This constitutes a serious question because many evangelicals believe that He has, and if He has, what a shame to struggle unnecessarily.
A traditional Easy Buttons offered to believers is framed in the cliché, “Let go and let God.” You don’t have to engage in the struggle. Just let God do it.” I have heard people offer testimonies to the efficacy of this approach. “I kept trying and failing, and then I realized that I was trying to do it instead of just letting God. When I just let go and let God, I experienced victory.”
Faith comprises another Easy Button for Christian living. Instead of struggling with pornography or overeating you should just trust God to deliver you. As the contemporary chorus of a couple of decades ago taught, “It’s not in trying but in trusting.” So if you are trying, making an effort, exerting your will, you are not trusting, employing a biblical approach to Christian living.
Another means of rising above volitional effort is found in the old teaching based on Romans 6 that we should just “reckon ourselves dead to sin.” Just believe that the sin nature is dead and has been replaced by the new nature that reflects Christ. You struggle with sinful behaviors because you have not accepted this reality by faith.
Note that all of the above really morph together into the same concept. As believers we need to reckon ourselves dead, believe that God has stepped in to fight the battle for us, and let Him do it.
A more subtle and more contemporary Easy Button is found in the teaching that we should not behave biblically because we have to but because we want to. Practicing godly behaviors because we ought to comprises legalism. Instead, we just need to realize that we are accepted regardless of how we live, apart from performance, and doing so will create within us the motivation to live as God would have us live. Therefore, we do not need to struggle to live godly lives but merely to grasp the truth of God’s unconditional love and acceptance, which will motivate us to do so spontaneously.
The problem with these perspectives on Christian living resides in their dissonance with many New Testament passages asserting that living the Christian life is difficult and requires that we struggle.
Paul conveys this reality related to his own life in 1 Corinthians 9:27: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” He is asserting that his body prods him to take a more comfortable but sinful path. Living the Christian life requires engaging in and winning that struggle.
Paul charged Timothy to take on the same struggle. In 1 Timothy 6:12 he commands, “Fight the good fight of the faith.” The Greek word translated “fight” is the source of the English word “agony.” The life of faith is often agonizing, requiring that we discipline ourselves to walk the walk of faith regardless of pressures to do otherwise.
Paul describes this struggle in Galatians 5:17: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” The Christian life regularly calls us to engage in and win the struggle against the desires of the flesh.
Jesus addressed this issue in mandating, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) I believe one reason Scripture includes the experience of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is to reveal to us the tremendous struggle Christ had in yielding to the cross. Apart from this account we might find Christian romantics gushing, “Jesus loved us so much that he just couldn’t wait to have the nails driven into his hands and feet.” The reality, however, was that facing and enduring the cross was a great struggle for Christ. No doubt bearing the cross that He has for each of us is also painful, requiring a struggle to endure it.
As a result, the New Testament includes many passages teaching the need for endurance, the commitment to keep going when the Christian life becomes hard. Hebrews 12:1 calls us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us….”
It is important for believers to know that the Christian life is a struggle so that they engage in the struggle effectively. The teaching that we behave biblically not because we have to but because we want to fails to address the many times daily that we do not want to behave biblically, starting with not wanting to get up in the morning. Unless believers are taught that struggle constitutes a major element of the Christian life, they will not be prepared to engage in the fight. Rather, they will wonder what hit them, and chances are that they will lose the battle.
Also, the realization that the Christian life is a struggle reminds Christian leaders of their responsibility to prepare their people to engage in that struggle. On his first missionary journey, Paul retraced his steps to the churches he had planted for the purpose of “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Paul recognized the importance of warning them about the challenges related to living the Christian life. So today it is necessary for pastors and other Christian leaders to both warn and encourage believers regarding the hardships of Christian living and to teach them how to effectively engage in that battle.
I selected the name “hope that’s real” for this blog because real hope must be firmly founded on the realities of biblical truth. Conveying that God offers an Easy Button for Christian living ultimately undermines real hope, instead creating disillusionment. Facing, preparing for, and engaging in the struggles of Christian living provides the basis for real hope.