A few nights ago, I couldn’t sleep and headed to my favorite 24-hour coffee shop to write a blog. I was stoked to write one on the theological Father-Son relationship we are ushered into through Union with Christ (Don’t worry, it’s coming soon!), but there were no empty tables.
Being the ever optimistic bachelor, I approached the cute girl sitting alone and asked if I could share the table with her. She eagerly agreed and before I could get a keystroke down, we began chatting.
“Are you a lawyer?” she asked, pointing to my law-book-sized Bible.
I told her No, I’m a writer and this is my Bible.
The next three hours were spent talking about our religious differences, until 1am when I told her we should go across the street and I’d buy her an ice cream cone from McDonald’s.
Over the course of our conversation, she verbalized most people’s main struggle with Christianity. She was from a Muslim country, so she was used to a religion where your effort earned you pardon in the eyes of an angry god: You sin, you repent. You do your daily prayers, you stay pure. And hopefully your actions are good enough to earn you a spot in heaven.
What if they’re not?
I don’t know, I just hope I’m good enough.
I spent a few minutes explaining what I believe: That Jesus is the one who repents for us. He is the one who lives a perfect life in our place. He is the one who was tortured and descended into hell so that we never have to. In that sense, Christians never have to wonder if we are doing enough to warrant God’s favor. It’s the difference between a God who is first and foremost a Father versus one who is an angry judge demanding punishment.
I recited one of the analogies I used with prisoners in Chicago when I used to work in the Juvenile Detention Center:
Imagine that you’re on trial for murdering 100 people. The judge orders you to a life sentence of being beaten and tortured until the day you die. But then, something unexpected happens. The judge steps down from his stand and walks through the gate. He motions you to stand up, and the guard to unlock your cuffs. He then puts them on and sits in your chair. He tells you to go, because he is going to pay your life sentence.
The girl responded the same way the inmates always did: “But that would never happen! You could just go back out and kill more people!”
“That’s why I could never be a Christian,” she added. “It’s too easy! You take the easy way out!”
“Exactly!” I responded. “Jesus is the easy way out!”
She then got down onto her knees and began a relationship with Jesus right there.
I wish it was that easy.
As much as I pray that elements of our conversation stick with her, I was certainly reminded of the good gospel of grace that night. I was reminded that I have chosen the easy way out. I have chosen to bind myself to Jesus, who makes my burdens lighter, because I am so so weary (Matthew 11).
I have chosen the easy way because, as she said, I can go back out and commit whatever heinous crimes my mind can concoct and He will still welcome me back with open arms. Seven times seventy times (Matthew 18). Such is the nature of grace.
I chose the easy way because, despite my constant sin and unfaithfulness, the mercy of God is new each morning (Lamentations 3). Because He still runs after me, the wandering prostitute, and showers His love upon me (Hosea).
I think this is the gate through which all people initially come to Jesus: A man bending down to help up the adulterous woman, telling her that He does not condemn her (John 8).
And although this is the starting point, I don’t think it is the ending point. I think those who choose to follow Jesus soon find that, while their sins are washed away and the punishment has been absorbed by Jesus, and their minds have begun to be healed, life is far from easy.
There is a word that most Christians today can’t define, although it is a central tenet of the Christian faith: Cruciformity.
It is essentially the joining of the believer to Christ in His sufferings, being crucified alongside Him. There are dozens of verses pointing us to this idea that along with the benefits of knowing Christ come joining in His sufferings. Jesus Himself tells us that following Him includes every part of His journey: including taking up our crosses and dying (Matthew 16).
Jesus never promised that our bodies will be immune to cancer, or that the baby will never die. He never promised that we won’t be beheaded or lit on fire by those who don’t know Him.
He didn’t offer us a pardon from suffering and pain, but a way to walk through it with Him.
Jesus never promised us an easier life—in fact quite the opposite—but He did make us two promises which I think are worth mentioning here:
He promised to be with us
We will still have suffering in this life. Most likely, lots of it. But in this, we know that Jesus is with us in more ways than one. He is with us in the sympathetic sense, that He has already undergone suffering, and whatever we are going through is not foreign to Him. God the Father watched as His Son was tortured and pinned to a cross and died. Jesus endured the beating and the rejection and the shame.
Jesus is no stranger to pain and suffering. So as we walk through the valleys of our own lives, we can know that He has gone before us, but He also walks beside us through the Holy Spirit (John 14). He didn’t promise an escape from the pain, but He offers to walk through it with us when it does come (Matthew 28).
We have assurance of our salvation
For many years, I thought this term was such a grandma word. I didn’t get why assurance was such a big deal. However, after a handful of conversations similar to the one I had the other night, my understanding of the word has changed.
We as Christians don’t have to worry if we are doing enough to satisfy God. We don’t have to stress about where we’ll wake up after our last breath is taken. There is no more mystery about whether our good deeds outweigh our bad deeds. Jesus has taken those scales and smashed them. He is the one who has satisfied the scales of justice once and for all, so that our puny ‘deeds’ don’t even register on the meter.
The Bible says that the Holy Spirit operates as a down-payment, or a deposit (2 Corinthians 1:22) of our inheritance that is to come. We have assurance of our salvation, not because of anything we can do, but because of what Jesus already has done.
So yes, I have taken the easy way.
And despite the fact that it is laced with continued suffering and pain, I hope you take it too.