(This “Application“ column goes with the Bible lesson for May 17, 2020: “His Beloved Ones.”)
By David Faust
What would you say if someone asked, “Is it difficult to be a Christian?” Might your answer be both yes and no?
On the one hand, Christ already did the hardest part. He accomplished what we could never do for ourselves. He lived a perfect life and suffered for our transgressions on the cross. We sinners could never measure up to all the righteous standards of God, but his love overflows and his grace is sufficient in spite of our imperfections. “The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). To receive this gift, we must come to the Lord empty-handed, poor in spirit. In humble, repentant faith we come like the Ethiopian who heard the good news of Jesus, eagerly asked to be baptized, and afterward “went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:34-39). For us, that’s the easy part.
But here’s the hard part. In the words of G. K. Chesterton, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). What is the cost of following Jesus? Everything! Dying daily. Picking up an instrument of death. Denying yourself absolute individual autonomy and choosing God’s will ahead of your own. By confessing that “Jesus Christ is Lord,” you agree, “I am not my own boss anymore”—a difficult decision indeed. Why would anyone want to do that?
Because of love.
Love makes us do things we would never do otherwise. Love causes a mother to endure the pain of childbirth and make countless sacrifices for the well-being of her children. Love enables a married couple to stick together through thick and thin. It motivates soldiers to lay down their lives for their country. Love compels ministers and elders to faithfully shepherd their flocks even when the work is exhausting and the sheep seem hard-hearted and unappreciative. Love is the root of other noble virtues like loyalty, honesty, and kindness.
Why go to church services on the Lord’s Day? Because we’re trying to earn God’s favor? Because leaders browbeat us into feeling guilty if we don’t show up? No, we worship God because he first loved us. Love for the body of Christ moves us to join together, sharing our spiritual gifts in worship and mutual encouragement.
Why give money back to God? We aren’t trying to buy his blessings. We’re motivated because God has given so generously to us. “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7) because he is a cheerful giver.
Moses laid down the Law to the people of Israel, but even under the old Hebrew covenant, obedience was supposed to be motivated by love. God’s commands, Moses insisted, are “not too difficult for you or beyond your reach”; they are intended for anyone who will “turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 30:10, 11).
Following Jesus may sound like the most demanding, difficult adventure imaginable, but it’s a natural response. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15), because the noblest and most effective motivator isn’t coercion, control, or even our own self-interest. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Personal Challenge: Imagine a non-Christian friend asking you if it’s difficult being a Christian. In your journal or on a sheet of paper, write your response in your own words.