I had just finished preaching the third message of the weekend and was pretty tired. But I lit up as I saw Bobby headed my way through the crowd. He was a young man in his late twenties who had recently put his faith in Christ. He was likable, eager, sincere, and teachable, and we’d had a number of conversations over the last year or so about his new life in Christ.
He was encountering all the normal ups and downs of his new birth. He was reading the Word, had joined a men’s group, and was experiencing God’s presence and struggling to break free of some of the patterns of his old life. He often came up after services to ask me questions or report on how things were going at work, with his girlfriend, or with life in general. But today was different.
Bobby didn’t look sad or discouraged, just matter-of-fact. “Chip, I came to thank you for all your help,” he said. “I really do believe in Jesus, but Christianity just isn’t working for me.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’ve tried to do all the right stuff, and it just doesn’t work for me. I keep thinking the same old thoughts, struggling with the same old sins, and feel worse now than before I became a Christian.”
My attempts to probe and reason with him fell on deaf ears. He had made up his mind. I drove home from church slowly and feeling sad.
I’ve met very few people who were as honest and straightforward as Bobby, but I’ve met hundreds who feel the same way. They are sincere and love God, but Christianity “is not working for them” either.
People say it a thousand different ways, but it can be summarized in just a few words. For some, it’s spiritual fatigue. Their faith has stalled. They’re stuck, not growing, and out of energy. For others, it’s spiritual frustration. They are frustrated with their inability to overcome some private sin or maintain some spiritual discipline. They feel like a failure with no hope in sight. Still others are spiritually and emotionally exhausted from trying to measure up by praying more, reading the Bible more, giving more, serving more, and being at church more.
All these people have tried or are still trying to be really good Christians. They are sincere and are genuinely born again. But they are tired, frustrated, and wondering where the joy of their salvation is, where that promised “abundant life” is hiding. The pattern that follows is very predictable:
Try hard, do good, … fail.
Try harder, do good, … fail.
Try even harder, do good, … fail.
And finally, try hard, do good, … fake it.
These sincere followers of Jesus do not necessarily doubt their salvation or want to abandon their faith, but it’s clearly not working. After some initial transformation and the cleaning up of some external, visible sins, they find themselves in bondage to private thoughts that human willpower can’t change.
Over time, accommodation becomes a lifestyle. Envy, jealousy, greed, lust, coveting, and comparing ourselves with others are so widespread within the church—and so few Christians seem to have overcome them—that we reframe our struggles in psychological language. Our lack of success is so common that it seems “normal.”
Deep issues of the heart, strongholds, and damage from our past tend to get buried as we smile, go to church somewhat regularly, read the Bible occasionally, and try very hard to be nice people. God gradually seems more distant, nagging guilt becomes more persistent, and times of extended, intimate prayer are few and far between.
It all happens so subtly, and what was once a passionate relationship with Jesus is now not much more than sin and image management, in which a believer becomes more focused on appearing loving and humble than actually loving people or being humble.
That kind of Christian life is joyless and weighed down with duty, and all the church activities and disciplines feel more like a second job than a dynamic relationship with the living God.
Sound familiar? If so, and if you’re beginning to feel guilty or wondering how I could know all these things about you, please don’t be discouraged, and please read on. I have lived the life I’m describing. I hated it, and I hated me in the process.
It wasn’t intentional by those who discipled me, but somewhere along the line, I came to believe that God’s love and acceptance were conditional on Bible reading, long prayers, church activities, memorizing Scripture, giving my money away, and sharing my faith. My overachieving personality and workaholic tendencies played into these misbeliefs in ways that created an image of godliness and devotion but were privately crushing my soul.
The joy I had as a new Christian was gone. The duties, the obligations, the responsibilities, and my unsuccessful efforts to overcome my internal, private sins made the Christian life unbearable. In desperation, I officially “quit”—and told God so about two years into my walk with Him.
Little did I know that coming to that point of realizing I simply “can’t live the Christian life” was the beginning of the abundant, joy-filled life that Christ had promised. I had been living for God’s approval rather than from God’s approval. And that makes all the difference in the world.
After more than thirty-five years of pastoring God’s people, my heart aches for those who are stalled, stuck, exhausted, fatigued, and frustrated. These fellow believers really love the Lord Jesus, but in moments of honest reflection would admit, “The Christian life is not working for me.”
This book is good news!
Ingram, Chip. 2021. Yes! You Really Can Change: What to Do When You’re Spiritually Stuck. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
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