The Pain Of Being A Christian

Text: Genesis 32:22-32

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

The theologian C.S. Lewis once famously stated,

“I didn’t go to religion to make me ‘happy.’  I always knew a bottle of Port [that is wine] would do that.  If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”

What C.S. Lewis rightly understood was that when a person becomes a Christian, the real battle begins. 

Dear friends, many people wrongly believe that when a person is baptized and converted that they can then take it easy, like someone who has arrived in a safe harbor after a stormy voyage; as if the soul is forever safe and never need fear shipwreck.[1]  “I am a Christian; I no longer struggle; let’s go fly a kite; all is well!” 

While it is true that there is rest in Christ – no condemnation in Christ, peace from the present and future wrath of God – this rest does not mean that there is rest from ongoing struggles.  That is to say, it is somewhat misleading to speak of Christianity in a way to imply that Christians do not experience scrapes and bruises and bumps, for when we are baptized and converted the real struggle actually begins. 

Now, if we were baptized, converted, and ‘taken’ unto Jesus immediately to heaven, it would be true that the Christian life is without struggle; however, after baptism and conversion, we Christians live this life in the vale of tears – life under the sun.  We are not immediately zapped to heaven, but remain in the here and now.  This means that as we live this life in the vale of tears, we continue to live with the constant struggle against our sinful nature, the struggle to put to death whatever belongs to the old Adam.  Furthermore, we are continually attacked by the world and the devil.  This means that if we do not continue to battle against these great adversaries, we risk falling under their control and all is lost.

Even though we struggle against the sinful nature, the world, and the devil, there is yet another struggle that has not been mentioned yet.  This struggle is rather difficult for us to accept and embrace.  The struggle that I speak of is God Himself.  Yes, this other struggle is a struggle with God Himself, a holy anguish, if you will. 

We actually see this struggle with God – this holy anguish – in our Old Testament reading from Genesis.  In our Old Testament reading we hear about Jacob wrestling with God.  Jacob is returning home after twenty years of being away.  Then one night Jacob is confronted by not just any ordinary man, but the Lord of Glory, God Himself.  Long story short, they wrestled down in the dirt, fighting all night, ultimately resulting in the Lord blessing Jacob.  In other words, in our Old Testament reading we hear about God dealing rather crudely with Jacob.  It could be said that the Lord was just playing around with Jacob; however, to Jacob it was much more than just mere play – it was anguish.  For starters, Jacob did not know at first who he was wrestling with; he did not know the outcome of the fight; his face was obviously scraped up from the rough earth; and his hip was eventually put out of joint. 

Now what does all this mean to us?  The answer is that like Jacob, the Christian will experience holy anguish – wrestling matches with God from time to time.  Jacob did it physically, whereas you and I will experience this wrestling with God when God uses different circumstances of life to put our faces into the ground and to figuratively put our hips out of joint.  To rephrase this, contrary to what Jacob may have thought at the time, the Lord wanted to make Jacob a fighter, to teach him tenacity – and faithfulness.  Jacob was already God’s child of the promise.  He had already spoken with God and received God’s assurances.  Jacob had the promise.  But He still had fear!  So God came to wrestle with him and drive out fear and gift him faith.[2]  And like God coming to wrestle with Jacob, God comes to you and me, not to destroy us, but to train and strengthen us in the faith.  So, He gives you and me holy anguish. 

It is sometimes difficult to discern whether our anguish comes from the flaming arrows of the devil or the mocking voice of the world or the self-centered sinful nature or from God Himself.  Thus, we may wonder the source of our anguish; however, the better question is to ask is this, “What does the anguish serve?” 

Dear friends, the devil tries to kill, steal, and destroy our faith.  The world attempts to pull us into its blowing winds of vanity.  The sinful flesh endeavors to turn us selfishly inward.  The Lord disciplines us, refines us, and presses upon us.  This can all come about in the forms of affliction, poverty, sickness, death, disgrace, misfortune, and darkness of the soul.  It can feel like we are alone and that even God is not treating us like His beloved children, but rather an enemy.  Regardless though of the source of affliction, all these afflictions serve the same goal.  That goal is to run you and me back the other way to the security and confidence in the Lord.  Yes, all of these afflictions and this holy anguish are meant to ‘drive’ us back to the Lord’s Word and Sacraments – the Word, our Baptisms, the Bread, and the Wine, which are for us. 

So, when the devil tries to kill, steal, and destroy your faith… run back to Christ and confess,

“I belong to Jesus and He belongs to me.  I am baptized; go back to hell where you belong evil one.  You cannot devour me; I will not fear you; I am a Christian.”

When the floaty and empty ideologies of the world attempt to sweep you into falsehoods… run back to Christ’s Word and confess,

“I am not so easily enticed by your blind speculations and floaty unrealistic desires, for I am captive to the Word of God.”

When your sinful flesh hungers and thirsts for that which is sin… run back to Christ, make the sign of the cross, and confess,

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

And when the Lord disciplines and refines you; when you are experiencing holy anguish – even if the Lord should cast you into the depths of hell and place you in the midst of devils, you shall believe and know that you are saved because you have been baptized, you have been absolved, you have received the pledge of salvation, the body and blood of the Lord in the Holy Supper.[3] 

Dear Baptized Saints, are you experiencing trials and temptations and pain and fear and afflictions and worry and loneliness and darkness and hell and evil and discipline and refinement and misfortune and disgrace?  If so, here is Christ for you in His Word.  Here is Christ for you in the true body and blood, for your forgiveness, you blessing, your comfort, and your strengthening – so that you may know that the Lord is with you. 

Dear Baptized Saints, when trials and temptations and pain and fear and afflictions and worry and darkness and hell and evil and discipline and refinement and misfortune and disgrace come at you, you as the afflicted shall live by faith!  Faith clings to Christ and His gifts, which are yours today.  From faith, we see and receive Christ in the midst of everything that comes at us in life.  “From faith, we see the righteousness of Christ that is ours; and from faith, hope is renewed in the coming glory of the kingdom.” [4]  

Dear Baptized Saints, your flesh and heart may fail, your lives may go upside down, your bones may get brittle, afflictions may come and go, holy anguish may press down and release, the flaming arrows may fly high or low, however, the Lord is the strength of your hearts and is indeed yours forever.  

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] C.F.W. Walther, Walther’s Works: Gospel Sermons Volume 1 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2013), 167.

[2] Robin Fish, “Got a New Name,” LCMS Sermons, (accessed February 20, 2016).

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Volume 6 ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1970), 131.

[4] Steven A. Hein, The Christian Life: Cross or Glory (Irvine, CA: New Reformation Press, 2015), 115.

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