Jesus was careful to make sure that people understood that becoming his disciple would be costly (Luke 14:25-33). John 6 records an instance when “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him,” saying, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60-66).
Following Jesus is costly and hard. It is costly because the call to follow Jesus is a call to die (Mark 8:34-35). It is hard because the temptations of the flesh are so appealing (1 John 2:16). Following Jesus requires faith that the promises of God in Christ are sure and that the grace of God will uphold us when we are weak.
I find that temptation is always at my door, always knocking, and always boasting promises of life. I also find that despair always looms at my window; blocking the light from coming in. Satan utilizes temptations of the flesh to get me to trample on the grace of God and to disregard his commands, and he utilizes despair to get me to doubt God’s goodness and power or to get me to turn to pride and cynicism.
1 Peter 5:8 tells us that Satan “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Satan hates God. He hates God’s people. He hates faith. He hates the obedience that comes from faith. Therefore, he works day and night to destroy our faith.
Satan is wiser, smarter, and more powerful than we are. Yet, Peter is sure that we can resist him. How? 1 Peter 5:9-11 says, “Resist him (Satan), firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
We can resist Satan’s attacks by the power of faith. Even if we suffer, as many brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering, we resist Satan and overcome him by faith that the God of all grace will himself see us through until the end. Because God is faithful, we can have faith that he will enable us to overcome the evil one.
John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress tells the story of a man named Christian who embraces the costly path to follow Jesus. The path is full of temptation and despair. Along his journey, Christian encounters a man named Interpreter. Interpreter shows Christian many “profitable” things that will help him to endure until the end.
In one scene, Interpreter takes Christian into a room where fire is burning against a wall. There is a man in the room who is described as “standing by (the fire) always, casting much water upon it to quench it.”
Christian asks Interpreter, “What means this?” Interpreter tells Christian, “This fire is the work of grace that is wrought in the heart.” In other words, the fire represents Christian faith. “He that casts water upon it, to extinguish and put it out, is the Devil.” Like a lion always looking to devour prey, Satan is always working to extinguish the flame of faith in our hearts.
“Yet,” we are told, “did the fire burn higher and hotter.” What enables the flame of faith to burn higher and hotter even as Satan douses it with water? Interpreter takes Christian to the other side of the wall where he finds another man “with a vessel of oil in his hand, of the which he did also continually cast, but secretly, into the fire.”
Interpreter tells Christian, “This is Christ, who continually with the oil of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the means of which, notwithstanding what the Devil can do, the souls of his people prove gracious still.”
Following Jesus was very costly and difficult for John Bunyan. Bunyan was a preacher and God blessed his preaching. However, his preaching landed him in jail. What was supposed to be only a 3-month sentence turned into 12 years because Bunyan refused to stop. For 12 years, Bunyan sat in a dark, cold, and disease infested prison cell; separated from his precious family whom he loved dearly.
Imagine all the ways that Satan doused Bunyan’s faith with temptations and despair during those years. Imagine how the flame of his faith flickered on those long, cold nights. Imagine his sorrow on his children’s birthdays or on his wedding anniversary.
But there was a greater power at work in Bunyan’s life; a power that enabled him to say, “I will stay in prison till the moss grows on my eye lids rather than disobey God.”
This is the power of the grace of our faithful Lord Jesus – who is always there, unseen, pouring the oil of his grace, and enabling faith. He did this for Bunyan, as he has done for our brotherhood throughout the world, and as he will do for us if we stand firm in our faith.