Why do some people simply give up trying to live as Christians? There are many reasons, but one of the most common is that people find the Christian life to be difficult and demanding. Many Christians find that, even after years of following Jesus, they still struggle to do what is right. Pride, lust, fear, greed, addictions, bitterness – these are just a few of the vices that may seem to grow stronger, not weaker, with time. Is something wrong with a Christian who struggles? Why is life so difficult? Why does it have to be so hard? Am I lost because I struggle? Is struggle always bad?
I. Struggle is a sign of life
All of us can identify with the Apostle Peter at some point in his life. Both his successes and his failures were often spectacular. The darkest time in his life was the night of Jesus’ trial: Luke 22:54-62: “So they arrested him and led him to the high priest’s home. And Peter followed at a distance. The guards lit a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat around it, and Peter joined them there. A servant girl noticed him in the firelight and began staring at him. Finally she said, “This man was one of Jesus’ followers!” But Peter denied it. “Woman,” he said, “I don’t even know him!” After a while someone else looked at him and said, “You must be one of them!” “No, man, I’m not!” Peter retorted. About an hour later someone else insisted, “This must be one of them, because he is a Galilean, too.” But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.” NLT
The pain of Peter’s failure was almost overwhelming (it was with Judas). He must have wondered that night if any hope remained for him. However, as we find from the rest of Peter’s story, God was not finished with him. He went on to be the great preacher of Pentecost (Acts 2); the missionary who reached the first Gentiles with the gospel (Acts 10); and an important leader in the early church (Acts 15).
Peter’s tears flowed from a heart wounded by miserable failure, but they also indicated that life was left in his soul. If he had given up on Jesus, his failure would not have hurt so badly. In fact, it was his love for the Lord that made the pain so great.
Just like with Peter, our struggles show that we still care and that failing God hurts us. Our struggles show that we are continuing to fight against the evil that torments us, that we are working hard to live as people of God. From this perspective, struggle can be a very positive and encouraging sign of life!
II. Struggle is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s working
The Bible describes a clash of opposing forces within our souls – a “civil war of the soul,” that occurs between two inhabitants that live in the soul of every Christian:
Galatians 5:16-17: “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.” NLT
First, there is the “flesh,” sometimes called the “sinful nature.” This is the part of all people that tends to be self-focused and resistant to the will of God. Then, there is the Holy Spirit, a part of God Himself, which God puts into the heart of every Christian:
Acts 2:38 – “Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…” NKJV
1 Corinthians 6:19 – “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself…” NLT
The flesh and the Holy Spirit will continue to struggle and rage within us as long as we try to live by the Spirit. We wouldn’t notice this struggle if the sinful nature inhabited us all by itself; but the Holy Spirit has moved into our hearts, and the conflict will continue as long as these two forces occupy the same space.
Flesh: Galatians 5:19-21: “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” NLT
Spirit: Galatians 5:22-23: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” NLT
III. Facing sin with God’s grace
We will never be perfect in this world, even as Christians, we still sin. So if we are going to be at peace with God, we must confront our sin head on with God’s grace. God does not offer any shortcuts to a clear conscience. He demands and will not accept anything less than raw honesty about our sin. How do we do that?
First we are saved by grace through faith when we obey the gospel of Jesus Christ: Ephesians 2:8 – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” NKJV
As faithful Christians, we are to walk in the light of God’s grace all the days of our lives: 1 John 1:5-7: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” NKJV
Are you a Christian who is struggling with guilt? Are you worn out by your sin, is your conscience tearing you apart? 1 John 1:8-10 shows Christians how to face their sins with God’s grace.
Facing our sin with God’s grace involves first admitting that we sin – 1 John 1:8-10: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” NKJV
“Walking/living in the light” first and foremost means realizing that as Christians, we still sin and need God’s grace. This means that we must confess or acknowledge our sins to God. To confess means that we have come to see our sin as He sees it, that we agree with God about our sin. We must be honest enough with God to say – “I am a drunk, I am addicted to sexual sin, I am greedy, I am filled with pride, etc., – I cannot make it without you!”
When we confess our sins to God and ask for His forgiveness, do you know what He does? He forgives us, instantly, He doesn’t wait! The moment you confess, you’re forgiven. He wipes the slate clean and makes it like we have never done anything wrong.
You say, “I could never be forgiven for what I’ve done, I’ve gone too far, I’ve sinned too much, there is no hope for me, there is no way that God could ever love me or forgive me.”
You’re wrong! There is no sin too bad, or too great, that God won’t forgive, every single time! If we can truly repent, God will surely forgive no matter what:
Isaiah 1:18 – “Come, let’s talk this over, says the Lord; no matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can take it out and make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you white as wool!” TLB
All of us have sinned. What can we do with our sin? We can deny it. We can tell ourselves that we are not sinners. We can ignore it, look the other way and pretend it didn’t happen, we can act like our sin is unimportant. We can stay busy, thinking that our sin problem will go away.
We can try and hide it, we can blame it on somebody else, we can try to sweep it under the rug and remove it from our view. Or we can confess it, acknowledge it to God and let Him cover it with His grace.
If we deny it, ignore it, or hide it, we will be miserable. If we confess it and make it right with God, we will find the peace we are seeking:
Proverbs 28:13 – “You will never succeed in life if you try to hide your sins. Confess them and give them up, then God will show mercy to you.” GNB
The gift of God is eternal life, but a gift is not a gift until it is received. We have not fully faced our sin with God’s grace until we have accepted His forgiveness. Another aspect of walking in the light is having faith that God will do exactly what He says He will do. We must believe that He has forgiven us:
Hebrews 11:6 – “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” NLT
Do you have struggles? Of course you do! Does this mean that something is wrong with you? Not at all! Your struggles indicate that you are still alive spiritually. They confirm that the Holy Spirit is doing His important work in your soul, and that the devil does what he always does – opposes everything God is doing in your soul!
Ephesians 6:10-12: “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles (evil strategies) of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” NKJV
1 Peter 5:8-9: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” NKJV
Revelation 12:17 – “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” NKJV
In this Great War for our souls, the devil will not be discouraged very easily. First, he will do everything in his power to keep you from obeying the gospel and becoming a Christian. If he fails in this first battle, he will then attempt to make you useless as a Christian through your sin. If he fails in the second battle, he will try to make you miserable before God. He will work to make you feel lost, overwhelming you with doubts and fears.
“Whenever the devil tries to remind you about your past, remind him of his future!”
Revelation 20:10 – “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” NKJV
Always remember: 1 John 4:4 – “…the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” NLT
James 4:7 – “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” NLT