Editor's Note: This is an edited version of the recorded Bible study under this title at Truthtellers.org.
It is common to hear that the way of sin and compromise is easy while Christianity is hard. Yet Proverbs 13:15 says: "The way of the transgressor is hard." Jesus settles the dispute:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
In this article we will consider from a spiritual perspective the level of difficulty in living the Christian life in contrast to the way of sin.
Part of the nobility of man is the privilege he has to struggle to create lasting and wonderful things. When I was studying sculpture under the well-known Hungarian sculptor Frederic Littman, he told students we should embrace the fact that we must struggle if they were going to create anything new and lasting. There was, he said, glory and pleasure in the creative struggle.
Yet many object to becoming a Christian because they say it will involve struggle and sacrifice. They will have to say "no" to the temptations of the flesh and "yes" to God. To them, this is an oppressive burden. If only they could go to heaven and have even more pleasure there without having to make unpleasant moral choices.
God knows rare things, which are obtained through difficulty, have extra value. He has ordained, as Scripture says, that most people must endure hardship to enter heaven. Yet the marvelous thing about hardship for the Christian is that it is not carried alone. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, comes beside us and provides inner joy and peace and assurance even in our sorrows. Saints and martyrs in every age lift up transcendent praise and gratitude, even in persecution.
Let's turn to Job 19:13. In great physical and emotional anguish and frustration at being doubted by his friends, Job laments:
He hath put my brethren far from me, and mine acquaintance are verily estranged from me. 14 My kinsfolk have failed, and my familiar friends have forgotten me. 15 They that dwell in mine house, and my maids, count me for a stranger: I am an alien in their sight. 16 I called my servant, and he gave me no answer; I entreated him with my mouth. 17 My breath is strange to my wife, though I entreated for the children's sake of mine own body. 18 Yea, young children despised me; I arose, and they spake against me. 19 All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me. 20 My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth. Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me. 22 Why do ye persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh?
But then he breaks forth:
25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
27 Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.
Where did that come from? This hope emerges like an artesian well, the waters of life out of parchedness, grief, disease and affliction. God's definition of "good" is very different from ours. His Holy Spirit comes to us even in the depths of our anguish with renewal, resuscitation of hope, spiritual strength and optimism that we did not know we had within us.
How did Job, thousands of years before Christ, know he would be raised in his body and in his flesh see God? Even though worms consumed his physical frame, he would see God face to face. Who told him that? This prophetic insight spans millennia, describing that moment when Christ comes and deceased believers are raised to be with Him.
The prophet Jeremiah—in Lamentations 3—describes God’s mercy similarly. It was necessary for people like Job and Jeremiah and the other great prophets to precede Christ and share His coming suffering. They faced the hatred and rejection of man; they were isolated and deprived.
Jeremiah says in Lamentations 3:12: "He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow. He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins." Jeremiah is God's target. You can just see the arrows hitting the bull's eye of his broken heart.
14 I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day. 15 He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood. 16 He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes. 17 And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgot prosperity. 18 And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord: 19 Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. 20 My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
Then, like Job, something erupts in joy within this darkness and affliction, and he says:
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. 22 It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. 24 The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. 25 The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. 26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.
Again we see wellsprings of hope, resuscitation, joy, optimism, and renewal. Of course, Jeremiah did not have them within himself; this is the work of the Comforter, of the Holy Spirit who comforts us even in our deepest sorrows.
From these Scriptures, revealing great hardship for His greatest saints, we are able to see what Jesus meant by His yoke being "easy." He was speaking in relative terms because it was not easy in a fleshly sense, according to the values of this world. But it is a grace that makes possible what seems to be impossible in tribulation.
For the Christian, Christ's yoke is easy because, since our natures and appetites are changed by Christ to love God's way and His will, amazingly we find great pleasure just being in His will. Isn't that a wonderful thing? Even in the valley of the shadow of death, we find pleasure in being in His will. We find joy, happiness, and the emotion of pleasure just to know we are solidly locked into the will of God. Whatever hardship His will involves, we say, "Yes, Lord. Thank you."
Part of the conflict and frustration of having things go wrong is a conviction that such is chaotic and senseless and perverse. It is a feeling of futility and frustration; it is not as things ought to be. Yet when we are in God's will and know that everything we experience is according to His permission, the level of frustration within the hardships of life is very greatly reduced, if not obliterated. As we thank Him for the hard choices and hard things, His way becomes "easy," as Scripture says, compared to a person who has to bear similar hardships without such consolation. It is something like being in a dentist's chair and the dentist hurts you in some way, but you know it is temporary and you know his intention is benevolent versus if you have been kidnapped and someone is about to torture you. Your experience of the same pain is light years apart based on the intentions of that person, your situation and your anticipation of the future.
God does not want to deprive us of the character-building and intercessory value of struggle and hardship as we strive to do His will. He wants us to bear His cross with Him, sharing in our mortal bodies His reproaches and pain. There is honor and glory and power in the fellowship of His sufferings. But He also wants us to do so in a way that does not exalt us, resulting in pride because of our own stoicism or perseverance. Instead, He wants us to triumph in hardship through His grace, the grace He says only increases as our sorrows increase. Let's turn to those wonderful verses in II Cor. 1:3:
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; 4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. 6 And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.
Paul repeats this idea in Colossians 1:24: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do share on behalf of His body which is the church in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions." Paul is saying that Christ, through His sufferings on the cross, produced a reservoir of spiritual power timeless in its ability to redeem from sin all who call upon the name of Jesus. Yet, the sanctified believer, through his present sufferings and deprivations according to the will of God, can produce advocacy with God for the purposes of spiritual warfare.
Thus, we see there is intercessory value in our sufferings as a Christian, especially when they are dedicated to God, concentrated as sacrifice and prayer and incense going up to Him. The waste, pain, and frustration are dedicated to Him. Paul is asserting in these passages that if he is afflicted it is for the consolation and salvation of the saints. He also infers that the saints can have the same power. He is not saying he has unique, apostle-level advocacy. Rather, everyone who is trusting Jesus has the same power through suffering consecrated to God to spiritually empower others as the Lord authorizes.
Of course, all Christians face pain that’s a normal part of being human. Every time we have the flu we cannot necessarily say other Christians are being spiritually empowered; but, God is able if He wills to take our weakness and sufferings and give them intercessory power. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." Thus, Paul tells us in our hard times to expect grace, power, and the same consolations God gave Job and Jeremiah.
And our hope of you is steadfast, knowing, that as ye are partakers of the sufferings, so shall ye be also of the consolation. 8 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: 9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: 10 Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us. (II Cor. 1: 7-10)
Scripture thus assures us of grace, power, hope, and optimism from the throne of God. Such resources can be depended upon as we go into possible tribulation as part of bearing the cross of Christ.
Christ never attempted to win converts by claiming that the way of faith was easy according to the common definition of the term. He did, however, promise that if any left all and followed Him they would be given sustaining grace and peace that passes understanding, a transcendence that is not of this world. Thus, the easiness of God's way very largely consists of the fact that, while the Christian may suffer all the things the world has to endure, he or she has a grace from on high, enlightenment, and gratitude for being found worthy to suffer for Christ's sake.
"Easy" and "light" must be interpreted in contrast to the ultimate consequences of sin. If a Christian is sentenced to 30 years in prison, being tortured for the faith, it is still easy and light compared to eternity in the lake of fire. But the greatest bondage in this life is slavery to self-will, the ego of man which leads to sin and produces every kind of hardship for the transgressor. Jesus offers deliverance from self-will, making our lives much easier.
With this in mind, the Christian is not to long for sufficiency of strength or even freedom from pain to do God's work. Bearing our light sufferings is God's work. As we just saw with Paul, it can be intercessory and possess spiritual power as it is consecrated to Christ. We should not desire to succeed even for God's glory outside of the empowerment of His grace. Our weakness and struggle, dependent upon His life-giving sustenance, not only keep us humble but give credit where it is deserved: to God alone.
Editor's Note: This is an edited version of the recorded Bible study under this title at Truthtellers.org.
Jesus said Christians should expect difficulty in this life. For many, Christ’s yoke has proven heavy with persecution, torture, and decades in prison. Richard Wurmbrand, Romanian Christian pastor and founder of Underground Evangelism, recounts a Catholic priest finally released from decades of torture in a communist prison. The priest said, "I have suffered more than Christ." He endured years of excruciating torture.
Yet while the road of sin make look easier, in reality it is full of even greater suffering. God is truth and reality. When we obey Him we tend to move forward in a way that makes things go right. When we ignore God and chart our life according to self-will, we head ever more deeply into confusion and slavery to vice. The great writer Fyodor Dostoevsky faced humanists in his day who claimed that human beings will always make the best, wisest choice for themselves as long as they know what it is. In response Dostoevsky wrote literature, particularly The Brothers Karamazov and Notes from Underground, which have been timeless because of how they portray the conflict of Romans 7: “That which I would do, I don’t do, and that which I would not do, that I do.” As human beings we are driven by hungers we can’t even articulate; we are driven to assert our own wills, to put ourselves first, to answer the taskmaster of self-will, even when we know it imperils what we love and hurts those closest to us. We are driven to do things, “because I could.” We want our own way, even when we can see it’s the worst thing for us. This is the paradox of sin. Scripture describes it as the “mystery of iniquity”—why we serve the relentless taskmaster of our own ego, pleasure and self-will, at any cost. Only Christ can set us free. By becoming His slaves, we are released from slavery to a much worse god: ourselves.
At first, when we are young, the ways of sin may not seem to carry a heavy price. Young men, indulging in casual sex, may escape for a time without sexually transmitted diseases. Yet life is full of unexpected complications and operates unforgivingly according to the laws of cause and effect. If a young man's conception of the easy life is promiscuity, he stands a very high risk of contracting hepatitis C, venereal disease, and even AIDS, as well as crippling his emotional abilities to form lasting and fulfilling relationships. God ordained that a man and a woman remain celibate until marriage when the constructive activity of sex can take place, leading to children and lifelong marital bonding. Raising and supporting children includes hardship. But, especially if such children are led to the Lord at an early age, such a life can result in unmitigated blessing. God’s paths are designed to lead us, despite hard times, into happiness and flourishing. The ways of sin, particularly sexual sin, lead to misery.
Similarly, honesty in all aspects of life, including business or professionalism or even political life, tends to bring good results. Dishonesty fairly quickly will create complications, problems which require more dishonesty to cover up. It leads almost inevitably to exposure and ruin. Choosing premises which do not include Christ and His redemption means taking on a terrible burden of darkness and emptiness. The choice for sin is truly a barren proposition. Christ described the foundation of reality which He provides as a rock of stability, upon which we can build our lives and hopes for all eternity.
As our faithful Guide, God tremendously lightens the burdens of life by assisting us in the most difficult moral choices. We can trust Him, both for His leading concerning important decisions and for their consequences. We were not designed by God to bear the burden of crucial moral decisions alone. We need the Savior's guidance. We also are unable to bear the consequences of moral or human failure alone. All our failings and infirmities were meant to be laid on the broad beam of the Cross. We need cleansing and the peace that passes understanding. We need Jesus to lighten our load as only He can. He lifts the heavy end of the consequences of sin and errors. Thus, David asks God not to remember both the "sins" and "foolishness" of his youth. God answered his prayer, inspiring Scripture to testify that, except in the case of David's adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, David "did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord. . .all the days of his life. . ." (I Kings 15:5)
St. Paul thus encourages us to regard the joy of our faith and salvation as a tremendous lightening of our burden. II Cor. 4 says:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.
Christ wants us to have fellowship with Him and His sufferings for us. He is our best possible friend as we go through suffering both for His sake and as a result of being human. We worship, as we suffer with gratitude and willingness, all that He went through for us; this bonds us to other believers in unity of purpose as the body of Christ and the kingdom of God on this earth.
11 For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.
Paul speaks of this relatively light burden imposed on us for God's purposes of intercession and identifying with Christ in this world. Repeatedly he talks about God laying on us only that which we can bear; He also continually making a way of escape that we can bear it.
16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;18 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
God's concern is so much more about the inward man than the outward man. The outward man is a capsule, a husk which passes away, which is jettisoned as we ascend toward Him. His great work is in the inward man. Our whole life, though it might be 90 years, relative to eternity becomes a moment. The things that are seen are not our criteria of whether Christianity is hard or easy or workable. We look at the things which are not seen. Our afflictions cause us to look deeper into ourselves, into reality, and into the will of God. We transcend to understand those things which are not seen.
The burden of responsibility of pleasing God is really an easy thing compared to the ravages of sin in the sinner's life, leading to eternal death. In fact, the burden and responsibility of pleasing God is a thing so easy that Christ said that a little child, trusting Jesus completely, does it much better than most grownups!
Life is hard in varying degrees for everyone. There are also bondages of varying degrees. All of us, including Christians, live under the curse and must live by the sweat of our brows. But, compared to the eternally hard and bitter "way of the transgressor," how can anyone reject the peace and joy and comfort of Christ's much easier way?
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