The myth of the victorious Christian Life
There is a myth than many Christians today have bought into, especially here in the United States: the myth of the so-called “victorious Christian life”.
Allow me to explain, first by clarifying what I do not mean, and then by defining what I do mean by this “myth.”
First of all, it is true that God’s Word does speak of our Christian identity as one of victory. For example, after speaking of the believer’s security in Christ, of life in the Holy Spirit, and of God’s everlasting love of His own in Christ, the Apostle Paul writes, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:27, ESV) Furthermore, many passages of Scripture could be brought forward as showing that in union with Christ the believer has been given victory over sin, death and hell, and is headed for ultimate vindication and victory on the final Day. I certainly affirm all of these wonderful Bible truths, and am certainly eager to confess and declare Christ’s victory over sin, Satan, death and hell. By grace alone, and through faith alone, we certainly do share in Christ’s victory, at least in principle, and I would in no way desire to deny it! But these biblical truths are not what I am referring to when I speak of “the myth of the victorious Christian life.”
What, then, is this “myth”? In popular American Christianity the notion of the “victorious Christian life” is the idea that, once you have truly made a “decision” for Christ or something equivalent to it (such as “rededicating” your life to the Lord, the “second blessing” of being “baptized in the Holy Spirit”, speaking in tongues, etc.), you can expect to be automatically raised to a higher level of Christian experience where you either no longer have to struggle against sin (or at least you are raised to a level where the struggle becomes much easier), and where your Christian life is an experience of going from one spiritual “victory” to another. Unlike the “ordinary” Christian living the “ordinary” Christian life of constant struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, the “victorious Christian” is raised to a higher plane of spiritual existence where he or she is, essentially, “above” such struggle.
Contrary to this popular myth, the Word of God reveals in many places that, in this present life, the typical Christian life will be one of constant, daily struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil. In fact, the Christian life is pictured as a battle, and disciples of Jesus are depicted as soldiers who must put on the whole armor of God in their spiritual warfare (see, for example, Ephesians 6:10-20). The battle of discipleship requires strenuous effort, full engagement, and diligent use of God’s means of grace (especially the word, sacraments, and prayer, in the context of Christian fellowship). In fact, the Christian life is a life of daily, ongoing renewed repentance, faith and walking after a new obedience. In theological terms, our sanctification involves daily “mortification” (putting sin to death), and daily “vivification” (renewed daily trust in and obedience to Christ). Our baptism summons us to this daily renewed repentance and faith, in light of our union with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection (see Romans 6).
The reason I call the notion of the victorious Christian life a “myth” is because Scripture teaches that in this present life we will never be completely free from or “above” this daily struggle against sin and for holiness.
Yes, it is true that we are already, in principle, victors in Christ, because we are united to Him by faith and through the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit’s presence in our lives is a surety, guarantee and downpayment that one day this struggle will be over, when Christ returns in glory on that final Day of resurrection when our redemption is consummated (Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:23).
However, in this present life we often “groan” as we await that final day (Romans 8:23). In this present life we often find ourselves conflicted as our good intentions and earnest desires after holiness, produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit, are frequently disappointed by the remnants of the sin nature within us that often makes its’ unwelcome presence felt, leading us to cry out with the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, ESV).
Furthermore, even though we believers are redeemed and beloved children of God, in this present age we are still often subject to the common afflictions, infirmities and miseries of this life, such as sickness, financial struggle, loneliness, disease, poverty, oppression, etc. In addition to these common human afflictions, followers of Christ often have the additional burden of having to bear scoffing, ridicule, mistreatment and sometimes even outright persecution due to their allegiance to the gospel.
The modern-day peddlers of the “victorious Christian life” do a great disservice both to potential converts and to God’s people, because they peddle a false and misleading message. To tell prospective converts that coming to faith in Christ will guarantee them health, wealth, happiness and ease is setting them up for disappointment (at best), or for apostasy (at worst), for it is false advertising. Jesus never promised His disciples a comfortable life of ease, and there is probably no better formula for producing false converts than a type of “victorious Christian life” teaching that promises (either explicitly or by implication) that the Christian life is a life of ease and comfort. Furthermore, there are few messages more disheartening and discouraging to the struggling believer than this myth of the “victorious Christian life,” for it basically tells them that their struggles must be due to some defect in their faith. After all, if they were truly Spirit-filled and walking by faith, then (as the myth would suggest) they would not be having such struggles.
For those believers who have become accustomed to a steady diet of false teaching on the victorious Christian life, the perspective expressed in this blog post might seem shocking, perhaps even depressing. But, in reality, I would suggest that it should be greatly encouraging to the believer, because it strips away false expectations and assures the struggling believer that the experience of battling intensely against the world, the flesh and the devil are part of the ordinary life of Christian discipleship. In fact, there is a very real sense in which the Christian life is a life of struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil!
Finally, a rejection of the myth of the victorious Christian life in favor of this more biblical view of the Christian life should encourage the believer because it does assure victory in the end, even as it promises Christ’s intimate presence and abiding grace even in the midst of the struggles we encounter as we live out our lives as followers of Jesus in this present age. Jesus doesn’t promise us a life of ease and comfort this side of glory, but He does promise to be with us in the midst of our struggles, and He promises to pull us through all of our trials and tribulations in the end! As our Lord Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, ESV) And, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV) Dear reader, may this truth comfort and fortify your soul as you do battle against the world, the flesh and the devil! Amen.