One of the most painful things as a minister and, more simply, a follower of Christ, is to see people who have fallen in behind Christ, pledged their lives to Him, and yet turn aside when the relational bliss fades and life gets tough. How is it that someone who has been delivered from a death of hopelessness to a life of abundance ever “gives up” on their faith? I think the answer lies in the popular misconception that now that I am a follower of Christ, all is well in the world…bring on the green pastures for me to lie down in.
Unfortunately, too many miss that other part in Psalm 23: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow death…” Difficulties do come and for many, it is a blind-sided attack they never see coming. I am convinced that many so-called “discipled” Christians who have been Christians for many years can come under the same attack and end up in disillusionment and, eventually, abandonment of the beliefs they once held dear.
In Spurgeon’s reading this morning, he addresses the core problem of this idea in explaining that sometimes the light of God is eclipsed, leaving us walking in darkness. Some determine, as Spurgeon explains, that “Surely, if I were a child of God, this would not happen.” I know I have personally gone through such doubts and confess that even now those thoughts sometimes cross my mind. Surely, THIS would not come my way as a child of God. What is the “THIS”? It doesn’t really matter because the reality is, anything can come our way, Christ-follower or not. I should never be surprised when attacked from any number of directions. Christians are never immune from anything the rest of the world is attacked with. What I must ask is, “what am I going to do with it?” How am I going to process this?
Religious people will either turn away or adopt some strange method of denial, simply holding tighter to their religious “blanky” without ever questioning the irrationality of their position. The former expect a one, two, three step answer to their problems (which must, of course, be minor at best) and if they do not get them…if they’ve been following a religion made up of a system that is behaviorally focused, they will walk away, realizing that this religion-thing doesn’t work. Man, how right they are. The latter will struggle through the challenges of their lives and attend church on Sundays to get some shallow sentimental fix.
True Christ-followers, though, face up to and embrace the challenges, realizing that in the struggle comes the growth. There is no denial and there is no abandonment. They realize that walking through the challenges shape us into looking more like Christ. It’s called sanctification. Spurgeon said it this way:
The best of God’s saints must drink the wormwood; the dearest of his children must bear the cross. No Christian has enjoyed perpetual prosperity; no believer can always keep his harp from the willows. Perhaps the Lord allotted you at first a smooth and unclouded path, because you were weak and timid. He tempered the wind to the shorn lamb, but now that you are stronger in the spiritual life, you must enter upon the riper and rougher experience of God’s full-grown children. We need winds and tempests to exercise our faith, to tear off the rotten bough of self-dependence, and to root us more firmly in Christ. The day of evil reveals to us the value of our glorious hope.
So, what is the great misconception of Christianity? Well, it may be as I stated above: the belief that Christianity erases the problems in life. I think, though, there is more to it than that. It may be that it is something that even those (or even especially those) who have been Christians for many years are prone to. The great misconception of Christianity may just be the view of Christianity as a great world religion to be followed and devoted to. The sad thing is that even many of us who have repeated the cliche over and over that “It’s not about religion, it’s about relationship” still don’t get it. We say the words, yet remain cloistered in our system of behavioral modifications, falling apart when the system doesn’t seem to be working.
If Christianity truly is about relationship…real relationship with Christ based on faith, then there must be troubles that push us into Him; there must be times of trial so that we know that we can trust Him and know that our faith is real. Unless we break the cycle of religion based on litmus tests and rules of conduct and get back to Scripture that reveals the Truth about real life with real problems, we’ll simply end up with more guilt-laden religious people, carrying the burden of their sins and reflecting none of the glory of Christ’s righteousness which leaves them complete in God’s eyes and finding that Christ is enough for their lives. Then, and only then, will we find that we’re able to deal with the ambiguities and trials that come our way. Then will we know that, in spite of the dark times, we are held and upheld in the arms of a loving God who works all things for good because, we who are His, love Him and are called according to His purpose.