“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.” The words above are from The Message Bible that Jesus spoke over 2,000 years ago. They are as life-giving and appealing as when He first said it.
Why is it we can take something that is meant to be light and life-giving and remake it into something that is heavy and burdensome?
By The Sweat of the Brow
I guess it is in our DNA. Mankind has wrestled with a heavy and burdensome life ever since Adam and Eve believed the lie that God was not good and they could live a better life outside of His kingdom. One of the curses of the Fall was man would now labor under the sweat of the brow. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were to work the Garden and have dominion over the earth, there isn’t a sense of heavy and burdensome living, no dominion with sweat of the brow.
How sad that God’s word which is meant to give us life becomes a heavy burden. Jesus chastised the Pharisees for turning the Law into an endless list of commands that no one can fully keep. The Pharisees are not unique; history is riddled with religious leaders and organizations who take the commands of God and turn them into lists of do’s and don’ts. In the 16h century the Church laid heavy burdens on its parishioners. God was seen as an angry and vengeful God and sales of indulgences were promoted where people could pay for an indulgence to cover their sin or the sin of a dead family member in purgatory. Martin Luther, before he began the reformation, was known to spend hours in confession fearing he had sinned and displeased God.
I am sure it doesn’t always start that way. With the best of intentions, some traditions were created to help encourage following God more closely but over time those traditions continue to grow and the emphasis becomes on doing and performing the traditions, rather than feasting on Gods word and enjoying His presence. It grows into a life of its own to where we are enslaved to a burdensome master of demands vs a graceful and loving Savior.
Legalism is defined in this way:
- Excessive adherence to law or formula
- Dependence on moral law rather than on personal religious faith
When we find ourselves more focused on doing enough or depending upon performance to feel better about ourselves before God, we have fallen into the trap of legalism.
Dallas Willard spends a whole chapter in his book The Divine Conspiracy, discussing how the Gospel has in some sense been reduced to sin management. He laments with other Christian leaders the high percentage of people who express a commitment to Jesus and yet their lives look no different from anyone else in the culture. Why do our lives not look that much different considering receiving the good news of Jesus? Dallas discusses how much of the teaching of the Gospel has been so focused on salvation and forgiveness of sins as the goal and getting to heaven as the target. This is part of the Gospel and extremely important, but this has tended to be taught without helping believers then to know what living in the kingdom of God is like.
I can relate to sin management. I remember growing up hearing a Gospel that was heavy on doing right and avoiding wrong. Even now at times I can read the Bible and see things I need to avoid or things I need to do that I am not doing. When managing my sin takes precedence over knowing God and having a personal relationship with Him, then my life really doesn’t look much different than anyone else. I have no power on my own to transform my life.
From Sin Management to Transformation
So how do we get out of the sin management business? Let’s go back the Message translation of Matthew 11:28-30 for some answers. When we follow Jesus, we let go of managing our life and open ourselves to His transformational power.
- Don’t do, be: when we are caught up in sin management, we are focused on doing, where we need to do more, or stop doing what we know to be wrong. Jesus asks us if we “are tired and worn out…Keep company with me.” He invites us to get away and to be with Him.
- Don’t try, learn: when we try, we tend to try harder and trying is more about performance. Instead of trying, choose to learn. Jesus says to “learn the unforced rhythms of grace” and “learn to live freely and lightly.” Learning is a process as we follow the Master, spend time with Him, and learn how to live in the kingdom of God.
- Don’t react, retreat: we tend to react to situations in life and many times those reactions cause us to self-doubt or believe lies of the enemy. Our identity comes under attack and we often cope by managing life on our own. Jesus calls us to retreat. “Get away with me and recover your life.” When we retreat, our souls can begin to settle. When this happens we can become aware of what our underlying pain or sin may be and allow the loving presence of God to heal and forgive us. We also can reclaim our identity as beloved children of God and just be.
- Don’t hurry, rest: Dallas Willard often gave this advise to people who sought his guidance: “ruthlessly rid your life of hurry.” When we think of Jesus and how He lived, we don’t see him in a hurry. He was purposeful and impactful, but we don’t get a sense He was on the go 24-7 trying to meet everyone’s needs. When we rid hurry from our lives, we open time for Jesus to do a work in our lives. Jesus said “I’ll show you how to take a real rest.” You want to practice not hurrying? How about picking the longest line in the grocery store. Rather than focusing on how much time is getting wasted, use the time to focus on God. When you get to the cashier, see if your attitude is better than if you were fretting about having to wait!
Am I saying not to take sin seriously with this list? Of course not! But I find a better way to deal with my sinful nature and brokenness by continually returning to God, bringing that brokenness to Him and resting in His love and grace. When I do this, I see Him transform my life in a way that I can never experience through my own efforts of sin management. It is a way of living freely and lightly!
We have a choice. We can do, try, react, and hurry. Or we can be, learn, retreat, and rest to find the unforced rhythms or grace. Jesus is calling us to discipleship, not sin management. In the next post, I would like to explore more about what discipleship is all about.