There’s a lot of uncertainty about what ‘the new normal’ will be like! But what should we expect ‘normal life’ to be like for the Christian? Thankfully there are some things we can be sure about because the Bible tells us! Sadly, Christians have sometimes given an over-cooked version of the Christian life (perfect joy, peace and victory each step of the way – which sounds very ‘spiritual’ but leaves many dispirited and discouraged) or alternatively an under-cooked version of the Christian life (the ‘God’ of so-called ‘liberal’ Christianity – remote, vague and powerless, a pale imitation of the real thing). Here are some right expectations (all taken from 1 & 2 Peter for ease of reference, though the rest of the NT gives the same picture):
- Much Opposition
‘Now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials’ 1P1:6 More speciﬁcally opposition for living as a Christian: ‘If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called’ 1P2:20 ‘They (pagans) think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same ﬂood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you’ 1P4:4
‘Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you’ 1P4:12 It isn’t strange, it is to be expected, it is normal to be insulted & to suffer (v13-16).
- A Personal Battle
‘abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul’ 1P2:11 Every Christian lives in a perpetual state of civil war. We have received the Holy Spirit, he gives us new desires, new motivations but there is a constant battle with temptation, and it doesn’t get any easier. The attractions might change as we get older but their seductive power does not. It is a wearisome ﬁght, but don’t lose heart – it’s not unusual.
- Hard Work
‘Prepare your minds for action; be self controlled’ 1P1:13 The picture behind those words is getting ready for some strenuous activity. The Christian life will involve some hard thinking, tough choices, using the minds God has given us. This is not ‘Let go and let God’!!
‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you for the hope that you have’ 1P3:15 There’s careful preparation to be done, reading Christian books etc. ‘Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness knowledge; and to knowledge, self control; and to self control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness’ 2P1:5,6 No Christian drifts into maturity.
The most frequent NT description of the Christian life is ‘walking’ – plodding on in the same direction. That’s not a lower level of Christian existence – it’s normal!
- Some Knowledge of Christ
Jesus is our friend but he is also the Lord of Glory, so no over-familiarity. ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him’
1P1:8 The Lord Jesus is very precious to us, but we don’t see him, our knowledge of Jesus is incomplete. We don’t yet have a face to face relationship with him as we do with one another – it’s more like the relationship with an overseas pen-pal. He speaks to us in Scripture, we speak to him in prayer.
- Some Understanding of the Bible
‘You have been born again . . through the imperishable word of God’ 1P1:23 God’s Word has brought us to life but ‘like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation’ 1P2:2 There’s lots of growing up still to happen, through the Scriptures.
‘He (Paul) writes the same way in all his letters, speaking of things that are hard to understand’ 2P3:16 Peter struggled to understand Paul’s letters! As we go on in the Christian life the central things will become increasingly clear but there will be other things that we will never understand, secret things which belong to God alone.
- Some Answers to Prayer
We begin to pray but we soon discover we don’t get everything we ask for so Peter says ‘The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray’ 1P4:7
This suggests prayer won’t always be easy, answers won’t always be immediate.
‘Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives . . so that nothing will hinder your prayers’ 1P3:7 How we treat others can make praying more difficult. There are some great unanswered prayers in the Bible (e.g 2Cor 12:8,9) God answers our prayers as is best for us (and it’s his deﬁnition of ‘best’, not ours!) like asking a human parent for something.
- Full Forgiveness
‘He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree’ 1P2:24 ‘For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous’
1P3:18 The death of Jesus is that once & for all payment so that all our sins are dealt with. That is great good news. God hasn’t simply forgotten about our sins – the penalty has been paid and they’ve been removed from the record!
- A Speciﬁc Task
‘To God’s elect . . who have been chosen . . for obedience to Jesus Christ’ 1P1:1,2 We’ve been chosen for obedience to Jesus and that speciﬁc task has speciﬁc content to it (e.g. vs14-16) God has called us to holiness – we’re not drifting through life, pointless & rudderless. What great news to have a clear purpose & direction – growing in obedience to Jesus. He’s given each of us speciﬁc gifts to use ‘Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others . . If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ’ 1P4:10,11 We’ve been called to live for the glory of God – there is no higher calling!
- A Certain Hope
‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you’ 1P1:3,4 A glorious future of perfect peace and happiness. A certain hope, secured for us by Jesus’ resurrection. No wonder Peter says ’In this you greatly rejoice’ 1P1:6 Christians are the most privileged people in the universe! The best is yet to come!