There are three challenges that a Christian faces: (1) maintaining his faith in God; (2) figuring out what God wants us to do; and (3) doing it. Different people might find different challenges most difficult; we all may face any of them from time to time; and of course it’s not just the committed Christian who faces these challenges: They are there for everyone, whether an individual recognizes and acknowledges the challenge or not (indeed, the Great Commission requires Christians to help others in meeting these challenges).
A few thoughts on each.
Challenge #1 is the work of apologetics, of course, though cultivating faith involves more than that (see the post by that name elsewhere on this site).
With regard to challenge #2, the Bible is the obvious roadmap and, when it isn’t clear, it’s also an obvious point that we need to pray. One perhaps less obvious point: Think of the ways in which Jesus intended us to follow His life as a model. What did He do that He expected us to do, too?
And with regard to challenge #3, I would suggest that one can not only look to the Bible and prayer, but draw on other, secular philosophy and psychology, too, so long as they are not inconsistent with Christianity. I think this is more the case regarding this challenge than the other two.
By the way, looking to the Bible can require us to look outside the Bible, too, in order to interpret it best. That is, knowing something about Jewish history or Roman law or Hellenic philosophy can provide insights into the Bible’s meaning; being able to read the original Greek text of the New Testament can be useful; knowing principles of logic can be, too; and so forth.
Let me say some more now about challenge #3.
It can be further subdivided this way: (a) not doing bad acts; (b) not thinking bad thoughts; (c) positively thinking good thoughts; and (d) positively doing good acts. I’ll note that, for me, (a) is easiest and (d) the most difficult; (b) and (c) are in the middle and I’m not sure in which order. As I recall, C.S. Lewis noted a couple of times some particular sins to which he was not tempted, acknowledging that this was obviously not the case for some others; we’re all different.
So let me talk about my weak area, namely not doing all the good acts I ought to do. The first difficulty here can be not knowing what he wants us to do, and one big example of that is knowing how much of our life should be devoted to explicitly religious activities. One might say that we are to devote all our lives to Him, but what does that mean exactly? Does He want us all to quit our jobs and live like St. Francis? How much time do we spend praying, how much helping the poor — how much earning money to tithe, how much with our family and friends — how much relaxing, reading. or writing poems (Sabbath excluded)? If we are to have a little wine for our stomachs’ sake, and if we are to rest on the Sabbath, that suggests one ought not exhaust oneself. But should our aim always be to maximize the net amount given to God’s service in your life? Maybe so.
On the one hand, maybe — after 2000 years of Christian influence on our institutions and culture — the yoke is not so difficult for us as it was for the folks in A.D. 33; it’s not easy, but just not as difficult. And it would be odd for God to create us in His image, with all our creativity and intelligence, and to put us in a world so complex and wonderful, and make us stewards of it, if then we are to spend all our time ignoring it and only worshipping Him.
On the other hand, it would be even odder were God to intend that He should be a mere afterthought for us. And Jesus, in particular, made it pretty clear that His coming was a break (wasn’t it?) from “business as usual.” He expected people to follow Him in some rather dramatic way (didn’t He?), even if we aren’t all expected to drop everything (or are we?).
Another way to put it: To what extent does God want us to live and act radically? Jesus, on the one hand, said we should not be of this world, that we should put God ahead of family, should be willing to drop everything and follow him, and Old Testament heroes did much of that — their faith was indeed radical.
But we are also to render unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, and the early Christians were not suicide bombers or even as anti-establishment as the hippies. Much of what we are told to do is in the context of being an ordinary person — a worker, father, husband.
And isn’t it arrogant to pretend we are so sure of God’s mind that we would kill or forsake others based on our own interpretation of the Bible?
Some obvious tips on how to avoid sin: (1) Surround yourself with supportive believers rather than tempters; (2) don’t put yourself in situations where you’re likely to be tempted; (3) don’t weaken your defenses by getting drunk or high; (4) get involved with your church; and (5) read the Bible. I saved the most important for last: Pray. Pray for wisdom to know what is right and for the strength and courage to do it.
Finally, let me get even more personal, and raise an issue that C.S. Lewis acknowledged was one he, too, had to wrestle with: How much (if any) do we need to save for our security and, I would add, how much (if any) should want to hand down to our children?
There is nothing in the Bible that condemns either (though we are cautioned not to obsess over them since the Lord is there for us): The daily-expiring manna is clearly a miraculous exception to the general rule of saving of bit for the next day or days (consider also Joseph’s wheat-supply-management advice to the Pharaoh); no one is condemned for wanting to provide for his children (see the Prodigal, and non-Prodigal, son’s father). Tithing is ten percent, not a hundred percent, and would God really expect or want us to spend all ninety percent right now and not to save some of it for a rainy day in our own or our children’s future?
So what are we to make of the lack of a clearcut answer in Biblical text? God has not let us down; I think God is telling us that this is a question to which a pat, one-size-fits-all answer is impossible. We are not to ignore the realities of this world, but we are also not to forget that ultimately we are not of this world. The presence of conflicting duties does not mean we can do whatever we like; it means we are to balance those duties, with careful consideration of the Bible’s commands and prayer for God’s guidance as our duties, circumstances, and challenges both recur and reconfigure.