Our “Agonistic” Life in Christ

The Christian life, life with God, living in Christ, discipleship, following Jesus – whatever we call it, the overlooked, albeit unpleasant, aspect of this life, indeed its most salient aspect if the New Testament is to be believed, is that is “agonistic” all the way down.  Struggle, suffering, conflict, spiritual warfare, attends our way all the way to death or Christ’s return, whatever comes first.  In our officially optimistic and happy culture this “minor key” is seldom sounded or heard.  Yet such struggle (“agon”) is the truth (again, if the New Testament is to be believed) and experience of the faithful through the ages. 

Such struggle is apparently the price of “costly discipleship” (Bonhoeffer).  If sin has warped us to where our hearts are “curved in on themselves” (Luther), getting it curved outward to God and others again is a difficult and painful process. 

Our “agon” is three-headed.  First, we struggle with and within ourselves to align our hearts with Christ and embrace the way of the cross as our way of life.  The Pauline “the good that I would do, I don’t, and the bad that I hate, I do” (Rom. 7:15-25) is all too familiar to anyone serious about growing in faith.

Secondly, we struggle with the world around us.  The “Unholy Trinity” of “Mars, Mammon, and Me” assaults us with all the allures and enticements at its disposal.  Its lies about who we are, whose we are, and what we are to be about in the world are subtle and aimed at our already weak and wounded places, hoping to ensnare us even more fully in its follies.

Finally, there is the (d)evil.  Whether we believe there is a personal devil or not, the reality we experience in the world is that we have an “enemy.”  There is an organized and intelligent opposition to God and God’s ways that goes beyond the sum total of all human sins and misdeeds.   There is a cosmic struggle going on and God has called us to play our intended roles as the people of faith through whom he will bless the whole world (Gen.12:3).  That our enemy is interested in diluting and neutering our witness and service to God is obvious.  Serious discipleship means a “big red bulls-eye” on the community of faith.  Martyrdom may be the witness we are called to offer.

This “agonistic” life is ours because it was Jesus’ life before us.  We should expect nothing different if we confront “the world, the flesh, and the devil” in the power of his Spirit.  Nevertheless, as Paul resoundingly reminds us in Rom. 8:

“Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
We are being put to death all day long for your sake.
          We are treated like sheep for slaughter.
But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.


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