I remember one English professor of mine who commented on how many literary representations of new Christians after their conversion were inaccurate, underdeveloped, or unrealistic. He noted stories where one’s life became all too easy after they became a Christian. Or how one died as they were converted, going straight to heaven.
But the reality is this for new Christians: there are many trials that come after conversion and they can be very hard.
This truth is all over the Bible. After being united with God in Christ, Paul had to face the same people group he had been murdering. He preached in cities hostile to the Gospel of Jesus. He spent a lot of time in jail. What about that life sounds easy?
We sometimes think that an easy life is an indicator we are living out our faith well but perhaps the opposite is true: If we are suffering in this life for the name of Christ then we are living our Christian life well.
While reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress I was struck by the trials the protagonist, Christian, had to face. I decided to compile a list of things that happened to him that might happen to you. New Christians and experienced Christians, I hope you find encouragement in this list. I pray that the Lord uses these tough trials to make you more like Christ and to edify your soul.
1.) New Christians May Lose Close Relationships.
At this his relations were sore amazed… because they thought some frenzy distemper had got into his head.
Right at the beginning of the story Christian becomes overwhelmed with the knowledge of impending divine judgment. He tries to tell his family and friends but they do not understand. They think he has lost it!
When he learns he must seek eternal life and salvation outside his home town, he chases after it. His family and friends simply don’t get it and they try to stop him. In response to this, we are told “the man put his fingers in his ears, and ran on, crying, Life! life! eternal life!”
Christian had to make the hard choice between his relationships with people he loved and his desired relationship with Christ.
I want to say this about this passage. While the Bible certainly calls for us to hold our relationship with Christ above all others (Luke 24:26), it never requires we leave all relationships with non-Christians. We are not called to be hermits completely isolated from the world.
Yet there will be some relationships in which the other person is always hostile toward your faith. Mocking you. Rejecting you for choosing to follow Christ. Keeping you from what the Lord calls you to.
The harsh truth of the Christian life, particularly for those who lived a significant portion of their life as a non-Christian, is that you might lose relationships with friends and family. It’s true. It happens.
2.) New Christians May Enter The “Slough of Despond.”
At this Pliable began to be offended, and angrily said to his fellow, Is this the happiness you have told me all this while of? If we have such ill speed at our first setting out, what may we expect betwixt this and our journey’s end? May I get out again with my life…
Christian made a companion along his way named Pliable. As they walked, Christian read to Pliable about all the glories of paradise. Suddenly, they fell into a bog and sank in the mire which Bunyan calls “despond.” Despond means discouragement or great loss of confidence.
Pliable experiences discouragement but for Christian the issue is two-fold. Not only did he experience the discouragement itself but surely he also felt the embarrassment of having led this other man into it.
Pastor Colin points out in his book, Heaven, How I Got Here, that the thief whom Jesus promised would be in paradise with him lived longer than Jesus did. Jesus died and the thief lived a few hours longer. The thief would have heard Jesus cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Imagine the slough of despond he might have fell into in that moment!
I point this out to show that real, difficult discouragement happens to new Christians. It does not mean you have poor faith. Bunyan explains the “Slough of Despond,” he says: “as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arise in his soul many fears and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place.”
Remember, Christian, true righteousness comes from Christ and not from you! When you fall into the “Slough of Despond” cry out to Christ for help, saying, “Remind me of your grace, oh Lord!”
3.) New Christians May Receive Counsel to Abandon God’s Word.
Worldy Wiseman: How camest thou by thy burden at first?
Christian: By reading this book in my hand.
Worldly Wiseman: I thought so; and it has happened unto thee as to other weak men, who, meddling with things too high for them, do suddenly fall into thy distractions.
What’s happening here is the character named Worldly Wiseman asks about the source of Christian’s conviction. Christian responds that it came from his book—the Word of God. In response to this, Worldly Wiseman calls Christian weak, says the book is “too high” for him, and calls it a distraction.
Have you ever been called weak for believing God’s Word? Have you ever heard someone criticize the Bible because it’s difficult to understand? Has anyone ever said to you that reading God’s Word is just a distraction?
Christian, whether you are young or old in your faith, you will face criticism for your trust in God’s Word. But stand firm and never leave it. Abide in it!
4.) New Christians May Seek Mr. Legality’s House.
At this point in the story, Worldly Wiseman told Christian his “burden” or convictions would be more quickly resolved if he visited Mr. Legality’s house. We can see the analogy already. Legalism promises a measurable kind of happiness and salvation but brings only exceeding burden and anxiety.
Mr. Legality’s house is at the top of a very tall hill. As Christian walked up it he suddenly realized how high the hill was. Christian “was afraid to venture farther, lest the hill should fall on his head.” What a weight that would be! The burden of legalism is far heavier than the burden of following Christ.
Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection allows for something so different and so much better. Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Christ lived a legal life and applied his earned righteousness to us. Christian, believe in Christ, receive his grace, and turn away from Mr. Legality’s house!
5.) The Devil Will Try to Extinguish New Christians’ Faith, But Christ Will Sustain It.
Later in the story, Christian gains community with other believers. One man, referred to as The Interpreter, shows Christian a fire blazing against a wall. On one side of the wall, there’s a man continually dumping buckets of water on the fire. The Interpreter says this is the devil, looking to extinguish the work of God’s grace on a person’s heart.
But on the other side of the wall another figure is continually adding fuel causing the flames to reach higher and higher. The Interpreter says this is the Christ.
The Interpreter then says something remarkable. He says this fire not only shows Christ to be the sustainer of one’s faith, but also demonstrates in having the Christ behind the wall that “it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is maintained in the soul.” In other words, the one who is tempted may not immediately see how Christ is there working to sustain their faith.
Learn from this Christian. The devil will come for you hoping to extinguish what the Lord has given you. But, know Jesus will sustain your faith. Believe in Jesus because he will ensure the flame never goes out!