It was once bizarre, but now very common to hear, “Get born again and Jesus will get you a husband.” Or “Get born again and you will heal very quickly from your break-up.” Or “Get saved and God will take away all your financial problems.” Present-day Christendom has been filled with a barter-trade gospel message that suggests God is trading his unlimited riches for all our circumstantial pain. We bow, he gives. He gives, we bow. It has reduced God to a vending machine where we insert the coin of pain and expect God to release the candy of blessings. Post modernists are now coming to a realization that that is not the God of the Bible. And if He is the God of the Bible, post modernists have concluded that the vending machine is broken (God is dead). Some even believe that God owes us for the pain we experience on this earth. The post modernist who believes that sounds like this, “I am giving God one more chance, then I’m done.” Or “God had his chance, now it’s my way.” In short they say that either God’s arm is too short to save or his ears are too dulled with wax to hear. (Isaiah 59:1-2). While I am cognizant of the role of painful moments in bringing people close to God, I have to point out that the Gospel of Salvation has been greatly misunderstood by many post-modernists. You can look around and see for yourself. When a friend decided to “take the Jesus thing seriously,” he/she was asked, “What went wrong?” Did your relationship end that badly? Did you lose lots of money? What was so bad that you needed God’s help? To pop-culture, salvation is a failsafe to deal with those troublesome areas that you can’t handle on your own. For them, God is the big butler in the sky for those that do things the churchy way. Or in short, it is what I call the barter-trade gospel. What they don’t know is that nothing could be farther from Jesus’ plan for mankind’s salvation. Allow me to clear up your assumptions about the gospel, Beloved.
The salvation of Jesus has bigger things to offer than the job you lost, the breakup you experienced or the money you need. Don’t get me wrong. Those painful situations are not unimportant in God’s eyes. They matter to God such that he tells fellow believers to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). God cares about your pain. But what if our focus on our pain comes in the way of our focus on God’s salvation? What do I mean? In John 6, the crowd follows Jesus because they want the miracles and the food that he was giving. Jesus knows that they don’t want his teaching, his word or anything to do with eternity; they only want food. In fact they even try to make him King when he multiplies the food for them. In truth, they don’t want him as their King; they want him as their butler who will multiply five loaves and two fish whenever they are hungry. They want his stuff not his presence. Jesus flees from them and refuses their Kingship offer. Why? When Jesus is King, he just doesn’t want the title, Beloved, he wants the crown and the throne too. In John 6, Jesus offers the people eternal life (the bread of life), but the people are only concerned about physical bread to eat for their stomachs. The focus of the crowd was the hunger pain in their stomachs and it came in the way of God’s salvation. Did Jesus care about the hunger pain? If he didn’t care would he have fed them with the 5 loaves and 2 fish to start with? He does care; however, he will not allow himself to keep being King over a man’s short terms needs if it hinders them from experiencing long term eternal benefits. Jesus is not a friend with benefits.
Like the crowd in John 6, if you don’t believe that there is something more important than the material things you lack and the circumstantial pain in your life, you will be attracted to Christianity for all the wrong reasons; you will come to Christianity because it may be relevant, exciting, encouraging and comforting to your present hunger/ pain. “Well, what’s wrong with that?” you ask. There’s nothing wrong with that except if you don’t believe this one thing: that Christianity is true. Christianity’s CORE characteristic is not relevance, excitement, encouragement etc. Christianity’s CORE characteristic is this: that it is true. That is why is it called The Gospel. The Gospel means Good News. If it’s not true, it is not good news. Fine, you’ve eaten the bread and the fish, but will you leave the place with eternal life? Upon this premise of being true is the Christian faith called most offensive, intolerant, bigoted, self-centered, narcissictic, backward, unbelievable, cruel and (insert-anti-biblical-view)phobic. Jesus’ truth statements are met with many post-modern views such as, “How can Jesus be the only way to heaven?” or “Aren’t all beliefs equal?” etc. The premises of those views sound relevant, exciting, unifying, encouraging and hence accepted by many post-modernists. However, what many of us post-modernists are not doing is extending our thinking. The question should not be “Is it relevant?” but rather, “Is it true?” As opposed to “Is it unifying?” we ought to ask underneath it all, “Is it true?” Asking “Is it true?” compels us to think and to truly analyze what Jesus is offering versus what the world and many beliefs are stating. Is Jesus who he says he is? Are all beliefs truly equal? There is a lot of apologetics that can emerge from there, but I will not digress. When it comes to pain, Beloved, we should be worried that our generation cares about relevance, excitement and encouragement more than truth. The scriptures say, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Proverbs 27:6 (NASB). The warm kisses of deception are always coated in relevant, encouraging and exciting falsehoods. Am I saying that truth can never be relevant, exciting and encouraging? No. That’s not what I am saying. Truth can be all those things. Truth will comfort us in our pain, but it won’t take the route we always expect. In fact Paul asserts in 1st Corinthians 1 that the message of the Gospel is foolish to the perishing. God has chosen the simple and childlike things to manifest his great power. And for that, every follower of Jesus in the 21st century should expect ridicule from the world for believing in the resurrection of the dead, the virgin birth, the Triune God, the Holy Spirit and the life everlasting. It is all foolishness to the perishing. But it is life to those that are experiencing his saving power. That gospel often doesn’t sound as relevant, as exciting or as encouraging in the backdrop of all our views, but it is the offer of God and it is for certain one thing- true. Even the earliest enemies of Christianity knew this.
See Acts 5:33-39 (NIV) When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honoured by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed them: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
“What does all this have to do with my pain?” you ask. Let me explain. Countless people come to Christianity because in one of its secondary unique characteristics, it is relevant to their need or pain but they do not come because of its primary unique characteristic i.e. that Christianity is true. Many others come to Christianity because in one of its secondary unique characteristics, it is encouraging to their predicament but they do not come because of its primary unique characteristic i.e. that Christianity is true. The idea of Christianity being true is the most important premise when meditating on salvation. Why? Because any relevance, encouragement, excitement that it will hold after experiencing, accepting and believing this premise will beeverlasting. On the converse, any relevance, encouragement, excitement that preceded the premise of Christianity being true will be at best short-lived, frustrating and unsatisfying. Then as a result, you will hear people say, “I tried Jesus but he didn’t work for me.” Beloved, Jesus is not something you try, like a hobby or a sweater. Jesus is LORD to surrender to. The problem is that many people want God to be a supporting actor in their life movie and rob him the limelight of being the star. Getting born again is about giving up the role of being the star of the film and letting Christ take centre stage. Many people want the good things that God offers but they do not want God himself. God’s gifts last and bring most joy when we have him first and are satisfied in Him, not just his stuff. As C.S. Lewis said, “Don’t come to Christianity because it’s comforting. Don’t come to Christianity because it’s encouraging. Don’t come to Christianity because it’s relevant. Don’t come to Christianity because it’s exciting. Come to Christianity because it’s true.”
I don’t remember Jesus promising me a big house, a wife, many kids, lots of money or a beach holiday in the coastal white sands of Diani once I came to Christ. I don’t recall Christ promising me unfailing health, no emotional breakdowns or the ideal luxury life I have always dreamt of. No. But I remember him promising me trouble and persecution. He guaranteed me pain when he said in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble…”You may be thinking, “Wow! That’s what you sign up for?” Listen; he also promised me something else in John 16:33; he finished by saying, “But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jesus’ offer for salvation has the same two characteristics for everyone who wants to follow him: 1. You will have trouble 2. But it’s going to be okay. It’s not a popular message in modern day Christendom because the true gospel has been watered down to a sales pitch in many arenas. Here are a few mantras that every follower of Christ should live by with regard to pain:
Understand that pain is inevitable
Pain is a common human language; we all understand it. We all experience it. It is inevitable. Death will strike your loved ones first or it will strike you first. You will have low moments and you may have inexplicable demise. Those before us have experienced it and God had it written for us to see their end so that we may have hope. Joseph was in pain. Ruth was in pain. Job was in pain. But God never left them at all. Knowing that we are all in this together brings about some sobriety.
Understand that pain is not always a bad thing
Countless times, I have heard believers admit that they are glad some pain occurred in their lives. The pain was the wake-up call to the state of their soul. The pain brought them to realize that they needed God as LORD in their lives all along. Given a second time, they’d allow the heart-break. They’d allow the loss. They’d allow the crumbling of the world they had in control. Why? Because it built their character and made them more Christlike. Because they tasted God’s grace. Because they only knew healing by being torn. Because they understood that Romans 8:28 cannot be read separately without Romans 8:29.
Invest in the good times
You will have good times. In times like this, build a strong support system for pain. What do I mean? Affirm your convictions and your beliefs. Pain without godly conviction tends to scream above the voice of God. When we are caught up in our pain, what we feel cannot support us. In painful moments, what you know is what will sustain you. And what you know must be true. For the believer, what we know and what is true are the scriptures. When you hear believers in pain say things like: “Why does God enjoy hurting me?” it is because they have believed a lie (from the evil one) instead of the truth of scripture. When we invest to read, memorize and meditate on the scriptures in the good times, we build a dam that will hold us strong when the floods of emotional pain come our way. Invest in the good times.
Remember the cross
Fourthly, whenever we get consumed and self-absorbed in our pain it is often because we have lost sight of the cross of Jesus. For your sins, Jesus was subjected to the most excruciating execution models- the cross. The thick iron nails bored the hands that healed the sick and cracked the feet that brought good news to the hopeless. Jesus experienced pain in ways beyond your fathoming. The scriptures tell us in Hebrews 12:3–4 “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” Our pain is not even close to our saviour’s pain. His suffering is not just a salvation from our suffering but also an exemplar of how to handle pain.
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
1 Peter 2:21-24 (RSV)
Jesus Christ did not suffer only so that the Christian would not suffer but also and moreover that WHEN the Christian suffers, he or she would overcome. Some Christians like to fight God when they go through pain. Beloved, if you fight with God and win, know that you’ve lost. The LORD is with you in both the good times and bad times. If you treat God as your enemy during pain, you will naively see it as a bad day where He has abandoned you. Look to the cross and ask yourself: “Where was God when Jesus was dying on that cross?” Ask yourself: “Where was God when Jesus said, ‘My Lord why hast thou forsaken me?’” I’ll tell you where God was. God was saving the world in the midst of Jesus’ pain. Your sins were being forgiven with every drop of blood that was coming down the man from Galilee. In the midst of your pain, God is at work.
Lastly, consider life after death- heaven and hell. One person may regard Christianity’s heaven as an escapism route to pain. Au contraire, Beloved. The greatest escapism is to believe that for all the crimes, rapes, lies, falsehoods, heartbreaks and evil in our world, there is no hell and judgement day. To consider no eternity with no eternal judge is the greatest of denials. God will judge mankind at the end of it all. Not just for the big crimes we imagine deserving of punishment but also for the careless words and the perverse thoughts that we deem inconsequential on the sin scale. But thanks be to God who provides salvation through his son, Jesus Christ. That whoever believes in Him will have their sins forgiven and the punishment cast on Jesus on that cross on their behalf. Christ did it already and he overcame! Whatever, pain you are going through, know that in Him you too will overcome and that one day “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:4 (NLT)