Being a Tough Christian

I was amazed recently to hear an interview with a man who is considered by many to be “the toughest man in the world.” The man’s name is David Goggins, who is described by Wikipedia as “retired Navy SEAL and former USAF Tactical Air Control Party member who served in Iraq and Afghanistan… ultramarathon runner, ultra-distance cyclist, triathlete and world record holder for the most pull-ups done in 24 hours.”

I was impressed with Goggins’ description of the first time he had run a 100 mile race. He did this with no marathon training whatsoever. He was not even a runner.

He describes sitting down at one point and being unable to stand back up, so that he had to use the restroom on himself right where he sat. He describes the small bones in his feet being broken, kidney failure, severe shin fractures, and tendon inflammation so severe that he had to tape his entire lower legs into what were essentially giant, unflexing pegs for the last 20 or 30 miles of the race. He describes exactly the kind of intense pain that you would expect from someone who is running 100 miles without ever having trained as a runner before.

As I heard this tale, I had to question whether I was truly aware of my own ability for mental toughness. I thought of 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

Maybe when you read this passage, you think it means that God will give you a fairly easy and obvious way out of any temptation you might face. Maybe we want to believe that the paths through our trials will be simply a matter of trusting God and it will all be over in a jiffy.

But all that the text says is that He “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able.” And apparently, human beings are able to endure tremendous suffering and difficulty.

We are told that He, “with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” This is a sure promise from the LORD. But bear in mind that humans have endured all kinds of long, painful situations such as being prisoners of war or being trapped for days or weeks under rubble before finally finding a way of escape.

You might or might not be physically able to run 100 miles, even if you truly gave it your all. But the temptations you face, with the LORD’s help, you can overcome if you refuse to give up. But do not expect it to be easy.

We will need to draw on the LORD for tremendous strength if we are to bear the tragedies and the ailments that are sure to come our way.

“But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Peter 4:13)

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16-17)

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Standing your Ground

The book of Daniel has much to teach us about how to bear up under unjust circumstances, and how to conduct ourselves with faith and holiness even when we are surrounded by temptations and persecutions.

One thing that becomes very clear while reading this book is that Daniel and his friends are very intentional about remaining true to their God. Rather than dabbling in the sins of the Babylonians or making concessions here and there to water down their faith, they are decisive and stand their ground in every situation.

Consider for instance what we read about Daniel in chapter 1 verse, verse 8: “Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank.” Other translations say that he “resolved,” “determined,” or “purposed in his heart” not to defile himself. All of these phrases are intended to convey intentionality. He drew a line in the sand that he was determined not to cross, come what may. This explains why Daniel insisted on this course of action even when his superiors tried to dissuade him.

Consider also when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are standing before the king in the third chapter of this book. They have enraged the king by refusing to bow down to the golden idol that he has made, and so in verse 15, king Nebuchadnezzar decides to give them another chance to bow down and worship the idol:

“Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”

It certainly would be tempting to bow down to a pagan idol today, in order to prolong my life so that I could serve the LORD again tomorrow. Do these three friends consider the king’s offer? Maybe it is best to keep peace with the king by simply bowing down just this once…

Instead, they respond: “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”

These godly men did not even need to answer the king because they had already taken their stand and they would not be moved. You may have heard the phrase, “we do not negotiate with terrorists.” This is essentially what these men tell the king. “We do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.” Save your breath. Our minds have been made up.

What if we took this attitude and applied it to the temptations in our life? There are times when we are tempted to sin, and we resist… but a part of us still considers the sin, turning it over in our mind to make sure we really want to give it up. It is as if the devil is telling us, “I am going to give you another opportunity to bow down to the golden idol. Think it over.”

May we all have the resolve to respond like Hananiah, Mishael and Azaria, “there is no need for further consideration. I have chosen to serve the LORD, and that is final.”

James 4:7 says “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” There is much that a powerful king can take away from you, but he cannot take away your freedom to choose how you will respond. Will you give an ultimatum to the sin in your life? Take your stand in faithfulness and holiness.

Why Do the Right Thing?

It is no secret that God asks us to give up our sins, some of which may be very dear to our hearts. He asks us to change our lives in ways that can be difficult or painful. He asks us to give up our pride. He asks us to step out in faith and do things that get us out of our comfort zone. He asks for a lot.

So why should we do what He asks? Why do the right thing? Here are some possible answers:

So that life will be better for us here and now. After all, God’s commands are designed to protect us from harm. There can be no question that following where He leads is beneficial. In Mark 19:30, Jesus says of anyone who gives something up for Him, “he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age.”

So that we can go to heaven. In Matthew 6:20, Jesus encourages us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Romans 2:6-7 tells us that God “WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” Some day we want to hear Him say “well done.”

So that we won’t go to hell. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 says plainly, “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” For those who really believe all that the Bible says about hell (and the Bible says a LOT about it) this is a real motivation to do the right thing.

There are many other possible reasons to do the right thing. To be a good example to those younger than us. To avoid hurting family and friends. To keep a clear conscience. To maintain personal credibility.

But there is one primary reason to do the right thing that we must not forget.

We do the right thing because, as Christians, we don’t have a choice. God owns us. We gave up our rights when we died with Him through baptism (Romans 6). We signed up to be slaves of righteousness (also Romans 6). It is not we who live but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Our lives are living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).

We live in a society that esteems personal freedom over duty. Others may give us advice, but they are not to control us. No one can tell us what to do, we get to weigh the pros and cons and decide for ourselves. But the relationship between the Christian and his God is not this way.

God can and does tell us what to do. If you want to follow Him, you only have one choice: submit. We don’t get to pull out a list of pros and cons every time we want to sin, assess the situation, and decide whether discipleship seems personally advantageous. God either owns you or you do not belong to Him at all.

“Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33)

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)

Jesus did not Promise to Make Us Comfortable

There is much about the Christian life that makes it rewarding.

We receive riches:
Paul told the Corinthians that they had “become rich” and had “become kings” because of what Christ had done for them (1 Corinthians 4:8).
The Romans were told that God is “abounding in riches for all who call on Him” (Romans 10:12).
The gentiles in Ephesus were told of “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).
The Philippians were told that “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

We receive abundant life:
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

We receive salvation:
Peter told his readers that they were “obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

We receive more than we give up:
Jesus told his followers, “there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:29-30)

But there are some things that we are not guaranteed, even as God’s children.

We are not guaranteed that life will be comfortable. Rather, we can expect:
Various trials.” (James 1:2)
Many tribulations.” (Acts 14:22)
Tribulation,” “distress,” “persecution,” “famine,” “nakedness,” “peril,” and “sword.” (Romans 8:35)
The hatred of the world. (Mark 13:13)
Insults, persecutions, and all kinds of false accusations. (Matthew 5:11)
Unjust suffering. (1 Peter 2:19)
Thorns in the flesh. (2 Corinthians 12:7)
The fiery darts of the evil one. (Ephesians 6:16)
Imprisonment. (Revelation 2:10)

By an accident of history and geography, we live in a land where the physical persecution of Christians is exceptionally rare. But this does not mean that the Christian life will be comfortable for us.

He has given us great riches in Christ. He has given us an opportunity for new and abundant life. He has offered us salvation. He has given us more than we could ever give back.

But He has not promised to make us “comfortable.” Will we not step out of our comfort zones, for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the needy, and for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ?

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The Serpent’s Deception

When the spotlight was turned on Eve in Genesis 3, and God asked her “What is this you have done?” Eve’s response was “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

While Eve certainly does not get off the hook by simply blaming her actions on the serpent, there is indeed some truth to her statement.  Eve truly was deceived, for surely she would not have sinned if she had only known what the outcome would be.  The serpent had not been honest in his dealings with Eve.  He had emphasized what was desirable about the fruit while leaving out that part about getting kicked out of the garden, into a world of painful childbirth and backbreaking labor.

In John 8:44, Jesus describes that serpent like this:

“He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

  • The simple fact of the matter is that any and every time you and I are tempted to sin, we are at risk of being deceived.
  • He will deceive us by hiding from our hearts the truth about the ripple effects that our sin could have months or years from now on those that we love.
  • He will deceive us by emphasizing to us the short term gratification we can experience while hiding the long term costs.
  • He will deceive us by denying that the behavior in question is even sinful in the first place.
  • He will deceive us by telling us that no one can see what we are doing, as if God Himself could not see, or as if that fact made our actions less somehow less sinful.
  • He will deceive us by telling us that some particular sin is necessary to make us more relatable to the world so that we can witness to worldly people.
  • He will deceive us by not really telling us anything but simply distracting us from the whole internal debate by some distraction such as mealtime or television.
  • He will deceive us by encouraging us to place all of the blame onto someone else who “made us do it.”
  • He will deceive us in many other ways.  As diverse as our situations and personalities are, so diverse are his techniques.

But remember this my friends, temptation places us in danger of deception!  Deception leads us to make decisions that we would not make if we were thinking clearly.  In times of temptation, “trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)”  When our hearts or minds suffer from temporary impairment from temptation, may we rely on God’s unchanging and eternal words of truth.  When the deceptiveness of the temptation passes, we will be glad that we did.

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