Braving Hard Passages: Hard Passages to Holiness

The passages are hard because the passage is hard that is the highway of holiness

God’s word tells us that conformity to the image of God’s Son means we cry, “Abba, Father” in the midst of a life of suffering to become like him (Romans 8:12-17). The written text of God’s word through the work of God the Holy Spirit is the primary means through which we experience sanctifying sufferings.


Words hardly do justice to the experience of preaching and teaching God’s word. Irony is the blanket from which the preacher cannot free himself. After all, the hope of glory is Christ in you (Col. 1:27), but those in whom Christ resides are, by themselves, corrupt, polluted, wayward, deaf and blind (Isaiah 35:5; 42:6-7, 16-17; Rom. 3:1-9; Rev. 3:17). This is how God describes people—even his people in whom he resides, because his residence does not eradicate all sin during our lives. Broken hardly does justice to this condition. Viciously, deceitfully, relentlessly opposed in our self-assured sincerity is more like it. When considering the topic of “hard passages” we might do well to adjust the angle from which we look.

One is reminded of Abraham Heschel’s statement: “Rather than blame things for being obscure, we should blame ourselves for being biased and prisoners of self-induced repetitiveness.”[1] From this perspective, every passage in God’s word is hard to read, understand, preach and hear. There are only hard passages because living the Christian life is a hard passage.

Jesus spoke this way. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard leading to life, and few are those finding it.” (Matt. 7:14). Then he coupled that with warning us against false prophets. Hmmm. Part of the difficulty of the path leading to life is that it is populated by those who handle God’s word so that it seems easy—easily understood, easily accessible, easily adored, easily acted upon. Sincerity with a smile is their stock in trade. They are allergic to conflict of any kind. They hyperventilate when a debate breaks out regarding the interpretation of any passage of Scripture. All controversies are immediately swept aside by appealing to the simple gospel. Billions die and go to hell, why we debate . . .

Everything the Word made flesh is against and abolishing is what I am, what we his covenant people are, in and by ourselves. No wonder Paul’s words, “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” is set within the context of suffering. Yet we in America live in a culture in pursuit of the avoidance of suffering that thereby inflicts and enflames suffering, and often unknowingly. Heschel was correct: What “horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world.”[2] Sort of raises the question as to how comfortable one can become in such a world.

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