Christian Living is Impossible

Impossible. Let that word sink in. Consider these words by Charles Stanley:

The second truth that is clear from these verses is that what Jesus calls us to do is impossible. It’s not merely difficult. It’s not simply a struggle. It’s not just hard. It’s impossible! He said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, emphasis mine). Not a little. Not a few things. Nothing.

This should come as good news. If you are like I was for so long, you may wonder whether something is wrong with you, whether everybody else knows something you don’t. That’s not the case at all. You struggle like you do because you are attempting the impossible. No one can live the Christian life apart from Christ—at least not with the consistency necessary to accomplish what Jesus has called us to accomplish.

In many arenas of life, you have to do multiple things right to have success. For example, if you want to hit a tennis ball correctly, you have to understand…

  • The proper court positioning.
  • The proper stance.
  • The proper grip.
  • The proper back swing.
  • The proper eye contact. You can’t hit a ball you are not looking at. There is a tendency to want to look where you think the ball is going. You look up just in time to see a miss-hit ball.
  • How to put topspin on the ball. (Without topspin you have to hit the ball so softly that gravity has enough time to pull the ball into the court. If you want to stroke the ball with oomph, you have to know how to topspin the ball.)
  • The proper follow-through.

If you get five out of six of these right, the ball will not go where you want it to go. Five out of six equals failure.

If you do everything right, but your grip is off by just a few degrees, the ball will not go anywhere near the right direction.

If you do everything right, but you are in the wrong position on the court, you won’t even touch the ball. You have to get everything right to have success. This is true of almost everything.

If three of four tires on your car have enough air, you won’t make it very far.

If seven of the eight pistons are firing properly the engine won’t run right.

If everything on the car works except the brakes, you will be in big trouble.

If everything works except the lights, you will be in trouble at night.

If you understand everything about how we are transformed except the power of the Holy Spirit, you will never live the Christian life.

If you don’t understand what the Bible teaches about the power of habit, you will struggle. If you don’t understand the role of faith, Christian living will be impossible. What do we need to believe? How do we come to believe? Do we need to just try really hard to believe? If we can’t answer these questions, Christian living will be impossible.

Charles Stanley, The Spirit-Filled Life: Discover the Joy of Surrendering to the Holy Spirit (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2014).


The book and study guide are both available on Amazon. The study guide is also avail as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

What is the difference between a lecture and preaching?

There is a vast difference between simply conveying information to people, which can be cold and ineffectual, and true preaching and witness.

We have a long-standing friend who was once driving in the north of Scotland with our fellow countryman the late professor John Murray of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. Professor Murray decided to turn the journey into a quiz! He asked a question: “What is the difference between a lecture and preaching?”

Our friend tried his best to come up with a good answer. But Professor Murray was not satisfied.

“Well, Professor Murray,” our friend eventually conceded, “What is the answer? What is the difference between a lecture and preaching?”

“This is what it is:” said John Murray, “Preaching is a personal, passionate plea.”

Our friend again replied, “But what is the personal passionate plea?”

Quick as a flash, Professor Murray responded in Paul’s words: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”42

That’s it!

Alistair Begg and Sinclair B. Ferguson, Name above All Names (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).


The book and study guide are both available on Amazon. The study guide is also available as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Why is Christian Living so Hard?

I would suggest that Christian living is hard because we have never been taught to live the Christian life. We have been taught a lot about the Bible. We know a lot of Bible stories from the Bible. We could give you a lot of Bible facts. We could even throw in a few Greek words and several dates. But, we have never been taught, systematically, step-by-step, how to live the Christian life.

Imagine a Canadian caterpillar chomping away on a plant in September. You whisper to this caterpillar, “You better get started. Winter is coming.”

“Where do I need to go?” responds the caterpillar.

Mexico.

How far is it?

3000 miles.

He doesn’t really understand how far Mexico is. He doesn’t understand 3000 miles. But he thinks to himself, “I am going to have to try really, really hard.”

3000 miles would be a long way for any animal to migrate, but for a caterpillar, it seems impossible. And, of course, it would be impossible except for one thing. God created a caterpillar with DNA that allows it to enter the tomb of a chrysalis for a few weeks and come out a butterfly. As a butterfly, it will just do what butterflies do. Every year, millions of butterflies make this 3000-mile trek to a place they have never seen. Their secret is not trying really hard. Their secret is transformation. Once transformed, they just need to do what butterflies by the millions do every year. Once transformed, Jesus’ yoke really does become easy.

This is precisely the word Paul uses when he says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It is also the word Paul uses in 2 Corinthians 3.18 when he says we are transformed by beholding Christ (ESV). Other passages indicate other ways that God transforms us. Here is a list, that will form the outline for this study:

  • Transformed by training
  • Transformed by the renewing of your mind
  • Transformed by worship
  • Transformed in community
  • Transformed by habit
  • Transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Transformed by imitating a godly example
  • Transformed by trying
  • Transformed by faith
  • Transformed by speaking the truth
  • Transformed by pain
  • Transformed by Sovereign Grace

Unless we have a working understanding of each of these principles, it will be almost impossible to live the Christian life. It won’t just be hard; it will be impossible. Impossible.

The book and study guide are both available on Amazon. The study guide is also avail as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Romans 8.28 and the tragic death of a son

The importance of context hit home for Laurie after the death of his son Christopher in July 2008.

He says that Romans 8:28—“for those who love God, all things work together for good”—gets thrown around a lot in times of struggle, and it was no different during his grief. But Laurie says that understanding verses 26 through 29 really helped him grasp the meaning of the entire section.

In the wake of his son’s death, Laurie had a hard time knowing how to pray. “When you’ve lost someone close to you and especially your child, you’re overwhelmed at times with grief, anxiety and uncertainty, and so you don’t always know what to pray. I mean, what am I going to pray? ‘Lord, bring him back from the dead?’ I don’t think that’s going to happen. So I just cried out to God, ‘I’m in pain. This hurts.’ I turned my pain into a prayer.”

The context of Romans 8:28 gave him insight into his pain. Romans 8:26 tells us that the Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us in prayer “with groans that words cannot express.”

Once Laurie rested in God and allowed the Spirit to intercede while he prayed, he began to see that all things work together in God’s will, not his own. He was able to take comfort in relying on God. “You take your anxiety, you take your hurt, and you bring it to God. You don’t pretend it’s not there.”

“All things working together for good” made more sense after he allowed God’s power to take over. “The idea is that, yes, all things do indeed ‘work together for good,’ but not necessarily here on earth. We want to see things have a tidy and understandable explanation. Some of the ‘good things’ God is working will be realized on the other side, in heaven, not merely here on earth. God’s ultimate goal here is to make us more like Jesus, and suffering will either make us better or bitter. I choose the former over the latter.” — Tim Newcomb, “Greg Laurie: Plan of Action: How the Bible Is Our Guide,” in Speak the Word: 12 Christian Leaders on Communicating the Truth, ed. Rebecca Van Noord, Jessi Strong, and John D. Barry, Bible Study Magazine (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

The Second Adam Comes to the Fight

We sometimes make an elementary mistake when reading the temptation narratives. We assume that their chief purpose is to teach us about our temptations and how we should resist them.

True, our Lord’s example of resisting his temptations does help us to withstand our temptations. But their point is not to say, “Jesus was tempted, and you are tempted just like him, so respond to temptation as he did.” That would turn his temptations into a mere example for us to emulate. No—we are told that the Holy Spirit led Jesus, indeed “drove him,” into the wilderness to be tempted.42

Jesus’ temptations were not a series of unfortunate events that overtook him unexpectedly. They constitute an epic confrontation taking place within the divine strategy. What we see here is Jesus’ work of conflict, victory, and salvation. He came face-to-face with Satan. He appeared as God’s new man, the second Adam, to do what the old man, the first Adam, had failed to do. The question is: who will possess the kingdoms of this world? And how will God’s kingdom be recovered and established? And the answer is that Jesus will repossess them in our name and for his Father’s pleasure and glory. Satan will be crushed under foot!

 

O loving wisdom of our God!

When all was sin and shame,

A Second Adam to the fight

And to the rescue came.

 

O wisest love! that flesh and blood,

That did in Adam fail,

Should strive afresh against the foe,

Should strive and should prevail.43

 

This is why Jesus experienced such overwhelming weakness and hunger (in contrast to Adam, who enjoyed plenty). This is why he faced temptation in a wilderness (not like Adam, situated in a lovely and hospitable garden). This is why he was surrounded by wild animals (not, as Adam was, by pliant, obedient, almost domesticated animals). Jesus, the Last Adam, had to conquer in the context of the chaos the first Adam’s sin had brought into the world.

So from the beginning of his ministry to its end, Jesus is marching against the powers of darkness. Virtually immediately after the temptations, as he begins his public ministry, he has to face a further onslaught of demonic activity in the Nazareth synagogue.44 Soon afterwards he encounters a man in Gadara whose life is under some destructive alien influence and out of control. He roams through the tombs like a wild animal nobody can subdue.

Jesus says tenderly to the demoniac, “What is your name?”

He replies, “My name is Legion, for we are many.”45

A Roman legion theoretically consisted of around four thousand to five thousand soldiers. The man is saying, “Thousands of demons have invaded my life.”

But catch this. It takes only one demon to destroy a man. Why, then, have thousands of demons invaded him? Because the Lord Jesus was there. That is the whole point. This is not simply a poor man possessed by a legion of demons. That would be an extravagant deployment of forces Satan could never afford. No, not this man, but the destruction of Jesus’ ministry is the ultimate target.

The reason there is so much demon possession in the time period recorded by the Gospels is not—as is sometimes assumed—that demon possession was commonplace then. In fact it was not. Rather, the land then was demon-invaded because the Savior was marching to the victory promised in Genesis 3:15. And all hell was let loose in order to withstand him.

The response of the demons themselves to Jesus makes this clear. When he was confronted by the demon-possessed man in the Capernaum synagogue, the unclean spirit’s reaction to him was “Have you come to destroy us?”46

And then, of course, this sinister opposition took a more subtle form in one of the three men Jesus loved most in the world, when Simon Peter echoed the Serpent’s temptation of the Savior: “Don’t take the way of the cross, Jesus.”47

How resolute Jesus was—how clear-headed to hear in Peter’s words the accent of the Evil One—and to respond: “Get behind me, Satan!”48

Alistair Begg and Sinclair B. Ferguson, Name above All Names (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).


The book and study guide are both available on Amazon. The study guide is also available as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

The research on what makes people grow spiritually

There has been a good deal of research done in recent years into what transforms people’s lives. This is what researchers and students of the subject have found:

No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious. In the Bible God tells us about Himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it. There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in Him to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in Scripture how to live in a way that is pleasing to God as well as best and most fulfilling for ourselves. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore if we would know God and be Godly, we must know the Word of God—intimately.

Willowcreek Association surveyed people from 1000 churches to discover what transforms the mind. Here is what they learned:

Reflection on Scripture Is the Most Powerful Spiritual Practice for Every Segment

We would love to print the header above this paragraph across the top of the program for every church leadership training event in the country. Reflection on Scripture is, by far, the most influential personal spiritual practice …

And that’s only part of the story. Because when we statistically compare the responses of those who take the REVEAL survey, of all the personal spiritual practices, we find that Reflection on Scripture is much more influential than any other practice by a significant margin.

A survey of 70,000 churches confirmed these findings:

Research into the spiritual lives of seventy thousand Americans—of all ages, from nearly every corner of the nation—is proving something many Christians have doubted: There’s power in God’s Word. A majority of those we surveyed showed us that consistently engaging the Bible is the key to knowing God intimately, getting unstuck, and growing spiritually.

There are significant differences in the moral behaviors and spiritual maturity of believers who read or listen to the Bible at least four times a week compared to those who read or hear Scripture less often or never at all.

If you want to live the Christian life, you can’t do it by merely trying really hard. You must be transformed. You must be transformed by the renewing of your mind. You must be transformed by scripture. You must be transformed by memorizing, meditating, reading, hearing and studying God’s Word.

But, even that is not enough. We are transformed by the renewing of our mind. We are transformed by training ourselves to be godly, and we are also transformed by worship. We become what we behold. That is the subject of the next chapter.

Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1991), 28.

Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

Cole, Arnie, and Michael Ross. Unstuck: Your Life. God’s Design. Real Change. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2012.


The book and study guide are both available on Amazon. The study guide is also avail as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Name Above All Names

Jesus Christ has been given the name above all names.1 The names assigned him begin in Genesis and end in Revelation. Taken together they express the incomparable character of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Reflecting on them better prepares us to respond to the exhortations of Scripture, to focus our gaze upon him, and to meditate on how great he is.

Being able to think long and lovingly about the Lord Jesus is a dying art. The disciplines required to reflect on him for a prolonged period of time and to be captivated by him have been relegated to a secondary place in contemporary Christian life. Action, rather than meditation, is the order of the day. Sadly, too often that action is not suffused with the grace and power of Christ.

How different is the example of the apostle Paul—for whom “to live is Christ”2—or the author of the letter to the Hebrews, who urges us to “consider Jesus.”3

We need to learn to recapture such Christ-centeredness in our activist, busy age. Many of us are by nature too impatient. The most common tools of life, used on a daily basis—our computers and all of our technology—simply increase that impatience.

It can only do us good, then, to spend the few hours it will take to read these pages focused on and riveted to the person and the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The beginning, as Julie Andrews reminds us, “is a very good place to start.” Genesis is the book of beginnings. There we find the first hint of the coming of a redeemer. He is the Seed of the woman.

Alistair Begg and Sinclair B. Ferguson, Name above All Names (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).


The book and study guide are both available on Amazon. The study guide is also available as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Is Christian living easy or hard?

Josh HuntIs Christian living easy or hard?

Is it easy or hard for you to live the Christian life?

I have asked this question to thousands of Christians and consistently they will answer with resolve, “Hard!”

Then, I show them this familiar verse:

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matthew 11:30 (NIV2011)

I ask again, wording the question slightly differently, “Did Jesus teach that following Him would be easy or hard?” Puzzled looks.

I never get an explanation this complete, but it seems they are saying, “I don’t care what that verse says, believe me, Christian living is very, very hard.”

One word of clarification. I am not asking whether life is hard. Our experience confirms what Jesus taught: life is hard. “In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33 (NIV2011) Trouble. Life is hard.

I am asking whether Christian living is easy or hard, not whether life is easy or hard. In this world full of difficulties, is it easy or hard to live as Jesus taught?

The answer seems clear. Jesus taught that His yoke is easy. Could it be we have put on some other yoke?

Perhaps we have put on the yoke of religion.

Perhaps we have put on the yoke of duty.

Perhaps we have put on the yoke of feel-good-faith.

Perhaps we have put on the yoke of legalism.

Perhaps we have put on the yoke of moralism.

Perhaps we have put on the yoke of trying really hard to be good.

If the yoke that we have around our neck is not easy, it is not Jesus’ yoke.


The book and study guide are both available on Amazon. The study guide is also avail as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

Jesus’ yoke or rule keeping?

Ortberg suggests that we have replaced Jesus’ yoke with rule-keeping:

A recent study by the Barna Group found that the number one challenge to helping people grow spiritually is that most people equate spiritual maturity with trying hard to follow the rules in the Bible. No wonder people also said they find themselves unmotivated to pursue spiritual growth. If I think God’s aim is to produce rule-followers, spiritual growth will always be an obligation rather than a desire of my heart.

“Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith,” Paul wrote, “but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping.” In other words, it only results in a rule-keeping, desire-smothering, Bible-reading, emotion-controlling, self-righteous person who is not like me. In the end, I cannot follow God if I don’t trust that he really has my best interests at heart.

The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. There is an enormous difference between following rules and following Jesus, because I can follow rules without cultivating the right heart.

John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).


The book and study guide are both available on Amazon. The study guide is also avail as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

How to Live the Christian Life

Jesus promised His yoke would be easy and His burden would be light. Many Christians, however, do not find it that way. They have found Christian living to be very, very hard. I am convinced they don’t really know how to live the Christian life. They have never been taught.

Christian living is not about trying really hard to be good. It is about being transformed. Caterpillars don’t get from Canada to Mexico by trying really hard. They get there by being transformed into Monarch butterflies. Then, they just do what butterflies do every year. How are we transformed? The Table of Contents tells the story:

Chapter 1: Jesus’ Easy Yoke

Chapter 2: Transformed by Training

Chapter 3: Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind

Chapter 4: Transformed by Worship

Chapter 5: Transformed in Community

Chapter 6: Transformed by Habit

Chapter 7: Transformed by the Power of the Holy Spirit

Chapter 8: Transformed by Example

Chapter 9: Transformed by Trying

Chapter 10: Transformed by Faith

Chapter 11: Transformed by Speaking the Truth

Chapter 12: Transformed by Pain

Chapter 13: Transformed by Sovereign Grace

The book and study guide are both available on Amazon. The study guide is also avail as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking subscription service.

This service is like Netflix for Bible Lessons. You pay a low monthly, quarterly or annual fee and get access to all the lessons. New lessons that correspond with three of Lifeway’s outlines are automatically included, as well as a backlog of thousands of lessons. Each lesson consists of 20 or so ready-to-use questions that get groups talking, as well as answers from well-known authors such as David Jeremiah, Charles Swindoll and Max Lucado. For more information, or to sign up, click here.

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