Session 11: Rock Solid
Surviving the pressures of this life and looking forward to the next one
Q) You will probably have discovered by now that being a Christian is not always easy! What aspects of being a Christian have you found to be most challenging?
Ups and downs
Over the past few weeks we have focused on the beginning of your Christian journey. There is still a long way to go and there are going to be highs and lows, times when you appear to make great strides, and times when you seem to lose your way.
Jesus knew all about what it was like to be faced with temptations. Often we think about sex in this context but power can be just as powerful a temptation for some people. Jesus faced this issue head on during his forty days in the wilderness (insert reference) and later in the Garden of Gethsemane, he had to struggle with the cost of doing his Father’s will (Luke 22:39-46).
It is important to remember that when you experience such things, you are not unique – it is part of being human. What matters is how you respond.
Most of the problems we face in life can be grouped under three headings: ‘the World, the Flesh and the Devil’.
The world we live in was created by God but then spoiled by human beings and we need to recognise the value systems of the culture in which we live. Some aspects of this will be positive but others will have a negative effect and seek to divert us from becoming the people God wants us to be and our role in shaping society for the better.
Q) What do you think are some of the conflicts and tensions that Christians face today in our increasingly non-Christian culture?
Read Matthew 5:13-16
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. NIV
Q) As Christians, what do you think makes us distinctive from those around us?
The Bible gives us principles and examples of how they can be worked out but each generation needs to learn how to apply the Bible’s teaching in their particular context and culture.
For a different way of living look at Matthew 6:25-34.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat? ’ or ‘What shall we drink? ’ or ‘What shall we wear? ’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. NIV
The problems come in life are inevitable but God already knows what we need. Learn to trust God even in the hard times an you will find he is faithful.
Q) Where is your focus in life? Who, or what, are you relying on when life gets difficult?
This is how the Bible refers to our human nature when we choose live for ourselves rather than God. Our natural inclination is to ignore and disobey God. It seems like it is impossible for us not to sin. Can you recognise in yourself any of the consequences of ‘the sinful nature’ as listed in Galatians 5:19-21.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. NIV
That is the bad news but at the beginning of the Bible (Genesis 1:27) we are told that human beings were created in the image of God (I like to call this the Original Blessing - 'God saw that it was good', Genesis 1:25b). Sin is a consequence of our desire for independence but the scope of what Jesus achieved for us on the cross is ultimately the restoration of all fallen creation and is not limited to our personal salvation and getting to heaven.
Everyone has fallen short of the mark (and so all are sinners - see Romans 3:23). The image here is taken from archery. The arrow falls short and does not reach its target. No matter how hard we try we can never match God's perfection. However, despite the reality of our sinfulness there remain vestigial elements of that original image, overlaid with dust and distorted but still capable of surprising us every now and then and taking our breath away.
Take heart from the fact that even Paul knew what it was like to continually fall short of the standard that God sets us.
Read Romans 7:15-25
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! NIV
The good news is that this is not the end of the story. Becoming a Christian means you have the opportunity for a fresh start.
Q) Think about the Fruit of the Spirit we looked at in Galatians 5:??. Which of the fruit listed would you most like to see grow in your life? The Holy Spirit’s help is available to help you achieve this!
Our ability to live the Christian life can be hampered by pressures in the World, our own personal failings and also by spiritual opposition. The latter is what we call the Devil, or Satan. This is not a popular view today but the New Testament writers are consistent about the reality of a personal evil that wars against us.
The good news is that on the cross the Devil became a defeated foe but, until Jesus comes again, we live in the in-between times and the battle still rages around us. To use a simile, during the Second World War Hitler’s ultimate defeat was certain following the successful D-Day landings and his setbacks on the eastern front. However, the fighting continued until the victory was complete.
The New Testament writers have a great deal to say about recognising and resisting the influence of the Devil.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesian 6:10-12, NIV
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7, NIV
Q) Where do you think are the battle lines in your life? What can you do to protect yourself?
There is a quote attributed to Martin Luther, ‘you cannot stop the birds from landing on your head but you can stop them from nesting there.’ It is often in our thought life that the battle rages.
What to do when we fail?
Read 1 John 1:8-10.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. NIV
There will times when we mess up but no matter how bad it seems there is always a way back if we are honest with ourselves and God. Pick yourself up, dust yourself down and keep walking. As a Christian every day can be a fresh start, you do not need to be held back by past failures.
Looking ahead to the next life
Q) One day our journey through this life will be over. What do you imagine happens to us after we die?
Read through 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. NIV
Note the eager anticipation that Jesus will return! This is called the Second Coming. When he comes he will restore things to how they should be and there will be a new heaven and a new earth (see Revelation 21:1-5).
The Bible teaches that at some stage after death, everyone will have to give an account to God for the things they have done in this life (2 Corinthians 5:10). However, because Jesus defeated death on the cross and opened a way for us to be right with God, we do not need to be afraid and can be confident that we will spend eternity in God’s presence.
This is the confidence we can have as Christians. Eternal life begins when you become a Christian, but it is also something that we look forward to in the future. We are not told all the details about what this will be like, but we are given enough information to know that the best is yet to come.
Q) Has this changed the way you think about heaven? Should it make a difference to how you live now?
The end of Foundations
This is the penultimate session of our course. Now is the time to think about what options are available to help as you continue your journey with God. Have you found a church where you feel at home? Do you feel ready to commit yourself to the next step that you need to take, be it baptism, membership, joining a small group or finding an area of service?
Your choice (home study option)
Read Ephesians 6:10-18 in full. Now picture yourself being equipped item by item with everything that you need to stand firm.