Christianity is supposed to be hard.
It is challenging and taxing and heart-wrenching.
It is also, undoubtedly, beautiful and life-giving and affirming.
These things are not at odds with one another.
Christianity is holistic, and how could something to cover all of life without both pleasure and pain, both hardship and comfort, both joy and sorrow?
When I say that it is meant to be hard, perhaps I should start with what I don’t mean by that.
I don’t mean that Christianity is designed to be unpleasant, unrewarding, joyless, boring, stressful, guilt-ridden, shaming, or unsatisfying. God is not a tyrant who demands that we not have any fun. God derives no pleasure from our pain. His will is not for us to despise our earthly lives. A certain legalistic, puritanical interpretation of the Bible has led some throughout history to believe, essentially, that if something feels good in any way, it must be a sin. This is not the world the Bible teaches.
What, then, do I mean when I say that Christianity is supposed to be hard? I mean many things, but today I want to focus on sacrifice, risk, and trust.
Sacrifice, Risk, and Trust
My incredible friend Mark Weber once preached on this topic, and it’s from him that I gleaned the triad “sacrifice, risk, and trust.” He helped me see the significance of Abraham’s willingness to trust God and sacrifice Isaac; of Moses’ willingness to trust God and be the voice for Israel despite his doubt in his own abilities; of the dozens of risks Jesus took during his life, and the hundreds of risks his apostles took after his ascension.
The theme is constant in the Bible; for brevity, I’m only posting one reference for each.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13 (ESV)
When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?
Psalm 56:3-4 (ESV)
God promises great rewards to his faithful; this is essential. But God, equally essentially, also promises that this reward comes at a cost. Jesus was crucified, and he told those following him that to serve him was to take up their own cross and follow. To an extent, Jesus was speaking metaphorically; he was not saying that every Christian should or would be literally crucified. He was, however, making plain that following him came at the risk of very painful burdens. I remind myself that crucifixion is where we get the word “excruciating.”
There’s a common pattern in the Bible:
God gives a command that puts His servants in dangerous, difficult situations.
They succeed only by God’s help.
God rewards them.
Importantly, the reward comes after the obedience.
This is not a simple equation, where risk in yields reward out in some one-to-one equivalence. Rather, this is a challenge to the idea that Christianity is as simple as praying the Sinner’s Prayer, asking God to fix you, and life being painless and stress-free from there on out. Life stays hard, and may even get harder. The point is this: a hard life as a Christian is not at odds with Scripture.
Many, if not all, of the most beautiful moments in my life would have been impossible without pain preceding them. There’s an extent to which that’s really frustrating, but a much greater extent to which it is exactly what makes life worthwhile. If you’ve ever been dissatisfied because the version of Christianity you’ve heard seems too simple and easy and rose-tinted, fear not: the truth is much, much more complicated, and infinitely more beautiful.
I have at least two more posts in mind on this topic, but this was enough for one entry. As always, I welcome any feedback, questions, or outlandish ridiculous comments you have. Leave it here, on social media, or whatever method suits you.