Tough Christianity

Pride can take on various forms.  The most commonly thought of pride is one that manifests itself in a person’s words and actions, one that clearly draws attention to that person and their achievements, and this is often at the expense of someone else.

But it can also be subtle, and deceptive.  For me, the latter is true.  I’m usually not one to boast in my own achievements and draw attention to myself externally (except for that last sentence).  It’s more of a way of thinking, that may or may not show itself in my external behavior.  And it is deadly.

Over the last two and a half years, God has done a remarkable work in my life.  I no longer desire to live a life for myself, but instead, my desires, the goals I have for my life, are laid at the feet of Jesus and He is in control.  I love God more, and I love those around me more.  I’ve become more of a leader of those around me, and have served on mission trips.  I don’t struggle with sin as much as I once did, and I’ve grown in the knowledge and convictions of what it means to be a Christian, what it truly means to follow Christ.  To put it simply: I care more now than I did five or six years ago.

Pride sneaks in like a snake, and seeks to devour all of that.  Because, you see, when I look at those years, everything that is written above, it is all true.  I believe it, and those around me can see it.  But there are two problems: 1) I still make mistakes, and seem to find new ways to let God down, and 2) It is not me who does this work, but God.

Pride tells me I’m responsible for this change.  Pride tells me to smile and gloat and boast in this new person God has made me.  It’s like I boast in the crop, but forget the farmer is even there.  It’s an incredibly self-centered view of my faith, and it’s destructive.  I can look at the past two years and see, yes, God has changed me, but I’ve still done a lot of things I should not have, I’ve still made my fair share of mistakes, and my sin is just as disgusting now as it was back then, as a younger, immature Christian.

I’m convinced that being a mature Christian, being a man, is not saying “I’ve got it all together, I know what to do, and I don’t make mistakes.”  Being a mature Christian is knowing when you’ve failed, and confessing your sins to others and to God.  We do grow in holiness, and it is God who works in and through us to do this work, and we do kill sin, but we also find out, as we go along, we’re not very good at it.  My hope is, for my life and yours, my reader, that we would learn more and more how to kill sin effectively and obey Jesus.  I pray we do this, not so we gain salvation, but because we realize we have it, by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and we desire to walk in a manner worthy of it, so that our Father in heaven gets the glory.

“By grace you have been saved, through faith.  And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, and not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”–Ephesians 2:8-9.  I have to constantly remind myself that salvation is ultimately not up to me.  I did not earn my salvation, I did not work for it, and I cannot add to it.  My responsibility is to live in a manner worthy of it, to not make shipwreck of it, but to honor the Lord with my life.

And I come now to confess I fail miserably at times.  Over the past two days, God has answered my prayers, and I’m reminded of why we’re told to be careful what we pray for.  For the past few months, I’d asked God to kill pride in me.  Well….I got it.  And it’s not fun.  It’s tough.

Christianity isn’t easy.  It’s tough.  It’s hard work.  It is a joyful work, because we rest in the salvation that has been granted to us by Christ Jesus, and it is our joy to imitate our Father, but still….it’s tough.  And sometimes it hurts.  I’ve literally been in anguish and despair, crying out to God, “Why do I still do this?”  “Do you even want me to go to the Philippines this summer?”  “I’m not worthy!”

Let me make one thing clear: There’s a fine line between Godly sorrow and conviction, as a result of God’s discipline, that leads to repentance, and a worldly, guilt-ridden, self-centered repentance that seeks only a hall pass from guilt.  If all we want is God to make us feel better, we need to stop praying and go see a therapist, because God won’t do that.  Trust me, I’ve tried.  Tried it for years.

Wake up to the reality that God doesn’t just want to pardon you….He wants to change you.  And it’s not easy.  We glorify the fact that God changes us, as we should, and we should praise Him for it, but I’m afraid that we make it seem like this light, fluffy toy and fun job we get to do, when in reality, what it often means is this: Falling flat on your face before the God of the universe and confessing that you’re worse off than you ever thought you were, and you desperately need His grace to make you whole again.

Thank the Lord for sending Jesus to take our place and die on the cross, amen?  Without Jesus, I have no good thing, says the Psalmist (Psalm 16:2).  The verse before tells us that we long for God to preserve us, and Jesus confirms this promise by saying that He will not lose His sheep (John 17).  Jesus Himself, the Son of God, God the Son, prays to the Father that He would keep us, and preserve us, and that Jesus has not lost us, and never will lose us.  We are eternally justified by what He did on the cross, and it is applied to us when our hearts are made new by the Spirit, at conversion (or regeneration).  There’s nothing more to add to that.

What’s your response to this?  Do you long to keep doing what you’re doing, and just take this as a gift card or hall pass?  Or do you long to live worthy of this great calling?  Christians, our desire must be (not should be, not can be, but must be) to live in a way worthy of the calling to salvation we have received.  We do not obey to get in the family of God, or to stay in it, but we obey because we are in, by the grace of Jesus, and we want, more than we want anything else, to imitate our heavenly Father.  Read Joshua Harris’ book “Dug Down Deep,” especially the chapter on sanctification: “Changed, Changing, to be Changed.”  It’s a great, understandable read on the biblical theology of sanctification.

We must desire Jesus.  Not to not go to hell.  Not to be guilt-free.  But we must desire Jesus.  And in our new life, bought for and controlled by Jesus, we still see this remaining sin.  And we should hate it.  If we do not hate it, then we may not be saved.  This doesn’t mean you won’t ever sin again.  I think it’s fair to see we can have more than one desire.  But one desire will always be greater than the other.  I desire to study for my finals (yes, at some level, this is true).  However, my greater desire, at this present moment, is to write this blog post.  That’s why my Sociology notes are under my Bible.  So, it follows that we can have this fleshly desire to sin, i.e. if I see an attractive girl walk past me on the street, my fleshly impulse/desire is to turn around and try to look after her in lust.  But my new desires, my new, Christ-filled, Christ-given life, lead me to reject that, and say, “No, for I will find satisfaction in God alone.”  Temporary pleasures are seen as such: temporary.  We crave for and long for eternal, fulfilling, perfect satisfaction found in God alone.

Going back to the idea of Christianity is tough, we see that the above situation can end in two different ways.  And yes, if you are a follower of Christ, you should, more and more, choose to not set your eyes on evil things, but to set them on God.  But we will then see that we still have remaining sin.  As I grow farther and farther away from lust, I see that I still struggle with other things, such as pride, or apathy, or laziness.  More often now I see that I don’t do things I should: I may improve on not lusting after a sister in Christ, but I must replace this with loving her, caring for her, and building her up.  I may improve on not having pride, but I must replace this with a humility that drives me to serve others, not caring what the cost is for me.

We cannot be closet dwellers.  We are called to go out into the world and share the gospel of Christ.  But before we go, I urge you, Christian, to get alone with God, and ask Him to reveal to you any sin that needs to be dealt with.  This is tough, and it is hard, and to use the language I want…it sucks.  It’s not fun.  It’s not a joy.  There are a million other things I’d rather do, but, in my heart, that deepest desire is to be like Jesus, and to be enabled to go out and live a life that shouts His name above all else, and in order to do that, I must throw down my idols and repent of sin, and submit to Jesus and Godly discipline.  I’m not going this summer because I’m perfect, or worthy.  I’m going because there are people who need Jesus, and the Bible says they won’t believe unless I go to tell them.  It’s that simple.  But with that, God has given me a call to be faithful, and ready, and be diligent, trusting in Him to equip and empower me by the Spirit.  And I confess to you this afternoon that I haven’t done that all too well, and wish I could have a few more weeks.  I have a month before I leave.  But here’s the cool thing about God’s discipline, and the “tough” side of Christianity:

It leads back to grace.  As I cry out, mourning my sin, and lamenting that I could be so stupid, so apathetic, so lukewarm and weak, so many times, I receive grace, and this grace not only forgives, but it drives me into the arms of my Father, and it stirs a passion in my heart for the call He has placed on my life.  So now, He’s answered another prayer, that He would rekindle that flame in me for the people of the Philippines, that as I go, I would go passionately, courageously, and would be excited to see what He does through me and the people I’ll be working with.  And He did that by bringing me to repentance, and to lay down my sinful pride.

Repentance is beautiful.  God’s discipline is beautiful.  Tough Christianity is so much better than some weak, shallow faith that says “everything’s good, chill, and live a fun life.”  That’s not Christianity.  That’s some kind of garbage logic out of a therapist’s book designed to make people feel better.  It’s not about feeling better, it’s not about you getting something from God…it’s about you giving your life to Him and giving the God of the universe the praise and worship He deserves.  Salvation is a gift, and all of His blessings are a gift, lest we forget, as I am prone to do.

The race is not complete.  I boast in Jesus, for what He’s done here at Montevallo, and when I graduate in a couple years (hopefully), I’ll say the same.  But there is still much to learn.  I still have a lot of maturing and growing to do, and I look forward to it, even if it’s hard.  And now, I ask you to pray for me this summer.  As I said before, I have a month, and there’s a tremendous amount of things that need to be done during the next month.  Look for a prayer list coming out after I get back home next weekend.  Please be in prayer for me and my team, and for all those who are serving the Lord this summer.  But what I want you to pray about, and think about, more than anything else, is this:

Will you join me?  Will you join me, and countless others, as we pursue Christ?  As we reject this shallow faith that bids us live comfortably, and embrace a Savior and Lord in Jesus that bids us come and die everyday, at whatever cost to us?  Will you repent, and receive grace, grace that can only come from Him?  Will you allow God to kill pride, lust, deceit, or anything else in you tonight?  Will you step out this summer and serve on mission?  Maybe not in the Philippines, but in your neighborhood, on your campus, in your workplace.

Echo the words of Paul in Philippians 3 where he writes: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Jesus is Lord.  Pride kills.  Ask the Lord to kill pride, to kill sin, and submit to Him, not hoping that you’ll get something in return, but confident that we already have all we need in Him, and now, we are free to give our lives to Him, as He makes us holy, as the One who saves us also changes us.  We are free to worship the King in all that we do, even if it means our death, for our life is hid with Christ on high.

Putting these things into practice is what’s hard.  I believe the majority of what’s happened here at Montevallo for me is I know what to do.  I know, more than I did, but not perfectly, what it means to follow Jesus, and I’m catching that fire.  The hard part is fanning it into flame, and putting it in practice.  So I invite you, my reader, to join me as I strive to do this, by the power of the Spirit within me, who alone bears fruit, to do this one thing that I was created for: Glorify God.  I was made for Him.  You were made for Him.  Let us know these things, and let us ask God to help us put it into practice.  The pain, the toughness, the hurt, and the mourning will all be for our good, as we rest in the presence of God, and as He changes our very lives.  And one day, He will bring us home.

Father God, may we be changed by the gospel.  May we not come to you to escape hell, but may we come to you to receive you, for you are all we need.  May we repent of our sin, and realize that we are not perfect, and we need your grace.  Thank you for Jesus, who died on the cross to eternally pay for our sin and to open our eyes to you.  As our eyes open to you, Lord, we realize we still have remaining sin.  And we hate it.  Father, may we, by your Power, kill this sin in our lives and seek to honor you.  May we not seek to add to salvation by our works, but because of salvation, put to death the work of the flesh, which is sin, and seek to do the work laid out for us by You.  May we be diligent about the work, this joyful work of spreading the gospel, in all that we do.  May we confess our sins to receive grace, and to be changed, by You and You alone.  May we not take for granted your patience, kindness, and mercy.  And even in Your discipline, may we rejoice, as it is a sign of Your love for us.

May you be encouraged, comforted, and changed by the work of God in my life.  To God be the glory, forever and ever.  Amen.

God bless,

Neal E.

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