21 April 2021
In sharing the gospel, believers may be very keen to win the hearers to Christ to the point that they somewhat ‘glamorise’ the christian life, making it sound as alluring and carefree as it can be. In doing this, at the same time, they play down the ‘difficult’ aspects of christian life – the endless battles with sin and Satan, the periodic walk in ‘darkness’ – giving the impression that the normal christian life is like living in a lovely garden where problems no longer exist and if they do come, they can easily be dispensed off by bringing them to God. The suggestion is that the world, the flesh and the devil will no longer give us any serious trouble and negative circumstances and personal problems are ‘a thing of the past’. Such suggestions are not only false but are in fact ‘cruel and mischievous’ as they would lead to much damage in the outworking of the christian life subsequently.
Of course, believers can equally be ‘guilty’ of stressing the difficult aspects of the christian life and play down the ‘bright side’, giving the impression that christian living is for the most part gloomy and full of grief and ‘suffering’. Both extremes of error in the inaccurate application of gospel truths are not helpful; the picture of a christian life that is trouble-free is bound, sooner or later, to lead to a bitter disillusionment when troubles come ‘knocking’; the picture of a grievous christian life may lead sometimes to a pleasant surprise to find that believers do have joy as well as sorrow. But for Christians who have been told that the normal Christian life is trouble-free, they may conclude that something has gone terribly wrong when troubles come, and they may desperately seek the remedy to make it right again.
But the truth is that experiences of frustration and perplexity in christian life are not necessarily a reflection of sub-standard Christianity; they often point to the truth that God is exercising His children in the ways of adult godliness, by exposing them to strong attacks from the world, the flesh, and the devil, so that their powers of resistance might grow greater, and their character as people of
God become stronger and purer (1 Peter 1:6-7; James 1:2-4).
The purpose of grace is primarily to restore our relationship with God. The work of grace aims at an ever deeper knowledge of God and an ever closer fellowship with HIm. Grace is God drawing us sinners closer and closer to Himself, effecting godliness in the lives of believers. To draw us closer to Him,God does not shield us from assault by the world, the flesh and the devil, nor by protecting us from burdensome and frustrating circumstances of life, nor yet by shielding us from troubles created by our our temperament and psychological makeup; but rather by exposing us to all these things, so as to overwhelm us with a sense of our own inadequacy, and to drive us to cling to Him more closely. This is the ultimate reason why God fills our lives with trouble, perplexities and frustrations of one sort and another – it is to ensure that we learn to hold Him fast, He wants us to feel that our way through life is rough and perplexing so that we may learn to lean thankfully on Him. He takes steps to drive us out of our self-confidence to trust in Him alone.
Even when we make mistakes in our life, God can bring good out of the extremes of our own folly; through our mistakes, God would teach us to know His grace, and to drive us to cleave to Him in a way that would never have happened otherwise – restoring grace always waits for us. But repentance must be a way of life.
Perhaps the hymn by John Newton best describes this reality:
I asked the Lord, that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
I hoped that in some favoured hour
At once He’d answer my request,
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
Assault my soul in every part.
Yet more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried,
‘Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?’
”Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied,
‘I answer prayer for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st seek thy all in me.’