Rev. Scott Henry
To the struggling, downcast Christian, let me begin this article by saying that you are not alone; all Christians struggle in this life—to one degree or another—against particular, besetting sins, trials, temptations, disappointments, tribulation, sickness, and ordinary problems of daily life. In Psalm 34:19 we read the following words: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.” When the psalmist speaks of afflictions he is not just referring to those that are physical, but also to spiritual affliction.
Many are the spiritual afflictions of God’s people as we walk by faith in this godless world. Believers are often afflicted by temptations from without and within, and many days we are greatly afflicted in our souls by the ungodliness and utter rebellion of many people, both within and without the church. Not to mention the affliction that takes place within our own souls from day to day as we strive to put off the old man and put on the new man created in Christ Jesus. However, the psalmist declares that “the Lord delivers us out of all our afflictions.” Each believer has his own burden to bear, and to each one God gives the grace necessary to bear it when we look to Him in faith. And through looking to Him and pleading for His grace, God brings His people into closer fellowship with Him and prepares for us a blessing through each particular affliction. What wondrous grace that causes affliction, both physical and spiritual, to be for the believer’s profit!
Therefore, Christian, do not lose heart or slip into depression or despair when you enter into a season of temptation, trial, affliction, or sickness. For “no temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Christians are not sinless or sin-free in this troubled life. It is true that sin no longer reigns or dominates believers (Romans 6), however sin continues to remain within us until death (Canons of Dort, V, 1–3). One of the marks of a true believer is not practical perfection, but rather a heartfelt sorrow over sins (2 Cor. 7:9–10; Heidelberg Catechism, Q88–90), and a constant, continual struggle to put off the old sinful habits (Eph. 4:22; Gal. 5:19–21), and a desire to replace them with the new virtues of truth, righteousness, love, joy, peace, faithfulness, etc. (Eph. 4:23–28; Gal 5:22).
A New Sanctified Life
True faith is not seen by the perfection of our life but by the direction of our life. We have a love for the Lord Jesus Christ which we did not have when we were enslaved to Satan and sin (2 Tim. 2:26) and were walking according to the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, and were by nature children of wrath and of the devil (Eph. 2:1–3). But God rescued us by Jesus Christ, raised us up to newness of spiritual life, granted us true faith, justified us in His sight by imputing Christ’s work to our account, covered our sins in Christ’s blood, shed His wondrous love abroad in our hearts, filled us with His Holy Spirit in order to conform us more and more, day by day, moment by moment, into the image of Jesus Christ and to cleanse us from the defilement of sin. Now God calls us to walk according to the new principle of grace that reigns in our heart out of thankfulness for such a wondrous redemption in Christ (Eph. 1:7; Eph. 2:4–10; Titus 3:4–7; Rom. 5:5; 2 Cor. 3:18).
We are, however, a continual work-in-progress, and even our giving of thanks to God leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, the divine Potter is continually molding and shaping us, His clay, into the image of His dear Son, Jesus Christ. This work of sanctification, which can also be termed the “Christianizing of the Christian,” is a lifelong process. That’s why we still find ourselves struggling against sin in this life even though we are walking by faith in Jesus Christ. Martin Luther once said that believers in this life are simul justus et peccator, which is a Latin phrase meaning “simultaneously righteous and sinner.” The Apostle Paul lamented the fact that the things he wanted to do he found himself not doing, and the things he did not want to do he found himself doing. He teaches in Romans 7 that sin is with us at every turn, the redeemed of Jesus Christ who desire to love God and delight in obeying His commandments.
Justified by Christ
Because we are justified by Christ and declared not guilty by God on account of Christ’s perfection, we are not condemned when we do fall short in our lives and slip into disobedience now and again as the children of God. The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 2:1–2, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” And the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So, struggling Christian, understanding that you have been redeemed by Christ (Eph. 1:7; Gal. 3:13), who promises to never let you be separated from the love of God (Rom. 8:39), to never let you be snatched out of His hand (John 10:28), to continue the work which He began in you (Phil. 1:6), to preserve you (1 Pet. 1:5; Jude 1), who also “works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13), and who promises that you “can do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Phil. 4:13). Considering all this, walk in thankfulness, rejoice in and meditate upon God’s precious promises given to His redeemed and justified children who are progressively being sanctified.
Feed on the Word
As believers, we need to heed the example of David and speak the promises of God’s Word to our hearts when we begin to sink into despair under the weight of trials, difficulties, temptations, and tribulation in this life. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. O my God, my soul is cast down within me; therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan, and from the heights of Hermon, from the Hill Mizar” (Ps. 42:5–6).
We need to practice preaching the Gospel to our own hearts, day by day, in order to fight off the despair that follows on the heels of the sorrows of life in this vale of tears. We need to tell ourselves that “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). We need to drink deeply at the well of God’s Word, which declares to us the great news that “our God reigns” (Is. 52:7), and therefore is “working all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
And we must train ourselves to dwell more upon Christ than upon our sin, circumstances, trials, and difficulties. When we do, we will find that the struggles of this life strangely lose their grip upon our souls. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” The hymnwriter also declared: “O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s a light for a look at the Savior, and life more abundant and free! Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace” (Helen H. Lemmel).
We must also realize that God has given every believer all that is necessary to live the Christian life. We do not need to get more, but rather appropriate, apply, or practice the benefits and blessings that God has already given to us. Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” And the Apostle Peter not only tells us that we have received “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” but goes on and essentially tells us to put these precious spiritual blessings into practice in our daily lives when he writes,
“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:2–8).
Remember that God the Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier; therefore we ought always to pray continually for His work of sanctification in our lives as believers. Our responsibility is to trust and be filled with God’s Word (Col. 3:16) in order that the Holy Spirit will dominate, control, and motivate our thoughts, words, and deeds unto holiness. Remember, there is no sanctification without the Word of God. Scripture is an essential element in the believer’s process of sanctification, so immerse yourself in the Word of God and pray that the Holy Spirit would show you more and more of Jesus in His Word, since He is our “all in all” (Eph. 1:23). As the Apostle Paul wrote, “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God; and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:30–31).
A Lifelong Struggle
The Christian walk is a lifelong struggle against sin; however we do have the precious promises of God who declares that victory is ours in Christ Jesus. Christ is the Victor and we share in His victory as His church (1 Pet. 1:3–4). It’s because of this fact that the Apostle Paul called every believer a hupernikao in Romans 8:37. The Greek term hupernikao (from hupér, which means “more,” and niká, which means “to conquer”) literally means: “to vanquish beyond,” “to gain a decisive victory,” “to overcome” or “utterly defeat”—hence the English translation “more than conquerors.” This is our status as the redeemed of Christ who are kept by the power of God (1 Pet. 1:5), and are motivated by the Holy Spirit who stirs up the true faith He has infused into our souls unto love and good works for the glory, honor, and praise of Christ.
Therefore, always remember that the Lord is sufficient for all our needs. He has said in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Therefore, trust Him. We can count on the Lord, who cannot lie, to be our constant guide. He will lead us and direct us in the way of truth and down the path of righteousness by His Word. Therefore, trust Him. Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Lord will never fail us, but by His Spirit and Word He will be our constant companion, even in the deep waters that He at times calls us to go through. We read a blessed promise the Lord gives to His people in Isaiah 43:1–3, “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior¼“ Therefore, trust Him.
The Heidelberg Catechism reads, “What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ¼.” This truth is what brings the Christian comfort¼knowing that we belong to our faithful Christ. He is the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep (John 10), and therefore we lack no good thing because our Shepherd supplies our every need (Ps. 23). He is worthy of our trust. Therefore, trust Him. Heaven and earth will pass away but His faithful Word never will. Therefore, trust Him and look to Him this day and always, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7) And when we diligently and dependently come before our Great Redeemer, Sovereign Defender, and Gentle Shepherd in prayer, He alone will give us the quiet mind and peaceful rest we so earnestly seek. As the Apostle Paul writes in Phil. 4:6–7: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” What words are left to be said but, trust Him!