In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.

1 John 5.3-4


Carmel and I have pastored many people over the years who have completely failed to see the point of obedience to Christ. Like much of American society, these folks have resisted coming clean before God because their sin provides so much excitement. They cannot stop sinning because it’s still fun, and they think that by coming to Christ wholly they will miss out on their fun.


I suppose that’s a fine theory, until you take into account the lives they are actually living. Without judgment, Carmel and I have spoken to wayward souls while they mourned their sense of shame and brokenness after one-night stands and pregnancy tests. They have poured their guts out to us about feeling used and unwanted. We have shared their scares with STDs and ecstasy and weed laced with heroin, and we have held them while they cried with regret. We have talked to them when their marriages were falling apart because all their time was spent investing in work instead of in people. We have refused their sizeable donations in an attempt to disavow them of the notion that if they are rich and generous, somehow God will no longer be concerned with their hearts.


We have done a lot of that kind of ministry before, and we do it now. In all likelihood, we will always be there with grave countenance and heavy heart, trying to control our judgments and our self-righteous desire to scream: What do you think you’re playing at?


God gives us instruction so we don’t have to live like that. Sex is great, but that kind of sex is neither great in the moment nor great afterwards. It becomes a chore to try to scrub off the wrong sex over and over again, impossible to scrub your mind free of regret. Money is so good when you don’t have enough of it, but when you start to chase it, hungering for it to the exclusion of all other concerns, it really isn’t so good anymore. Neither is ambition. Or partying. Or clout.


All of that stuff sours over time, through overuse or the wrong kind of use. If you haven’t yet discovered this truth for yourself, you probably think I’m feeding you the company line. I’m not. I’m sharing with you the truth as I understand it from my vantage point, rubbing heaving shoulders leaned over toilet bowls and passing tissues to dab at mascara. I’m sharing with you the opposite of dogma (do this, or else!) and showing  you simply that you do not have to do this any longer.


The pleasure of sin fades, but obedience is its own reward. This is why the commands of God are not burdensome. Obedience may be difficult at times, but it is so much less difficult than living with regret and shame in isolation and hurt.


And, of course, these commands are even less burdensome when we properly understand which commands we’re talking about. We’re not talking about long lists of sins and virtues. We’re not even talking about the Ten Commandments. Memorizing all the sins in the Bible and trying not to accidently do them, or memorizing all the good stuff and trying to check them off the to-do list, would be silly at best and frustratingly circular at worst. You would never be a better lover and follower of Christ; you would only be better at making lists.


No, the commands we are meant to follow are the commands from the Spirit. We pay attention to the Spirit and listen for His instruction. We strain to hear His whisper. He tells us how to be. He tells us which things we should avoid. He tells us which opportunities to grab. We educate our spiritual intuition by reading the Bible, but even the Bible does not contain an exhaustive list of all the potential sins of which we must be aware. Sin is simply too complex and diabolical. Sin is always manifesting in new ways, and we cannot rely only on the Scripture to warn us of the possibility of sin. We must rely heavily on the Spirit to warn us when sin is imminent, or to convict us of the sins we have already committed. We need the Spirit to instruct us to shadow God and heal the world through our good deeds, our kind thoughts, and our noble intentions.


Obedience is not burdensome when you undertake it in the context of a relationship. The Spirit is your guide, and he is not heavy-handed. He is your advocate. He wants you to succeed. He is not waiting for you to fail so he can convict you.  He is nudging you, ushering you into a better life, working with you to make it a better world.


The invitation of the Spirit is always to life, and to a better life. Better is never burdensome; what weighs us down is our insistence on continuing to chase after pleasures we will never catch, catching instead wounds we can never release. This is why, in the Scriptures, John ends his thought with a reminder that we have overcome the world. We have beaten the system of wound and have chosen instead to align ourselves with the Author of Life.


And it is good.



This post is from Seasons of Christian Spirituality.