People appreciate comfort. Most people prefer to be comfortable: we have air conditioning and heating in order to maintain a comfortable temperature in our buildings, we often seek to wear comfortable clothing, and we like to enjoy the “comforts of life.” People like comfortable environments, comfortable social situations, and very frequently, comfortable religion.
It should not surprise us, therefore, to learn that many people seek after comfortable Christianity. They want to be part of a local congregation that maintains nice, comfortable facilities. Perhaps they are part of the church in order to maintain a comfortable social standing; perhaps they consider Christianity to be a source of comfort, to reassure them that everything will be alright in the end.
In all things such people want to avoid discomfort. If the surroundings are not physically comfortable, they complain. If they cannot maintain a comfortable social standing within the congregation, they may depart and seek another. If they are asked to consider uncomfortable truths, forced to see themselves for who they really are, and encouraged to participate in an uncomfortable process of change, they refuse or leave.
Christianity is designed to provide comfort for those who trust in Jesus. Paul speaks of God in Christ as the God of all comfort, who comforts His people as they suffer through trials (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Christians receive comfort through the message of the Scriptures so that they might have hope (Romans 15:3). When Christians experience trial they are to comfort one another, reminding each other of how God remains in control (e.g. 1 Thessalonians 3:2). When a Christian repents of sin, his or her fellow Christians should comfort him in restoration, affirming their love for one another in the truth (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:7). Christians are to consider each other as comforts, given hope and encouragement by the good example of one another when we stand firm in the face of trial or temptation (2 Corinthians 7:7, 13, Philippians 2:19).
While believers in God in Christ can derive comfort from Christianity, God does not intend for Christians to get comfortable. We have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory, and the picture of our sin is ugly and uncomfortable (Romans 3:23, James 1:21-25). Striving toward holiness is never complete and never comfortable (2 Peter 3:18). As Christians, we have constant reminders of our past sinful life so that we may remain humble and place our confidence in Jesus and not ourselves (e.g. Titus 3:3-7). Jesus asks us to think, feel, and act in ways that are not necessarily comfortable for us; we risk rejection and hostility for following His will (cf. 1 Peter 2:18-25).
Christians are never promised a comfortable lifestyle. We are to learn to be content in whatever circumstances in which we find ourselves (cf. Philippians 4:11-13). Yet, as Christians, we are promised times of trial, distress, and persecution (Acts 14:22, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Peter 1:3-9). As Christians, we will have times of great discomfort, physically, emotionally, and spiritually!
God will provide comfort for all those in Christ, but the only way to receive that comfort is to experience discomfort. Trials and difficulties are uncomfortable and unpleasant; yet growth and maturity are only ever possible through such discomfort. Mature Christians are not comfortable Christians, and vice versa; let us press on to maturity despite discomfort (Hebrews 5:14)!
Ethan R. Longhenry