rebelling against low expectations

Do Hard Things According To Ryan


Do Hard Things According To RyanWhile musing on the subject of Hard Things recently, I thought of a practical reason to do them. What’s the opposite of Do Hard Things? That’s right: do easy things.

Doing easy things feeds the flesh. Playing computer games in free time when I could write to missionaries, tinkering on the guitar instead of cleaning my room, even building a web site instead of following up on that business lead I got — all of these feed the base desires of the flesh for pleasure and self-satisfaction.

Are We Feeding or Starving Our Flesh?

Regular election to do easy things builds a habit of feeding the fleshly pleasures, therefore it hinders my fellowship with God throughout the day. It’s analogous to desiring good health and nutrition. Eat a fruit at breakfast or be sure to include a few carrot sticks in lunch, but otherwise eat sugary, frosted, refined-grain, and deep-fried foods. You still wish to be healthy, but by choosing all the foods that “taste good,” you are actually choosing not to have good health.

Do Hard Things, on the other hand, is choosing to eat healthful foods. It builds habits of starving the flesh, suppressing that hindrance to a closer walk with God.

Paul wrote about this saying, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27).

Why Do Hard Things? To keep the flesh in subjection and to avoid fleshly habits so that you can have a more effective relationship with God. Doing hard things in mundane aspects of life also builds discipline for doing hard things like sharing the gospel with strangers.

Galatians 6:8 “For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”

About The Author: Ryan is a 23-year-old rebelutionary and follower of Jesus Christ from Seymour, Connecticut. His heroes are Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, and Ed McCully, three of the missionaries killed in Ecuador on January 8, 1956, because each of them lived a life of denial of self with their faith placed wholly in God. On a less sublime note, Ryan thinks and learns visually.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • “‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his ife for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?'” Jesus always described the life of His followers as a march through trials, yet the hardest task He describes (so far as I can see) is the task of torturing yourself to death every single day for the glory of God. The interesting thing is that while one part of us is dying the other part comes to life in the Spirit, and that part is more alive than the sinful self ever could be because it embraces its purpose of glorifying God. But the sinful self is adept at decieving me into thinking that God doesn’t really care if I take a few minutes to relax over a junk book rather than serving my mom by washing dishes or doing homework. I guess that’s part of why He tells us to pray without ceasing, because we always need His eyes to see what is really happening.

  • Awesome post, Ryan! It’s true–we’re in a war, and we need to behave like soldiers on active duty. We’ve got to live for the future and the kingdom of God, regardless of what the flesh wants now.

  • Hey Ryan, not everybody would consider building a web site easy. Helping some “old people” in your church with their online projects, that could be a very loving hard thing for you to do.

    I’d love that kind of help, but I see you are not in my neck of the woods. 🙂

  • Good points, but a couple comments.

    First, you should be careful about dismissing things like web development and playing guitar as “easy things” to be minimized. Just because one might enjoy them doesn’t mean they can’t have great value. If you’re a guitarist, you may enjoy messing around on the guitar, but it’s also a valuable pursuit. Even if you don’t do it for a career, as long as you’re doing it to the glory of God I can’t see why there would be any need to minimize the amount of time you’re spending on the guitar. Unless you’re shirking your other duties or turning the pastime into an idol, then there’s nothing wrong with spending large amounts of time at it.

    Second, your analogy is a little off, I think. Doing hard things does not equal eating food that doesn’t taste good. What it DOES equal is, perhaps, eating food that is more of an acquired taste. A fine wine, a good cheese, or a gourmet meal – the average child won’t appreciate these things. But as we grow and mature, they should appeal to us more and more. In the same sense, as we grow and mature in the faith, we should develop a greater appetite for the “hard things.”

  • Pieter: Great observations. I especially like the way you re-phrased the analogy — Do Hard Things doesn’t mean being miserable all the time. We can develop a taste for doing hard things to the point that we find joy in doing them. Thanks for thinking it through and sharing your thoughts. =)

  • Ryan, thanks for the thought-provoking and challenging post. It was a good inspiration for me to stick to the narrow way today.
    Additionally, Pieter Friedrich’s comments articulated well the same thoughts I had concerning certain aspects of Ryan’s post. Together they make a wonderful pair. Praise be to God!

  • Ryan: That’s something I’ve been thinking about recently as well. Thanks for elucidating your thoughts on the matter–and sharing them with us!

    Pieter: Great comments on Ryan’s article, in particular, your second point. Thanks for sharing that.

  • I am sorry. When I posted the commputer took the verses out of my comment, so I am re-posting

    Ryan, I read your post, and have some questions.

    You asked, “Are we feeding or starving the flesh?” Is it not true that we are dead to sin? How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:2) Is it not true that our flesh when we became a Christian was crucified on the cross with Christ? Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. (Rom 6:6-9) Is it not true that since our flesh is dead we no longer struggle against it? For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph 6:12)
    When we became Christians our old man was crucified with Christ and we were given a new identity. I am not saying we do not struggle with sin, we do, Satan is still the prince of this world. Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. (John 14:30) Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:11) Now when we are tempted to sin we can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal 2:20)
    Christ cannot sin. If we no longer live and Christ lives in us then we are incapable of sinning. Christ will not force you to let Him live through you. You can try to do hard things by yourself and you might even succeed at first, but eventually you will fail. You said that you learn and think visually, so do I and stories always help me wrap my mind around things.
    Yesterday me mom left me and my 18 year old sister to clean the house and install two ceiling fans. She asked us not read or to get on the computer until that night when she would come home. Now I hate to clean, and I have never installed a fan in my life and neither had my sister. I would much rather read one of the five books I am in the middle of or look at blogs, including the Rebelution. When she walked out of the door I knew what she had asked me to do was impossible for me to do alone.
    I told Him, “I cannot do this I need you to do it through me,” and He did. While I was installing the fans and came to frustrating parts I knew I could not do it, and would have to come to Him again and let Him do it through me. When my mom came home the ceiling fans where up and the house was clean, but it was not because I had won a battle against my flesh. It was because He worked through me. If it had been up to me I would have wasted the day in reading, not that the books I would have read were bad books or time wasters, but that is not what God had called me to do for that day. Indeed I did nothing. He did it all. Without Him I am nothing and can do nothing. My flesh is crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.
    The best part about this is that when God looks at me He no longer sees a 16 year-old sinful girl. He sees His son. My history is no longer that I was born in 1991, in America to a middle class family. He sees a perfect sinless person who was born around 5 B. C. in Bethlehem to a low class carpenter. My history is now that I lived a perfect 33 years, died on a cross, rose again, and am at this very moment seated at the right hand of the Father. This is also your history, and any one else’s who chooses to believe.

  • Gracie: Excellent perspective about us being dead to sin, and “Christ lives in me”! I honestly had not thought about these things in relation to Do Hard Things, and I feel it warrants more looking into (on my part). I do know it completely revelutionizes my understanding of Do Hard Things! It may be several days before I can really think it through, but I will definitely have a reply for you soon.

  • Gracie: You are exactly right that Christ lives in us and that we can do nothing that is pleasing to God apart from the work of Christ on our behalf. However, I’d have to respectfully disagree with your argument that we no longer need to fight our sinful flesh.

    We are dead to sin (i.e. we are no longer enslaved to it) and released from the curse of sin (i.e. “there is therefore now no condemnation”), but Paul still has to command us to “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:13) and to “walk by the Spirit” so that we no longer “gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

    In Galatians 5:13 Paul encourages us not to use our freedom as “an opportunity for the flesh,” and in nearly all of the epistles he makes some reference to putting off the old man — but that wouldn’t make any sense if we magically stopped sinning as soon as we were saved. Paul uses himself as an example in Romans 7:14-25 of the ongoing battle with sin that is waged inside us.

    You quoted Ephesians 6:12 about our battle not being against flesh and blood, but I’m pretty sure the word “flesh” in that passage is not referring to our “sinful flesh.”

    Furthermore, you argue that because Christ cannot sin and Christ is in us we cannot sin — but we are not made fully like Christ as soon as we are saved. Sanctification is the process by which we are transformed from one degree of glory to another. That’s what Paul writes about when he says, “I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians. 1:6).

    You are right that God the Father views us as covered in the righteousness of Christ, but that is not the same as us immediately acting as righteous as Christ. That is still a work in progress! This is the difference between “justification” that happens once-for-all and “sanctification” which is an ongoing process.

    I wish I had time to really research this and give you more verses. I’d really recommend that your invest in a book such as Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and read the sections on sin, justification, and sanctification.

    You are exactly right that Christ living in us is our only hope. He is the only one who makes it possible for us to fight our sinful flesh and be victorious — but there is a fight and it will never be over in this life. May God bless you sister as you pursue truth!

  • Ooh boy…I hope I can add my comment without any problems.

    Jhn 8:10
    When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

    Jhn 8:11
    She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and SIN NO MORE.

    (“And in nearly all of the epistles he makes some reference to putting off the old man — but that wouldn’t make any sense if we magically stopped sinning as soon as we were saved.”)

    When Christ told that woman to go and sin no more, did He really mean something like this?—“Go and cast off your old self. I know that Peter has said you are dead to sin, but you will struggle and be burdened with sin your entire life. Go, and fight against sin.”

    No. He didn’t say that. He told that woman to go and sin no more. No sin ever, for the rest of her life. Sin no more, not, no sinning until you’re 70 and you hit a rough patch…He commanded her to stop sinning forever. That woman had been an adulterous and living in sin, obviously not born into newness of life–Christ told her to sin no more, a thing possible only for Christians.

    We have to believe she had just been saved…and Christ just told her to stop sinning.

    Magic has nothing to do with it. I know you know that, but that is how you perceive it. I was a little taken aback from your choice in words there. Do you really think it’s so unnatural for a man, who is dead to his fleshly body and totally dead to sin, to stop sinning immediately? What do you think it means to be dead to sin? (honest question, no belligerence intended)

    ‘Putting of the old man’ is no action of ours; we have nothing to do with it. GOD kills our old self

    Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
    Rom 6:2God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

    Rom 6:3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
    Rom 6:4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
    Rom 6:5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also [in the likeness] of [his] resurrection:
    Rom 6:6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with [him], that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
    Rom 6:7 For he that is dead is freed from sin.
    Rom 6:8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:
    Rom 6:9 Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion oveFor in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.
    Rom 6:11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin”

    Behold the one and only thing we do to stop sinning, the only command we have concerning ‘stop sinning’…reckon yourself dead to it. It’s that simple. When you are tempted just say, “I’m dead to this” and have faith that what the bible said was true. There is not a word about ‘struggling’ and hardship.


  • Lucy: I appreciate you sharing your thoughts! Unfortunately, I feel that just like Gracie you are confused about the difference between what God has accomplished for us through justification and what He is working in us through sanctification. Please don’t take offense at this suggestion. We all need to grow in our understanding — myself included!

    I think it is important to stress that I am not disagreeing with God’s clear commands in Scripture to stop sinning. I am not saying that it is excusable for Christians to continue in old patterns of sin. I think it is unfair for you to imply that because I believe that Christians must fight their old nature that I am somehow making allowances for sin. Perhaps I am mistaken, but that implication seemed clear to me.

    I also believe that we agree more than we think we do. You yourself admit that we are still tempted by sin. I merely argue that such temptation is our old man rearing his ugly head. When we do as you suggest and remind ourselves of the biblical truth that we have died to sin and believe God’s Word enough to say “no” — that is victory in our fight with our sin. And it might not be a “struggle” or a “hardship” for you, but it sure is hard for me and everyone else I know — that’s why we must depend entirely on God’s grace.

    Before we were saved we had no choice but to sin — that is what it meant to be slaves to sin. Now that we are saved we are free from that bondage to sin, free from the condemnation of our sin, and now can be victorious over sin through Christ living in us. That is what it means to be dead to sin.

    When a real slave is told that he’s been freed the statement, “You are free!” is the reality of what he is — he is free. His challenge now is to begin acting as though that statement is a reality — and that is the struggle.

    When God’s Word tells us to “consider ourselves dead to sin” the underlying implication is that we can be dead to sin, but not acting as if we are dead to sin. We must constantly think of ourselves as dead to sin because if we don’t we will continue to act as if we are slaves to sin, even after we have been set free! When Christ told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more the underlying implication is that she could still sin. Otherwise, the command would have been unnecessary.

    Our process of sanctification is learning to act like what we really are in Christ. We are dead to sin and we are perfectly righteous in the sight of God because of what Christ accomplished on the Cross. That is justification. But to say that we immediately act perfectly righteous is not supported by Scripture or by practical experience. That is the process of sanctification which Scripture tells us will only be completed when Christ returns (Phil. 1:6).

    Again, I wish I had the time to actually develop a comprehensive defense of my position, but I know that countless wiser, godlier men have already done so, and I direct you to them. Specifically I know that Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology does an excellent job of taking into account the whole counsel of God’s Word as it lays out biblical positions on sin, justification, sanctification, and everything beside.

    Thank you both for sharing your thoughts and for keeping your speech seasoned with salt! May God richly bless you as we all strive to accurately divide the Word of Truth.

  • “I think it is unfair for you to imply that because I believe that Christians must fight their old nature that I am somehow making allowances for sin. Perhaps I am mistaken, but that implication seemed clear to me.”

    I wasn’t implying that at all. I’m glad you said something!

    I’ve got to stop. I was going to add much more, but I have realized I need to accept people with grace, like the bible says, not correct them.

    Brett…I apologize. And I mean that.

    Your sister in Christ

  • Brett: I am sure you are about ready to pull your hair out with Lucy and I, but allow me one last comment. I don’t exactly agree with what Lucy said either. Please do not lump us together, and take each of our comments separately. The first comment I wrote was not well written. I hate writing, and was not satisfied with what I wrote when I published it. I think also you might have misunderstood what I was saying. Anyway I could write and write on this topic and never really touch the depth of it. I wish I could sit in a room with you with just our bibles and concordances, and each explain exactly what we believe. I wonder how much each of us would change our beliefs by the time we were done. 🙂 Thank you for listening.
    In Christ Gracie

  • Dear Gracie and Lucy,

    Please, please don’t think I am upset with either of you! I admire your evident love for God’s Word and I realize we are on either sides of an issue that has been debated for centuries — though I realize Gracie that you and Lucy are not in complete agreement either.

    I apologize if there was any way in which I misinterpreted or misrepresented either of your positions. Lucy, I accept your apology, though I’m not really sure what there is to forgive!

    Let us continue to pursue the truth together — in love and with grace. I just can’t wait until Heaven when Christ himself will explain these things fully to us. For now we see as in a mirror dimly, but then, face to face. =)

    Your Brother In Christ,

  • “Lucy, I accept your apology, though I’m not really sure what there is to forgive!”

    I have a bad habit of ‘butting in’. I’ve realized that I don’t accept people with grace…just letting them have their say without trying to correct them or adding an unneeded comments. It just doesn’t help you OR your brother keep the peace on the blog. You might disagree, but I myself have seen the contention that I help add to.

  • Dear Rebelutionaries,
    I am a close relation to Gracie.

    She was very dissatisfied with what she wrote when she wrote it, but considering that she didn’t have the time to write a book, she posted it in faith. She is very passionate about this topic (if you didn’t notice) and well she should be for although she is ‘only’ sixteen she has been a Christian for about ten years and has only just become passionate about her God as she has understood this truth in the past eighteen months. Replying to Ryan’s post is in fact a Hard Thing that she felt God called her to do. She is therefore in the position (as I am) of having heard and understood what she is trying to explain from multiple people who had studied it out for themselves and taught with great clarity, but we two are just finally catching on and consequently have a harder time explaining it ourselves.

    However, we both agree it is a topic well worth discussing, searching out, trying to explain, and challenging one another on. Both of us greatly dislike writing as a general rule, because when we do we usually feel as though we butchered our topic. More and more however, God has been putting both of us in the position of having to write out what we are trying to relate and trusting Him to use our weakness.

    If you read this post please do not assume that I am looking for an arguement. I am very willing to learn and need to be challenged. We have discussed whether or not this is worth our time, and we decided that we are not haggling over pointless arguments, but rather we are trying to understand the very core of our faith. Also, you, whom we already respect and agree with about 99% of the time, are a good place for us to try to explain what we believe. Not only can we edify one another by the discussion but if we can’t explain ourselves sufficiently to you, how are we going to fare when we try to tell someone who has never heard of God? Therefore, I ask for your patience. I chose to post my thoughts here when I first read the discussion:

  • Shield Maiden: Thank you for commenting. I did not think that anyone was being argumentative. We were having an important discussion. However, if your point is (as I gather from your blog post) merely that doing hard things does not earn us God’s favor or make us righteous before Him, then we are in 110% agreement! 🙂 We challenge young people to do hard things, not in order to be saved, but because they are saved. Not in order to win God’s favor, but with the favor of His help. 🙂

    I understand that there may be other disagreements — particularly because we do not subscribe to the Armenian position taken by men like Michael Pearl — but I’m afraid I cannot carry the discussion further on those matters at this point in time.

    Just know that I respect you and Gracie very much and encourage you to keep writing. Both of you are excellent communicators and your abilities will only improve with practice. May God bless you!

  • Gracie, It’s been too long that I haven’t replied to your comment, and I am truly sorry about that. However, in these past several months the Lord has taught me more on the subject.

    It isn’t my intent to delve into the discussion you, Brett, Lucy, and Shield Maiden had except to say by and large I am coming from Brett’s point of view on this subject.

    The promised reply is now in a new post on my blog, which I hope all will read.

  • Funny I am reading this two years later and just put Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology on my List of things to do this month.

  • Ryan, I came upon this while searching through some old posts regarding the Rebelution. I also read your new post on your blog and have definite differences in some regards.
    I personally believe that when we have truly repented of our past sins and truly believe in Christ as the One who died for our sins, if we are really sincere in seeking to do His will, we will receive the Holy Ghost whom Peter said in Acts 5:32 that “god has given to them that OBEY HIM.” I strongly do not believe that the Holy Spirit is given to a person at the time of a superficial “acceptance of Christ” which is often followed by open disobedience to His commandments. Jesus said that if we love Him we will keep His commandments.
    Romans 8:7-9 says, “The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
    So then they that are in the fleseh cannot please God.
    But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
    I believe that the Spirit of Christ within a new Christian gives him a power that he never had when he had a fleshly mind. I believe the truy repentant Christian is given power through the gift by grace of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible for him to avoid WILFUL SIN, When Christ told the woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery “to sin no more,” I believe He meant she should go forward and refrain from flagrant acts of disobedience, not through her own efforts but through the Holy Spirit which we believe she was to receive after the Day of Pentecost. Jesus made a similar remark to the impotent man whom He healed in John 5:14 when He said “Beholld thou art made whole; sin no more lest a worse thing come upon thee.”
    I differ strongly with those who carelessly and broadly support the doctrine of Eternal Security. I don’t believe a repentant believer in Christ, with the Holy Spirit dwelling richly within, will ever try to excuse blatant acts of disobedience to our Heavenly Father. As Hebrews 6:4-6 says: “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powere of the world to come; if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame.” Hebrews 10:26 goes on to say, “If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth [which truly comes only with the gracious gift of the Holy Spirit] there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.”
    When we really have that Spirit, our Saviour promised in John 10:28, “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” He did not promise that to those who make a superficial acceptance of salvation, but then go on living in wilful sin, having never truly repented and showing strong features of having a carnal mind. I know that only God and Christ can see the heart of men, but I believe it behooves those who may be in this category to earnestly beg the Lord to give them true repentance which then gives them the power to receive the Holy Ghost and to do the will of God which they were never able to accomplish with a carnal mind.

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →