The Cross of Least Resistance
Our Path to Holiness Runs Straight Through Calvary
I think I might stop being a Christian," my friend said, a few minutes after comfortably situating himself in my office.
"Why?" I asked. "Have you stopped believing in God?"
My friend, whom we will call Trevor, pondered silently. A few days before, he had asked to meet me to get some advice about a personal crisis he was facing. But the conversation quickly turned to his more general struggles with Christianity.
I renewed my question: "Is it because you've stopped believing in God that you are considering giving up Christianity?"
"It's not that, Robin. I still believe in God. But I've been at this Christianity thing for over six years now, yet I'm still struggling with the same sins and addictions as when I converted. People keep telling me I need to rely on the Holy Spirit to help me, but however much I pray and ask for help, it never gets any easier. I just can't achieve victory over the sins in my life. Why isn't the Holy Spirit helping me?"
As the conversation went on, I learned that well-meaning Christians had been telling Trevor that he needed to abandon the struggle, to "let go and let God." Moreover, victory over sin was part of the criteria these Christians were using to determine whether Trevor had fully "let go." The fact that he kept sinning, they said, was proof that he was struggling in his own strength. They also told him that a difficult Christian life is a failed Christian life, because a life defined by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is characterized by rest, not by difficult struggle.
I paused, taking in what Trevor was telling me. Then I said the last thing he expected to hear: "Everything you've just said suggests that the Holy Spirit has been working in you."
"How's that?" he asked, visibly puzzled.
"Well," I explained, "you just shared that for years you've been struggling against the same sins and addictions. This struggle has continued despite frustration, confusion, and increasing difficulty. Have you ever considered that this could be evidence of the Holy Spirit's work in your life? After all, when the Holy Spirit moves in our hearts, the result is that we struggle against the passions that separate us from Christ, exactly as you've been doing. If the Lord were not at work in you, one would expect you to have given up by now. The fact that you've kept struggling in the face of so much difficulty may be evidence of the Lord's work in your life."
After a minute I continued. "Of course, I can't see into your heart and judge your spiritual condition—only God can do that. But I do know that Jesus promised that those who followed him would face constant struggle. The fact that the spiritual life is hard for you is not a reason to give up. On the contrary, the fact that you've persevered this much already—six years struggling against passions despite repeated setbacks—is a reason to be encouraged and to keep pressing on to the high calling."
Robin Phillips is the author of Gratitude in Life's Trenches: How to Experience the Good Life Even When Everything Is Going Wrong (Ancient Faith 2020). He has a Master's in history from King's College, London, and is currently working on a Master's in Library Science through the University of Oklahoma. He is Blog & Media Managing Editor for the Fellowship of St. James and a frequent contributor to Salvo and Touchstone magazines. He operates a blog at www.robinmarkphillips.com.
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