“For we all stumble in many things” (James 3:2).
WE COMMONLY MAKE TWO MISTAKES WITH RESPECT TO LIFE IN CHRIST. Either we ourselves underestimate the value of what is truly good about it, or we misrepresent that goodness to others, portraying the Christian’s life as something other than what it is. The great gifts available in Jesus Christ — the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven — are of incalculable worth. It took the death of the Son of God to make these gifts possible, and we err greatly if we ever undervalue them. But we err no less if we misrepresent what the Christian’s life is like in a world damaged by sin. “There is no escape from an aching soul, only denial of it. The promise of one day being with Jesus in a perfect world is the Christian’s only hope for complete relief. Until then we either groan or pretend we don’t” (Larry Crabb).
The tools are surely available in the Scriptures to build a better life in this world than would be possible by any other means. As Paul put it, godliness is “profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). But even at its best, the Christian’s life may involve great sorrow and difficulty. It’s true that God offers to sustain us through the pain, but it’s not wise to pretend that the pain doesn’t hurt.
Sometimes, though, we do pretend. In our pride, we conceal the heartache of deep needs that God allows, for the time being and for our ultimate good, to remain unfulfilled. And in our pride, we also cover up the reality of our continuing struggle with sin.
Yet the problem is not always pride. Often it is the popular but mistaken doctrine that we can obtain complete relief and total joy right now, and that if we hurt emotionally or if we struggle with sin, then we’ve just not reached the plateau of happiness where more committed Christians live. We may be suffocating in a “spiritual” climate where pretense is rewarded and honesty is frowned upon. If so, we’re missing the very thing that can draw us toward a richer taste of God: a deeply felt, realistic acceptance of the imperfection that yet remains within us.
“One result of extricating ourselves from the tangled complexity of life is simplistic preaching that fails to deal with life as it is. Rather than penetrating life with liberating truth, such preaching maintains a conspiracy of pretense that things are better than they are or ever can be until Christ returns” (Larry Crabb).