Life is tough. Life with God is also tough.
This is an appeal to all who teach or influence other followers of Christ.
Never tell anyone that it’s easier to live in the world as a Christian without qualifying what you mean. Yes, God’s way is best, but it’s not always easiest. Many times, God’s way is harder – much harder. And I am not just talking about extreme cases of dying for the faith. Living by faith in a fallen world is tough!
This is part of what we learn in Romans 8.
The picture opens with the great hope and confidence that we are free from condemnation in Christ. This can be our position because, “God did what the law was powerless to do… by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.” (3).
But there is more good news. God also gave us His spirit to live in us. “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you” (11).
We are also assured that, “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (18). Yet “what we suffer now” is real and painful. It’s also partly due to the very presence of the Spirit in our lives. We must always think of both the blessing and burden of having God’s Spirit live in us.
With the presence of the Spirit, we taste good things and good things to come. But the same Spirit is a powerful reminder of how unfinished and sinful we are because of the flesh. The Christian life is one of tension between the already and the not yet.
Please make sure you tell the new believer to expect a growing inward tension with faith in Christ.
We must confidently celebrate what God has done for us and what He is presently doing to change us into his image. But all of this will painfully remind us of how much unlike Him we know we are and how much work there is to complete in us.
We can be absolutely certain that God will finish what He started. We are also profoundly grateful that even, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful” (II Timothy 2:13). But it hurts to think about our faithlessness. And as we grow older in these bodies, the flesh becomes even weaker. The battle has a wearing down effect.
Never forget that God put His “treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). Whatever else is accomplished in our spiritual growth, it never turns the fragile, common jar of clay into a jar of gold (in this life).
Spiritual growth will bring great blessings and deep burdens. Let’s be honest about this (and faithful to the whole truth of Scripture). In this life with God, we’ll be increasingly torn between two realities: What God has and is doing and what we know (with growing clarity) about how weak and incomplete we are – how often we falter and fail.
The picture in Romans 8 rounds off this reality by reminding us that in this life with God (with all that He has done and is doing), we groan. This means we sigh. The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (23) And “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (23).
Until this great moment when these lowly bodies of ours will be made like his glorious body (Philippians 3:20-21), we live by hope and wait patiently for God to complete what He began in us.
As we hope and wait, we groan in our weakness and we repeatedly learn that, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” More than that, many times we don’t even know, “what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (26).
If you are a teacher in the Church or one who influences other followers of Christ, do your best to make sure they understand the painful reality of the tension they will experience and how torn they will feel because of God’s Spirit living in them. Don’t set them up for disappointment based on a misrepresentation of what it means to know God.
But, in describing this reality, be sure to tell them not to grow discouraged. Encourage them to “fight the good fight” and “hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you” (I Timothy 6:12).
Although we can expect to be deeply torn, let’s live with settled confidence, “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Here’s a great song for those who feel weary: “Torn.”
I’m Tired I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left
Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn