What is the Christian Life Really Like: Luxury or Struggle?

Text: Galatians 5:16-24 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

It is easy for us to take the bait.  When we turn on the radio, flip the television channel, or go online, we can hear preachers or authors telling us that if only we would turn our life over to God, life will be easy.  Their claims make it sound like becoming a Christian cures all our troubles.  They make the Christian life sound like a sure ticket to easy street.  They say, “When you become a Christian your life becomes magical and wonderful and stress-free and better. Becoming a Christian will turn your can’ts into cans.  As a Christian your life will be in a bed of roses.” 

It is easy to believe this for a while; however, sooner or later things break down.  In other words, the longer we are Christians, the more we realize that our lives are not a life of ease that we once thought or were promised. Beneath these preachers’ fake delightful smiles and underneath the pious sounding clich├ęs about comfort, extravagance, and leisure, a different reality emerges – a reality that is much unlike the life of ease that was promised from the preacher-man on television or from that book promoted on the Oprah network. 

And what is that reality?  That reality is this: the good that we want to do and the good that we talk about, well… we don’t always do it.  And that very evil that we don’t want to do, well… we end up doing that; we find that our hearts betray us and we secretly want to do evil, when we know we should be doing good.  So, instead of finding ourselves as Christians, who are living a life that is a lap of luxury and comfort, well it is quite the reverse, we are living a life that is conflicted. 

On the one hand we rightly act and talk about our affection for others and our exuberance about life. Thankfully we develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, and being able to direct our energies wisely.  However, on the other hand and at the same time, we try to get our own way all the time, which results in dreams of loveless cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; a desire for trinket gods and magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; and uncontrollable addictions, to name a few.[1] We find ourselves doing that which is good and that which is bad, at the same time.

And so, the life of the Christian is not one of ease like so many preachers and popular so-called Christian books say, but rather, the life of the Christian is the exact opposite – it is a life in conflict.  

Dear friends, what the Apostle Paul describes in our Epistle Reading, from this morning, is that there is a conflict and struggle between the flesh and the Spirit.  We can also call this the conflict between the old Adam and the new man.  In other words, the Christian life is not experienced as luxury, comfort, or paradise, but a daily battle between your old Adam and your new man in Christ. You see, you have a dual identity.  You are fully saved and righteous and forgiven in Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death (this is what we call our new man) and at the same time you are still the same old sinner that you have always been (this is what we call our old Adam).  This means that the Christian’s life is a daily battle and conflict between the old Adam and the new man. 

During World War II there was a famous battle called the Battle of the Bulge.  It lasted some six weeks.  The Allies would push forward a few miles and hold their position for several days.  Then in a new series of events, the Germans would then counter attack and push back and reclaim any lost ground and maybe even gain a little bit.  This went back and forth in this battle.  Now, this Battle of the Bulge is an excellent picture of the Christian life.  The Christian experiences this war between the old Adam and the new man.  They are at constant war, back and forth, with constant tension.  But unlike the six week Battle of the Bulge, this internal war of the Christian begins at Baptism ‘continues’ for a whole life.  This battle for the Christian only ends at death. 

There are some Christians though that do not appreciate or agree that the Christian life is a lifelong battle.  They reject this idea of the Christian battle and would rather believe that the Christian life is all milk and honey.  You and I may be tempted to do this as well, for it is easy to get tired of the ongoing battle.  And so, there is a temptation to do one of two things. 

First, as we heard in the introduction portion of today’s sermon, we can downplay the sinful nature – the old Adam.  Either we don’t talk about our sinful nature or we pretend that it isn’t as big of a problem that it is.  If someone does talk about it, well… they are too negative or too pessimistic.  So, the plan is quite simple, if we can downplay the sinful nature, we can then supposedly remove the old Adam from the equation and eliminate the battle within.  So we say to ourselves and others, “The more you talk about negative things in your life, the more you call them in. We are going to speak victory not defeat. I’m going to start believing today that things are going to change for the better. The best days are still out in front of me.”[2]  I am o.k.  I am good.  I am at peace with myself.  No struggle with me!

The second way to try and eliminate the civil war within is to make the enemy our friend.  In other words, if the old Adam is our friend, then there will be no war within the Christian life and we can supposedly live in peace.  What happens is that we can take any sin that we are currently struggling with and then change it from the category of sin to the category of holiness.  That is to say, that which is clearly evil according to the BIble, we call good.  Therefore, if sin is moved from the category of the enemy and considered a friend, then the Christian supposedly no longer has this internal struggle, the ongoing tribulation will cease and the good life can be lived.

Beware of this!  Not only are these two temptations completely unbiblical, but they are straight from the devil himself.  You see, if we eliminate the sinful nature – the old Adam – and eradicate the war within, we have not accomplished anything except our own demise and fulfilled the plans of the devil. 

Dear friends, the devil wants to give you fake comfort – he never wants you to be shown your sin.  The reason why, if you never see your sin, then you will find righteousness and comfort in yourself. If you never experience this war with your old Adam, you will never have a need for Jesus. On the other hand, Jesus wants you to be continually shown your sin, so that you may find righteousness in Him.[3]

The reality is that this Christian life will ‘always’ have this struggle.  In secular wars, there are times for rest, such as when it is winter but here in this Christian life we will battle daily. 

This ongoing battle though is not a reason for concern. The reason being, understanding the war within is not only a mark of a Christian, but it is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work within you.  Indeed, Christians are not those who stop sinning and live a cushy life, but Christians are those who recognize their sin, begin to despise it, and seek the grace of Jesus Christ for forgiveness and strength. 

What does this mean?  As long as the war within continues, you can be assured that the Holy Spirit is present and actively warring against your old Adam.  The time to worry is when the struggle against sin ceases, when you no longer care whether you are sinning or not.

So today, you and I can confess that we are struggling Christian – struggling Christians who belong to Jesus. 

Confessing that you and I are struggling Christians though shall not bring us to despair, for the Lord does not forsake us in this battle.  Oh no, we are not abandoned, but the Lord continually comes to us.  The Lord continually comes to you in His Word and Sacraments to daily slay your old Adam and forgive you of all your sins. 

Truly, you are daily and richly forgiven all of your sins as the old Adam is continually crucified – daily drowned in repentance and then the new man emerges in faith. 

Furthermore, while you battle with the old Adam, you await the time when your old Adam will finally be put to death and buried.  You await for the promise of the day when you will arise out of the grave with a new body that is complete and perfect, with no sin.  Yes, you and I wait for a new body that is holy and a new life in eternity, where we will be completely freed from sin, death, and evil. 

Dear Baptized Saints, you are buried deeply in the wounds of Christ.  There is no doubt about that you and I struggle in this life, but we do so in hope, knowing that despite the ongoing war with our sinful nature – the old Adam - that Christ’s grace is sufficient for you and for me and is ours forever.  

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] This section is an adaptation of Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” on Galtians 5:19-21.

[2] Two Facebook quotes from Joel Osteen Ministries Facebook Page.

[3] An adapted Facebook quote from Mark Harrison.

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