A Burden We Must Bear
It is one of the idols of our age that life should be easy. If something is hard, there must be some way to make it easy, a machine, a pill, a new rule. All breathe narcissism’s deadly air. All my expenses paid; all my dreams realized; none of my decisions judged. Cross me, and I will drop a social media bomb on you. You and your opinions should be erased. Agitated by covetousness and sensuality, this idol becomes a deadly colossus, the moral equivalent of a nuclear bomb upon society. The fallout will suffocate the sunlight of personal liberty, sanity, and peace.
It is especially important to understand the Holy Spirit’s constant warning about the violent spiral of sensuality. Once a society assumes the right to pleasure, the right to be sexually gratified, and the abnormality of purity and self-control, we return to Sodom. The men of that city tried to beat down Lot’s door because they demanded the right to sodomize his visitors. His sinful and wicked offering up of his daughters reveals the power of fear, even in a righteous man. Oppose them, and suffer. This is where unbridled sensuality leads (Rom. 1:25-29; Eph. 4:19): death and hell (Prov. 7:23).
Behind the demand for tolerance, the coopting of love language, and the cry of justice lies a furious demand for transgenderism, universal acceptance and normalizing of sodomy, and criminalization of those who try to bar their doors against them. However patient and humble and loving we must be to those who truly desire to be freed from their chains, we must not tolerate their entrance into the church through legitimizing same-sex attraction as “this is the way God made me.” No – and I would say the same to thieves, fornicators, pornography addicts, adulterers, gossips, disobedient children, and deserters of marriage (Rom. 1:30-32) – this is what sin and rebellion have done to us. It seems natural because sin makes us more like beasts than God’s images (2 Pet. 2:12).
But, there is another side to our response. Our Savior commands us to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. We are to pray for those who revile and persecute us. In meekness, we are to instruct those who oppose God’s truth, hoping that he will grant them repentance (2 Tim. 2:25). While we must protect ourselves morally, physically, and civically from the intruders, we must remember that all their intended evil is nothing in comparison to what our Savior suffered. And this is the hard point for us to take home to our hearts. Our Lord’s personal response to his attackers must be ours. He left us an example to follow, and I urge you to take his example seriously.
For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; (1 Peter 2:20-23; NKJV)
If we would have God for our defender, we must suffer patiently. There are additional recourses in our particular political system, and these should not be neglected. Paul appealed to Caesar against the treachery of the Pharisees, and believers in this land are not the lawless ones for resisting tyranny and public debauchery. We have law, history, nature, and Scripture completely on our side. While resisting, we must commit ourselves to God as righteous Judge and Defender. Our wrath will not accomplish his righteousness (James 1:20). We must not answer reviling with reviling, insult with insult, anger with anger. This is a heavy burden to carry. On the one hand, we must resist wickedness in God-ordained spheres of home, church, and state. On the other, we must not give way to sin’s hate, division, and agitation or depend upon our strength but ask our Lord to form in us his character and responses when suffering for righteousness. We must love those who hate us (Matt. 5:44), like our Father in heaven loved us when we were his enemies (Rom. 5:8; Col. 1:21).
Lot’s example is compelling. I have been much exercised by the “vexation” he felt in his soul at the wickedness he daily saw and heard. The first word translated “vexation” in 2 Peter 2:7 means to be heavily afflicted, to be exhausted with labor, to be oppressed. The second in v. 8 means to be harassed or distressed, with the added idea of being tested and tried. When we see and hear such gross, irrational, and unnatural wickedness in our land, the burden will be heavy. We will feel afflicted, harassed, and troubled. We cannot feel otherwise if we have any zeal for our Father (John 2:17). We cannot love him without taking personally and painfully into our soul the evils that are daily committed against his majesty, against his law, against his love. This is a burden we must carry.
We must also test our souls. Are we hating and fleeing evil, not indulging our own sins, and not allowing our moral edge or legitimate Christian love to be blunted? We would like to escape this oppression, this vexation of soul. Some try by anger and cynicism. Others try by forgetfulness and escape. Still others are tempted to lower God’s standards. Shall we be considered enemies of humanity because of our allegiance to an old Book? Has not the Bible been thoroughly discredited on these subjects? Some assume so, especially when sexual sins and real and perceived injustices hit them close to home. But we must take God’s word more seriously than the feelings of sinners and the pain of discipleship. “He who loves father or mother, son or daughter, more than me, is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). The idols of our age will not be overcome by adjusting God’s eternal word to accommodate sin. God’s word is clear. “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which they do in secret” (Eph. 5:11-12).
How do we live with this burden of holiness? How do we live with it in the sins of our own families and churches? When faith is weak, it does not seem fair. When earthly struggles hide heavenly realities and glory, it does not seem possible for faith to overcome the world. But we are exhorted “not to grow weary in well doing” (Gal. 6:9). We will reap if we do not faint. Burdens now, crowns later. Vexations now, perfect peace with our Savior in heaven, and his peace now in the storms through righteousness (Ps. 119:165; John 14:27). The battles and burdens of life seem impossible when the hope of heaven grows dim to us, when we are not daily strengthened by Jesus Christ. We must look often to his glory and presence, depend upon his love and sustaining sympathy, and walk in his strength and his Spirit. He does not make the burden go away. He helps us carry it with patience and joy.
Faith will overcome the world, not because faith is so strong but because Jesus Christ is. Faith looks to him and is able to pray for its tormentors, sincerely desire their salvation, and patiently endure their taunts. We have weapons of which the world knows nothing, but most of all we have the Spirit of holiness and truth and strength dwelling with us (John 14:17). To overcome the world, therefore, we must walk in the Spirit. To endure being vexed and oppressed by wickedness, while loving, praying, witnessing, and enduring hardship as good soldiers (2 Tim. 2:3), we must seek close and constant fellowship with Jesus our Lord and follow his example. This is impossible in our strength. It is a reality in God’s strength (Eph. 1:19; 6:10).
In union with Christ, we can endure and bear the burden of holiness. We can learn to oppose sin and love righteousness, even while we struggle against the flesh and cry, “Lord, how long?” We can love our spouses, children, and fellow-Christians, even while we struggle together toward heaven and face the world’s opposition. As we walk with Jesus, believe his promises, and cast our cares upon him, we can bear the burden of our fallenness and the burden of the pursuit of holiness with patience and hope, without being vindictive, bitter, or hateful. This was really the vexation Lot felt, although he was such a mixed bag that we might hesitate to call him righteous. God did not hesitate. He calls us righteous also. And in adopting us to be his children, he has laid upon us the hard and happy vexation of holiness in an unholy world. This is our burden to carry. Shoulder it, believer, and keep looking unto Jesus.