Have you ever tried to live up to the expectations of the church? Ever tried to live out the life that people said you had to live to be a Christian? Many of us have and most of us have failed. We have tried and tried and tried to live a life that we thought was pleasing to God. Only to be left feeling disappointed and ashamed.
I know I have felt this way at times. It is not a new problem. For centuries people have had this struggle. We try and try to be who we think God wants us to be and become, and most times simply get defeated and for many completely give up trying. This is what I did when I was in my teens. It didn’t make any sense that we would have to fight so hard and seemingly get so little.
And to make it worse the “leaders” who promoted this lifestyle weren’t able to live up to it either. We have seen many many church leaders displayed on national news having thrown their lives and ministries away for some pleasure. And all the while they were preaching against some of the very behaviors that they themselves were committing. And I would look at these types of leader and it would reinforce my need to do away with God and the church. “Who needs it” was my thought.
But this was not the church or the Christian life Jesus intended at all. Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:4 “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” And many of us have felt the weight of unbearable religious demands upon our shoulders. Now whether we have put them there ourselves or have had them placed there by someone else is for us to evaluate. Because we have tried to hold ourselves to a standard that God didn’t create for us. Paul said it best when he said in Galatians 3:2-4 “Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it?”
We have all tried to follow after God in our own way and have often resorted to rules to allow us to feel like we were measuring up. But this is not at all what God intended for us. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Brennan Manning says something similar in his book “The Ragamuffin Gospel”
Let’s suppose you advanced me $1,000,000 for my personal needs. A year later, you request that I begin making monthly interest-free payments of $10,000 on the debt. On the first day of each month I sit down to write the check just as the morning mail arrives. You have just sent me a $10,000 check to cover my payment. You continue this practice until the full amount of my debt is repaid. I’m bewildered and protest, “But this is totally lopsided.”
God is enamored with His people and so intent upon a response that He even provides the grace to respond.
Now let me say that Christianity was not meant to be a cake walk. Nor was it meant to solve all of your problems magically. The church has often promised the unrealistic when we promised a bed of roses. Christianity wasn’t supposed to be easy. Now I know this sounds like a contradiction. If Jesus promised an easy and light burden then how can Christianity be heavy? It sounds like a contradiction but it isn’t. Jesus said that this was a hard path to walk on, and there would be few who would. The thing that makes it different is that Jesus walks it with us. God will not lay anything upon us that He doesn’t equip us to bear.
Christianity is not about following rules. It is about a relationship with the One who calls us personally by name, and then picks us up and allows us to walk with Him. God gives us the grace we need to follow Him. Now what does that mean you ask? Well biblically grace literally means “The transforming power of God doing in us what we cannot do for ourselves.” It means that all of the power of heaven is focused on you and I enabling us to walk out the life God designed us for. It only gets hard when we try to do it ourselves. That is what the rules are doing for us. Allowing us to become who we think we need to be by our own effort. It doesn’t mean that what we are trying to do is bad. It is simply by whose power are we doing it?
So let me ask the question, Whose power are you trying to live by?