Have you read John Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress”? If not, let me whole heartedly recommend that good book to you. In Part 2 of the book, chapter 1, the pilgims lost family takes center stage. Christians wife, Christiana, was visited by a messenger from God who came to invite her and here four boys to come. The King’s invitation was to travel to His city as her husband Christian had previously done, and share with her husband in the presence and joy of the King. Christiana was happy to hear of her invitation, but she was fearful of the way to that city because she had heard all the trials and difficulties her husband had endured on his way to the King’s city. So Christiana answered her visitor, “Sir will you carry me and my children with you, that we also may go and worship this King?”. You see, she desired to follow Christ but hoped for a more comfortable way than her husband had endured. Would God’s messenger grant her and the boys this way of ease? Bunyan writes, “Then said the visitor, ‘Christiana, the bitter is before the set. Thou must through troubles, as did he that went before thee, enter the Celestial City…”
Trouble, Trouble, Trouble, Trouble…
Why would Bunyan depict “The Way of Christ”, as we are calling it, full of trouble? The Short answer might be, his story is an allegory for the truth of Christianity and not a simple fairy-tale to entertain children. We all naturally enjoy ease, but against our own nature is the path of life. The way of Christ is a path toward a glorious end, but the path goes straight through “much tribulation” (Acts 14:22).
Exactly what kind of trouble, and how much trouble will we find on the path of Christ? I cannot say. I wish as much as the next man to know the answer, but I would be so bold to say that the prize is worth every treacherous step (Romans 8:18). First, I am unable in my own capacity to exhaust the number of possible difficulties by number one might encounter. Second, I am unwilling to attempt to describe all the heartbreaking difficulties that I am personally acquainted with as a pilgrim myself. However, I would like to focus our attention upon a universally common trouble for all who travel the path of Christ.
The Man in the Mirror…
The scriptures undoubtedly warn us of many dangers that we will encounter on our path. False teachers, false doctrine, false friends, unkind ridicule, unjust government, Satanic temptation, and demonic opposition are a few kinds of trouble believers will be forced to walk through. Ephesians 2:1-3 is famously interpreted to describe the three primary enemies of all believers to be the world, the flesh, and the devil. We don’t have enough space in this article to helpfully describe all three or even to extensively cover one of the three. However, we do have time to briefly but helpfully touch on the enemy within, aka the flesh, aka the man in the mirror.
In the book of Romans, the Apostle uses the first two and half chapters to explain the condition of all humanity in rebellion against God. From midway through chapter three to chapter 5, Paul explains our redemption in Christ is by grace alone (without our own merits) through faith alone (without our own works). Then, in chapters six and seven, Paul begins to explain the practical implications of justification by faith.
For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.Romans 7:15 KJV
How should we interpret Romans 7:15? Is Paul here describing unbelievers or believers? If we say, “he describes unbelievers” then how is it that unbelievers have within them, before their regeneration, hatred for sin? If unregenerate men can naturally hate the sin that dwells within them, why did Paul previously state (Romans 3:11-12) “There is none that undersatandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no not one.”? No, Paul isn’t suggesting that unregenerate men hate their own sinful nature. Only regenerate people despise their natural inclination toward sin and away from God, like the song says, “prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…”. While regenerate/born again persons do still have natural inclinations toward sinfulness, that inclination is not alone. Regenerate people are as Martin Luther famously described; “simul justus et paccator”, or simultaneously saints and sinners. Christians are drawn toward God by our new nature and away from God by the old nature.
James discusses this same problem within each believer in James 1:14, “But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” What does James mean by “his own lust” except that the natural craving for the forbidden is always (in this life) bound up within each person? You see, the greatest threat we’ll meet on the path of Christ is “the man in the mirror”.
I really enjoy the cultural phenomenon of internet memes. It’s almost Halloween, or Reformation day, depending on your emphasis. Reformation day is also on October 31st. You see, in 1517, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 thesis to the door of the castle church in Wittenburg, Germany. What does this piece of history have to do with memes? Every year around October 31st I get a good laugh at a picture of Luther with dark shades on and the words “nailed it” written on the image.
So then, what does that meme have to do with the subject of our article? The 95 thesis that Luther nailed to the door began with his first point, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said,`Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Luther understood something simply but profound. While a Christian may be naturally drawn away from Christ at times because of his “own lusts” (James 1:14), his life ought to be marked by repentance. This is because the Regenerate person actually does in fact hate his own sin, yet while in the “flesh” is not yet finally free from it’s corruption. So then, a Christian’s life is marked by repentance because he wishes to be sinless, but is unable to presently attain that practical righteousness that he will one day be glorified to enjoy (1 Cor 15:53).
Be Killing Sin…
John Owen, in “The Mortification of Sin”, famously wrote, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Paul uses the metaphor of an athlete to explain this attitude. Therefore, we must be as athletes who strive for perfection and bring our own bodies under subjection through discipline and hard work (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Though no athlete ever achieves perfection, that is the pursuit of the athlete. The pursuit of the believer is to also to be perfect, or more easily stated, to be like Jesus. As we travel as pilgrims toward Bunyan’s Celestial city, we are wise to be aware of our own natural propensity toward sins and fight against that “man in the mirror” every day. Owen goes on to say, “He who doth not kill sin in this way (as our daily work) takes no steps toward his journey’s end.”
The Way of Christ is not easy, comfortable, or outwardly attractive. The Way is hard, difficult, and full of self-discipline. So then, why would anyone walk the long and hard road less travelled that goes through many troubles on the way toward the journey’s end? We will walk through fire and flood, by faith, believing that we are not alone because He is with us. We walk on through trouble because we have our minds set upon the glorious appearing when our own eyes will see Christ and our faith is finally made sight.