Dear readers, what first comes to your mind when you saw the title of this article: “A Difficult Way”? I am quite certain that some of you would be thinking that this article is probably going to tell you how difficult the way of being a Christian is, and perhaps give you some encouragement to help you along the way. This is quite understandable, because from an earthly point of view, living the Christian life often means that you cannot do as the world does, and you will be made to suffer for it.
For this article, I want to call your attention to the words of Proverbs 13:15, “Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard”. Now read that again. The way of transgressors is hard! Not the way of the righteous? Is that shocking to you? Did I type that wrongly? Indeed, the text makes it plain that the way of the evil is the difficult way. Let us examine why this is so.
If you look around at the unbelievers in your life, you would probably find it difficult to believe that their life is hard. Perhaps even, they live lives that appear to be far more comfortable and enjoyable than yours. Think of your classmates, for example, having a day of fun at the water park, while you have to sit in church – twice! Think of your colleagues, who earn more than you do because they get paid more to work Sunday shifts, which you cannot do. The Psalmist in Psalm 73 had these thoughts too, as he envied the prosperity of the wicked, until he realized that these riches were not blessings, but “slippery places” that would culminate in the destruction of the wicked (v.18).
In addition, we are also told that the way of sinners is the way of slavery – not the way of blessing! Romans 6, in explaining our redemption by grace, also establishes that we were redeemed from being servants of sin (v.6, v.20). It therefore follows that the unrighteous, having not been redeemed unto Christ, remain the servants – or slaves – of sin and the devil. In John 8:34, Jesus tells the Jews that “whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin”, and the only way to be freed from serving sin is the truth (Jn. 8:32).
And at the end of a life of service to sin comes something even more terrible. The wages of sin is death, as we recall in Romans 6:23. And this death is not merely the end of human life, when one closes his eyes one last time. When God cursed Adam and Eve (and therefore mankind) with the punishment of death for their sin, it was not only a temporal, but also an eternal death (HC LD4, Q&A10). Revelation 21:8 outlines the terrible judgment that awaits the transgressor: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
The way of transgressors is hard indeed! What is there to envy about the life of a transgressor? A life of slavery, that ends in death, is certainly not an enviable life! Shall we then, as children of God, sin like the transgressors, that grace may abound (Rom. 6:1)?
I think not! Rather, as elect people of God, having been freed from the slavery of sin, we now live to be the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:18). This we do, not because our works of righteousness can earn us merit for our salvation – for salvation is already given, freely – but out of thankfulness to God for redeeming us unto righteousness (HC LD32, Q&A 86).
The way of transgressors is hard, but the way of obedience is blessed. According to our text, the godly, who understand the requirements of God’s law and perform their Christian duties out of both discipline and joy, are given favour. This is not favour that results in salvation, but rather, that their works of righteousness, performed after salvation has been gifted, are “accepted of God, and approved of men” (Rom. 14:18). Matthew Henry calls this favor one that makes the saint “pleasant and agreeable”.
Scripture lists many examples of the favour which our text speaks of. This was the sort of favor that Joseph obtained, when he served in Potiphar’s house (Gen. 39:6). This was the favor that David gained when he “behaved himself wisely” before the nation of Israel when he was made one of Saul’s captains (1 Sam. 18:15-16). This was also the favour that Daniel gained in the sight of his Babylonian masters (Dan. 1:9), so that when he requested not to partake of the king’s meat, his superiors were pleased to consider his request. Finally, our Lord Jesus Christ himself experienced that favour, as Luke 2:52 describes: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”.
Our good works, performed out of obedience to God’s law, also have the effect of gaining others to Christ (HC LD32, Q&A 86). If you looked again at the examples given earlier, you would notice that in at least two instances, ungodly men – Potiphar and the Babylonians – were so impressed by the godly conduct of the Christian men under their charge. Although we do not know if they were converted themselves, we do know that it was the Christian testimony that they witnessed that led them to take a favourable attitude toward the lowly captives and slaves under their rule. If even a Babylonian – an enemy of the Israelite – could see the Israelite favourably because of his godly conduct, how much more so could those around us also be impressed by our godly conduct, and give God the glory (Matt. 5:16)!
Finally, the catechism also teaches us that obedience and the performance of good works serves to assure us of our salvation. Q&A 86 draws reference to 2 Peter 1:10 “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” What assurance and blessing! Beloved brethren, why would you choose the difficult way? Choose the way of obedience, for it is the easy way. “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).
Written by: Daniel Tang | Issue 46