There are those out there who will tell you becoming a Christian means having your “best life now”, that all your problems will disappear, that you will have happiness beyond your imagination. Health and wealth will be yours and trials a thing of the past. Still others may suggest that once you become a Christian you will live in sinless bliss; your life will be one of perfect obedience, free of all wrongdoing. Yes, there are those who make such wild promises about the Christian life.
I wish I could tell you that they are right. I wish I could tell you that becoming a Christian means an immediate end to all manner of struggle and that you can skip through life with increasing health, wealth, and happiness. Unfortunately, I cannot tell you that. Certainly there may be a rare minority that experience such things, but for the vast majority of us, we continue to struggle with all the ordinary trials life puts forth. Both those external and those within. Even after our conversion, we are still existing here in a fallen world, after all.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul is candid about one of his personal struggles, describing it as a “thorn in his flesh.” We do not know specifically what this is, some speculate it may have been some form of demonic hindrance to his ministry in Corinth, but whatever it was, Paul makes it clear it was enough of a burden he was desperate to be rid of it. He writes: “Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)
Indeed, God’s grace is sufficient. For all of us.
One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture is Romans 8:1: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” This verse immediately follows Paul’s description of his continuing struggle with sin in Romans 7:14-25, which I feel is worth repeating here: “The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Picture the scenario if you will. Paul, a Christian by direct, personal revelation from Jesus Christ Himself; the very man through whom the Holy Spirit wrote most of the New Testament, surely a Christian among Christians, describes for us his personal struggle with ongoing sin. And it is this passage, perhaps more than any other in Scripture, with which I can personally relate. I feel my course has been one of steady improvement since my conversion, and surely some of the most vile of my sins remain behind me, but I am still quite surprised at the velocity and frequency with which I can fall into sin. “Oh, what a miserable person I am” indeed.
In the Bible, Paul is not alone in his ongoing struggle with sin. Scripture is replete with men of faith who experience personal failure. Witness David and his adulterous affair with Bathsheba or Peter and his thrice denial of Jesus. Space doesn’t allow me to dive deep into all the Bible characters and their specific circumstances, but I know I am not alone in my struggle. And I hope you know you are not alone, either. Whether you are struggling with external circumstances, or your own ongoing battle with bad habits, you are not alone. And you are not left to contend on your own. God gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 1:13) to help us recognize when we fail, and to learn and grow from our experiences.
Once we become Christians, we start the journey of sanctification. That is, we start growing in Christlikeness. With rare exception, this is a process of steady growth over all the remaining years of our lives. We can take certain steps to help the process; such as regular Bible reading and prayer, church membership, and interaction with other Christians. Intentional participation in activities such as Bible study small groups can really help us. At least, that has been my experience.
Always remember that Christians aren’t perfect. We’re just forgiven. And if you have not yet found a relationship with Jesus Christ, I hope you will consider taking that step now. It won’t make your life instantly better, but it will make you instantly forgiven!
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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.