It's not hard to be a Christian. In fact, it's pretty easy.
But some people make it hard. I'm seeing a new wave of old legalism being repackaged and repreached. The message is basically...stop doing bad things, and start doing a list of things that will make you good and holy. They say, "YOU NEED TO DIE TO YOURSELF!" They say it with great passion and seriousness. In fact, if I could turn the volume down and just watch their facial expressions, they're very serious, even downright angry. "It's not going to be easy...it's going to take a lot of willpower!"
Most people just give up. They say in their minds, with my job and my family and my obligations, I just don't have enough time to do all the things that are expected for me to be a good Christian.
Now, Jesus did say, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." But he also said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." He said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
The religous leaders of Jesus' day had literally hundreds of rules to be holy and good. They washed a certain way, wore certain clothes, and had to do certain things on different days. Their entire lives were consumed with good duties and good rules and good disciplines. They were very holy, and very religious. They made it very hard to be godly. In fact, they opposed and killed Jesus for undermining their power by making access to God easy.
Eugene Peterson writes, "There is a general assumption prevalent in the world that it is extremely difficult to be a Christian. While it is true that many don't completely disqualify themselves as "Christians," they do modify their claims: ordinary Christians they call themselves. They respect the church, worship fairly regularly, try to live decently. But they also give themselves somewhat generous margins to allow for the temptations and pressures put upon them by the world. To really be on the way of faith, take with absolute seriousness all that the Bible says – well, that requires a predisposition to saintliness, extraordinary willpower and an unspecified number of nameless austerities that they are quite sure they cannot manage.
But this is as far from the truth as the east is from the west. The easiest thing in the world is to be a Christian. What is hard is to be a sinner. Being a Christian (becoming like Christ) is what we were created for. The life of Faith has the support of an entire creation and the re-sources of a magnificent redemption. The structure of this world was created by God so we can live in it easily and happily as his children. The history we walk in has been repeatedly entered by God, must notably in Jesus Christ, first to show us and then to help us live full of faith and exuberant with purpose. In the course of Christian discipleship we discover that without Christ we were doing it the hard way and that with Christ we are doing it the easy way." (Peterson, Eugene H. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1980.)
Following Jesus is NOT hard!
It starts with being willing to admit, "I know I'm not God. Jesus is. I'm ready to stop playing God and change my life direction. I give my word to follow Him."
The second admission is being realistic. "I'm not very good about keeping my word. I break promises to myself all the time, so I will enlist a few people to help me keep my word, and I will help them. When I break my word, I'm willing to honor my word, by admiting that I broke it and repromising to what I commited."
That's it! We all have short-comings and we've all broken our word to ourselves and others. We can't keep our own commitment to follow Jesus. So Jesus designed it that we couldn't do it alone. We'd have to tell the truth to a few people who are committed to the same direction. The Bible calls this behavior, "walking in the light." It's iron sharpening iron and all that sort of thing.
"If we walk in the light (tell the truth) as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another (not pretending, image conscious friendships, but real soul-to-soul connection), and (in that environment we discover) the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
When I walk in the light and tell the truth to another follower of Jesus, I experience God's unconditional love and forgiveness, and that sets me free from guilt and shame that holds me back.
If I'm willing to keep humbly walking into the light, God's Spirit will change me and make me like Christ.
This is why the "guilt-free zone" culture is so important at Heartland Church. We want to make it easy for people to walk into the light. There really is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.