorious. The Cross came before the Crown with Jesus, and this is true for Christians. He has promised His people many crowns, which we will gladly and ultimately cast at His beautiful feet. He has promised to be with us to the end of the age (Mt 28:20). He has given us hope and future. He has given us a glimpse of the rest of the story. He is our future, and He has gone to prepare a place for us, in glory.
The sufferings of this present darkness cannot be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom 8:18). God is with us, and God is for us. Nothing can separate the Christian from Christ (Rom 8:35–39), and our life is but a vapor here in the world (Jas 4:14). So let us hold fast to the faith granted to us, and let us joyfully endure the suffering also granted to us. In this we share in Christ’s suffering, so that we can reign with Him, forever. He has plans to present us holy and blameless before God, our Father (Eph 1:4; 5:27; Col 1:22). Christianity is difficult, but our Sabbath rest will soon be here, and it will all be worth it.
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
December 18, 2020