Both Easy AND Hard
Should a Christ Follower expect life to be easy or hard? We, in the US, have it easy (in the global perspective) and, therefore, expect life to be fairly easy. We expect our faith and spiritual formation to come pretty easy as well. But to what detriment is an easy faith in Christ?
Christ himself promised us that following him would be extremely hard. But at the same time he said that it would be easy.
Confused our first response is, “Hard AND Easy? How can it be both?”
Christ came to us saying, “Give me your ALL. I don’t want a piece of you or some small morsel. I want ALL of you.”
Our response is usually, “What you mean ALL of me? You’ve got to be kidding!”
We often want to carve out some small portion of our existence and hand it over to God Almighty as though it is some great reward, all the while expecting to be praised for giving of ourselves. We say, “Hey, don’t say I never gave nothing of myself! Look at what I gave you! That’s some good stuff there!”
Christ responds, “That’s simply not good enough. It won’t do to offer me a small piece of you. It’s ALL or nothing with me.”
Christ has the nerve to say to us “whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38 NET). C.S. Lewis said it would be “like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp.” Christ is telling us here that following him will never be easy. But, to confuse the issue, moments later he says to us “my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:30 NET).
Followers of Christ in Postmodern Society
This is confusing to us in a postmodern society. How can it be both more difficult and more easy? Outsiders looking in at the lives of the followers of Christ see contradiction and conflict. They have a difficult time following the reasoning and rationale of the Christian mindset.
The postmodern society that we live in has an “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” spiritual mindset. They think that anybody can believe whatever they want to believe as long as they leave everybody else alone.
D.A. Carson said it this way in his book, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway Books, 2000):
more and more people believe that the only heresy left is the view that there is such a thing as heresy. They hold that all religions are fundamentally the same and that, therefore, it is not only rude but profoundly ignorant and old-fashioned to try to win someone else to your beliefs since implicitly that is announcing that theirs are inferior.
We, as followers of Christ, have a difficult decision to make. Can we afford to conform to the expectations of the culture around us? Culture tells us that religion is a private thing and each individual has the right to believe whatever appeals to him personally. This is called pluralism. It is the growing belief that “all paths lead to God.” But how do we reconcile the fact that my belief rules out the possibility that my neighbor’s belief is false.
We, as followers of Christ and the One True God, simply cannot accept this pluralistic view of God. We cannot accept or promote the belief that “all paths lead to God.” It flies in the face of the core truth of the Bible, “there is but One True God.” Therefore we have to ask ourselves, “Am I going to believe God or Man?”
The Almost Impossible Thing
Giving our ALL to Christ, C. S. Lewis called this “the almost impossible thing.” This means handing over to Christ every fiber of our being – all our dreams and aspirations, our baggage and precautions, our fears, our beliefs, and ultimately our actions. Christ tells us that it will be difficult to follow him, but he also promises us that great and mighty things will come to those who sacrifice themselves for his cause. “Whoever finds his life, will lose it, and whoever loses his life because of me will find it.” (Matthew 10:39 NET)
Christ describes this service to his cause as accumulating treasure in heaven:
Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NET)
In our culture it is a difficult problem evaluating where our heart is. Evaluating means taking an honest look at ourselves. And then there’s the problem of what to do if we don’t like what we find. Will we be ready to make the necessary course adjustments?
Too often, we miss the boat at the very beginning of the journey. At the beginning of the day all that stuff comes rushing at us, filling our mind, drowning out that other voice. It’s difficult to do, and I certainly haven’t mastered it yet, but we must learn how to push back all that stuff and spend a few moments listening to that other voice and refocusing our day. We must daily dedicate ourselves to the cause of Christ. We must dedicate every portion of our lives to him and his cause. Then we must practice living out this dedication throughout the day, at work, at school, at home, at play.
Now, I know this sounds idealistic and impossible. “Really? Giving my ALL to his cause? You can’t really mean ALL!”
Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Remember that it’s called “the almost impossible thing.” It won’t happen perfectly the first time or maybe even the hundredth time, but don’t give up. You won’t be able to measure your success in minutes or hours or days. But over time you will see a change. Eugene Peterson called this process “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.”
That is what Christ wants. He is asking you, point blank, to sacrifice yourself to his cause regularly and methodically.
The Easy Part
“Okay, I get the picture, it’s going to be hard. But you also said it would be easy. How does that work?”
Christ called this life serving his cause being “in his yoke.”
“Yoke? What’s that?”
A yoke is an agricultural device used to tie oxen and cattle together in plowing the field. It is primarily a training device. It ties the younger, inexperienced ox to an older, more experienced ox so that the younger may learn the plowing process.
Christ is acknowledging that it is a difficult process to serve his cause, but with some discipline and training, the process will become much easier.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NET)
This process of learning from Christ requires discipline and will power. But if we will submit ourselves to his leading and training, the process will become almost easy. I call this process being an apprentice of Christ, because I am always learning and growing in him.