Lose fifteen pounds in one month! Three steps to financial freedom! Improve your credit score overnight! Earn your degree in one year! Own your own home now! Three quick makeovers! Five easy recipes that will wow your family! We have learned to ignore such statements, and yet companies continue to make such claims everywhere we look. Why? Because they have a stronger pull on us than any of us would like to admit.
We are dissatisfied with our lives and we all like the idea of a quick painless step to a better, happier life. Something for nothing may not be true, but it sounds good. We have been told that there is “no free lunch,” but we still wistfully think that might be true. A great deal of marketing is based on those desires, and a great deal of money is spent on stuff that doesn’t deliver what was promised. Instead of learning from failure to satisfy after we encounter failure, we tend to discard the old (think garage sale) and look for the next promised joy-maker.
Christianity is often hawked in a similar fashion. “Come to Jesus and your problems will disappear.” “Pray this prayer every day for a month and watch what happens!” “Send this verse to ten friends and wait for God to bless you!” Church is seen as a means to an end, and the Bible is viewed as a self-help book. Our country is full of people who have come to Christianity on that basis, and having tried it they moved on to something else. It didn’t deliver on the promises. It certainly didn’t live up to the hype.
Don’t get me wrong, the gospel is about grace and we are offered a free gift of salvation. An eternal relationship with God is not something we earn – it is a wonderful free gift that we receive when the Lord enables us to see our sin, repent, and trust in Christ for forgiveness of sin. We can’t take any credit for what He does for us and in us.
That being said, the Bible nowhere promises instant holiness or a passive path to perfection. We can have a changed life and great joy, but that is really more about a change within us than a change in our circumstances. Salvation is instantaneous, but growth and change (what we call sanctification) takes time, commitment, and often sacrifice.
That is why the Apostle Paul wrote young Timothy and said; “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” (2 Tim. 2:3-7 ESV) All three of those illustrations demonstrate that success comes after self-sacrifice and hard work.
What could be clearer than what Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23 ESV). Eternal life is a free gift, but it comes with a call to a life of self-denial and commitment to Christ. We have the hope of heaven, and we have the promise of God’s help though His Spirit to live well now. It is not a “be happy quick” scheme, but is truly a wonderful path for each one who walks it!