By Eddie Capparucci, LPC, CSAS, CPCS
Living the Christian life is not easy.
As followers of Christ, we long to be obedient to God. We crave to be seen as righteous in his eyes and to “be holy as He is holy”. We desire to honor Christ for the sacrifice He made for us.
But it seems more often than not our quest to become obedient children fails time and time again. Along the way we run into various temptations that we just can’t seem to resist. We continue to struggle with nasty habits that have been ingrained into our way of life since we were young. We pursue our own selfish desires, while overlooking the needs of others who could benefit from our assistance. No, the Christian life is not easy.
Our failure to abide brings us great emotional pain – and sometimes torment – as we deal with the reality that our internal sinful nature impedes our overwhelming desire to be Christ-like. “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” Romans 7:18 ESV
In our attempt to live like Christ, we often hear “it’s not about trying harder.” But what exactly does that mean for those of us who experience guilt when we don’t live up to the values that are expected of us as Christians? If we don’t try harder to be obedient to God aren’t we just giving up? Shouldn’t we fight tooth and nail to ensure we are following His commands and living a righteous life?
We’re told “be Holy because I am Holy.” Well, we certainly can’t be Holy if we don’t try to follow the rules right? We can’t be Holy if we are blatantly sinning correct? Yet, despite this command, we continue to struggle with sin. Whether it is envy, greed, jealousy, gossip, self-centeredness, lust or one of many other idols we bow before, we find ourselves continuing to fall short of righteousness. And trying harder only adds to our feelings of shame, failure, and inadequacy.
So after professing Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior why doesn’t willpower and trying harder work when it comes to our sinfulness? Because the approach many Christians take toward achieving spiritual change is misdirected. We focus our efforts on changing our sinful behavior. However, with our weak minds and bodies behavioral change aimed at abiding in Christ is destined for failure.
When it comes to living like Christians should live, we would be better served if we stop focusing on changing our behavior and instead place our emphasis on changing our hearts. Great – another cliché line (change our hearts)!
But what does a changed heart look like? It is one that is committed to the endless pursuit of an emotionally intimate relationship with God. It requires an effort in which we are passionately uncovering the depth of God’s love for us, while at the same time strengthening our love and commitment to Him. It is attempting to understand the desires of God’s heart and the purpose He longs for us to fulfill. Jesus tells us this is the most important step we can take in our spiritual walk.
“You shall love the lord your god with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.” Matthew 22: 37-38 ESV
Jesus is letting us in on a very special secret to success. If our focus is on softening our hearts and learning to better love God and others than we will more easily be able to abide by His other commands. There will be no need to “try harder” instead it will come naturally.
Look at it this way, the more we experience the depth of His love for us and the more we emotionally bond with Him, doesn’t it make sense we are more likely to lead a life that is pleasing to Him? If you are struggling with this concept let’s move to an example that may be more relevant to your daily life.
If your relationship with your spouse is established on a foundation of solid emotional intimacy would you not agree the two of you have established a special bond? Would you also agree the bond is so strong and the love and respect you have for each other is so special that you would think long and hard before taking any action you thought would result in causing emotional pain to your partner?
Why shouldn’t the same approach work in our relationship with God?
As Christians, we can place too much emphasis on our performance and trying to determine if we are “measuring up” to God’s standards. Every day I see individuals in my counseling practice who believe Christ has turned away from them because of their sinful nature. They are filled with guilt and shame. For these Christians, the worldview when it comes to God is “I can’t get it right, therefore He is disappointed in me”.
However, the focus of our spiritual walk should not be measured based on if we are being obedient children of God. Instead, our objective should be aimed at strengthening our relationship with Him. As Christians we may be better served to stop worrying about how we may fail and disappoint God and instead commit ourselves to pursuing His love with all our energy.
As was mentioned earlier, what we are talking about is not changing our behavior but instead transforming our hearts.
An essential component of softening our hearts and enhancing our relationship with God is learning to love Him more. As our emotional intimacy for our Spiritual Father increases, we will find it easier to turn away from many of life’s daily temptations. In loving Him we begin to feel compelled to shift away from the desires of our hearts and instead embrace the desires of His heart. All of this equates to love more, sin less.
Does strengthen our love for God mean we are no longer bound by sinful desires but instead seen as pure and righteousness children? Not by a long-shot. As long as we inhabit these earthly bodies we will be prone to sinful desires. However, the amazing aspect of seeking to love God more is that we will reap the reward of feeling the depth of His love for us. And when that happens, we will feel compelled –not obligated – to move away from worldly values and embrace spiritual values.
There is no doubt this is a life-long process. But the wonderful thing is our God understands we are weak and broken. He knows our poor behavior has been shaped by individuals who caused us emotional distress. He realizes we are hard-wired because of events we endured due to this broken world. Yet, He encourages us to simply continue to move each day in His direction so that He can help us heal by experiencing the magnificence of His never-failing love.
Think of it this way. God is love and the world is an illusion of contentment. For the remainder of your life, if you walked each day in God’s direction, while turning your back on the empty promises of the world isn’t it possible you may:
- Develop a desire to be more loving and caring
- Keep your mind filled with healthy, Godly thoughts
- Be stronger to walk away from temptations
- Want to discover and carry out the desires of God’s heart
In fact, how is it not possible to accomplish all of this knowing you’re filled with God’s love?
“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5 ESV
If you believe in Jesus Christ and what He did for you on the Cross than the power of the Holy Spirit sits within you. But that knowledge alone doesn’t help us fight against sin if we don’t tap into the power by making a commitment to pursue God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength.
Perhaps living a Christian life isn’t as difficult as we think. For when it comes to defeating Satan and taming sin it’s not about trying harder. It’s about loving more.
Eddie Capparucci, LPC, CSAS, CPCS is a licensed Christian counselor with a private practice in Marietta, GA. Feel free to re-post and share this article. You can read more of his thoughts at his blog: