A lot of people raised in the church, raised around religious people, grew up with this notion: following Jesus means following all the rules. It means no fun. It means not even thinking about fun. Depending on your age, you remember the blue laws, Sunday drives, boring afternoons.
Why do we teach others that following Jesus can be reduced to following a set of rules? Rules are easier than being in relationships. The Pharisees were experts at this. They had the form of faith, without function. A list of rules to follow allows us to be in control. We choose to follow or not. A list of rules allows us to bargain with God; “Please Lord, allow me into your heaven. I have followed most of the rules, most of the time.”
Whereas, a relationship requires trust, energy, surrender, vulnerability, transparency, self sacrifice, and is, overall harder, but ultimately worth the work. Take a moment, and think about each of those descriptive words in the last sentence. Do any of those words describe your faith journey with Jesus? If yes, how?
Or is your faith journey dominated by: calling on Jesus when life gets difficult, keeping track of your “good” status, counting on it being greater than your “bad” stuff? Maybe your faith journey is marked by Gracism. “I thank you God that I am more deserving of your grace than the person who…hurt me, did this, did that, doesn’t live how I think they should, etc.”
I have the privilege of being on a faith journey with some other men, as we strive to grow more like Jesus. This week we looked at 1 John 5:3-4a “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” To this verse we posed 3 questions:
1. If I am to show my love of God by obedience to Jesus’ commands, how does this not become just a new set of Jewish laws, that ultimately ends in Pharisaic living?
2. If I am to show my love for God by obedience to Jesus’ commands, is obedience up to me?
3. If I am to show my love for God by obedience to Jesus’ commands’ how is it not burdensome?
So here is how I would answer this:
1. Because following Jesus is about our relationship with him, we obey not because the law saves us but because we love & trust Jesus! Jesus, when asked to sum up the greatest commandment in Matthew 22, tells us that we are to love God with all that we are, 100% of the time. Jesus is describing a relationship. Jesus tells us to treat our neighbors as ourselves, again a relationship. Jesus tells us to teach, baptize, remember and make disciples, again all done in the context of relationships. The greatest indictment of the modern era church is that we have reduced disciple making to an assembly line process. Do this, do that, take this class, attend this six week course and we will all be better disciples. However, I believe I have set the ground work for the fact that all that our assembly line discipleship making has achieved is vacuous hollow self justifications, devoid of real, life changing spiritual power. When was the last time you prayed to the Holy Spirit, asking to understand/know/hear from/be guided by/be convicted by/have a stronger relationship with the Spirit of Father and Son? After all, the Godhead, lives in a relationship within Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
2. Yes and no, it is up to us! Jesus won’t make the decision for us but; because of our relationship with the Holy Spirit, He is there to encourage, guide, influence, and convict us to choose obedience. How many of us make decisions, devoid of any other relational influence in our lives? We do what we do, and don’t do what we don’t do, to try and please a displeased spouse, an angry boss, garner the attention of a distant parent or a lost child. Our relationships impinge on every aspect of our existence. Why is it, then that so much of Christianity has been striped of it’s relational nature and been replaced with things to do? Is it any wonder that our pews are empty when “leaders” live passionless lives that reflect only themselves rather than the person of Jesus?
3. Obedience to Jesus does not become burdensome because of our relationship, for we know he wants only what is best for us. Do not translate “not burdensome” as easy. Obedience will always be a conscious act of our will. However, as our relationship grows stronger with our savior, that relationship begins to influence our thinking and our decision making, and transforms our acts of rebellion into acts of faithfulness.
Here is how some of my dusty brothers chose to answer these questions…
“My love for God is not burdensome because I have the Holy Spirit dwelling within me. Nothing is impossible with God. By being obedient to Jesus I am in my Savior’s love…”
“…our obedience is not burdensome because it’s relational. When we care about someone, even hard work has meaning…”
“We love Jesus! Therefore we follow Jesus’ teachings! Therefore we love others.”
So how about you? I would welcome your answer to these three questions and your insights and thoughts. In the comments section below, join us on the journey of growing our relationship with Jesus.