His Commands are not Burdensome

I have a quick challenge for my Christian friends. Are you ready? This one is simple, but I believe it is impactful.

First, I have a question for you: Do you believe the word of God? Stop and consider your doctrine of Scripture. Is the word of God true? Are all the words of God true? Did God say anything in Scripture about himself or his ways which is false? Think it through, as this is where the challenge lies. Do you believe God’s word?

OK, if you believe the word of God, I want to give you a single verse of Scripture. It is not obscure. It is not some sort of odd apologetics challenge. It is not some supposed contradiction. Honestly, it is not even a difficult verse for anybody to understand. I just want you to read this verse and think about whether or not you believe it since you say you believe the word of God. Here goes.

1 John 5:3 – For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

I told you it was not hard to understand. But, dear me, I think, if you are honest, it might challenge you to revisit your claim to believe the word. I hope that this verse will challenge you to recommit yourself to that claim to believe the word. And, if you do, this will have implications for your life.

First, take note. If you believe the word of God, then you must believe that obedience to the commands of God is quite certainly connected to whether or not you can say you love God. This is no works-based salvation talk. Nor is this some return to Old Testament rituals. The fact is that John, late in the first century, writing to believers in the risen Lord Jesus, tells them that obeying the commands of God, the word of God, is inseparably linked to a genuine claim to love Jesus.

Does that call to tie your understanding of loving Jesus to obedience bother you? Is it off-putting? Do you feel unhappy with that as a way to talk about loving Jesus? Remember, you said you believe the word of God. God’s word says that love and obedience here are linked.

Let me challenge you even further. You say that you believe the word of God. Do you believe the second part of the verse too? Do you genuinely believe that the commands of the Lord are not burdensome? I hope you do.

I think that part of why many in the church today struggle with connecting love of Jesus to obedience to his commands has to do with the fact that many in the church do not believe the second half of the verse. For some reason—perhaps bad preaching, perhaps fleshliness, perhaps fear of persecution in our culture—many folks think of the commands of God as burdensome. Many think that no kind Savior would really ask people to obey the commands we see in the Bible. The commands are just too hard.

Consider what happens if you fail to believe the word here. What happens if you let yourself believe that the commands of God are burdensome? If you let yourself think God’s commands are burdensome, you will not connect obedience to those commands with the love of Christ. No way would you say to yourself that your failure to obey a burdensome command is you not loving Jesus. You will begin to give yourself a pass on the commands you find burdensome.

Think about how many folks hold a Bible in one hand even as they disobey the commands of the Lord. Husbands are nasty to their wives as if the call to love your wife as Christ loves the church is burdensome. Women fight against the biblical pattern for the structure of the family or the church as if God’s ordering is burdensome. Married couples walk away from their marriages without biblical justification, believing that God’s standards for marriage are just too burdensome. Singles ignore God’s commands for sexual purity as if God’s commands are too burdensome. Some battle against the fact that God created us male and female as if the very idea of creation in the image of God and genuine gender is burdensome. Some churches refuse to preach the word fearing the loss of a crowd as if the word that would be preached is burdensome. Many in seats or pews ignore the study of doctrine, preferring self-help and emotionalism over Scripture, as if the study of the Lord and his true ways is burdensome.

On and on I could go. And, let me be fair, where I refuse to obey the commands of God, when I give myself a pass to vent my cranky spirit or shrink back from the call to seek to make disciples, when I want to be lazy when God’s word calls for action, am I not also pretending that God’s word is just too burdensome for me in that moment? I’m not writing from a position of superiority. But I am writing to challenge both you and me.

God is good. God’s word is true. God’s ways are right. God’s commands are perfect, even those our culture hates. God’s commands are not burdensome. Obeying God’s commands is part of loving God. It is time for us to reset our understanding of Scripture by reminding ourselves that to love Jesus includes obedience to the word, and the word we obey is not, regardless of what our flesh would say, burdensome. No, we do not obey in our own strength. We rely on the Spirit of God. WE remain connected with other believers who will hold us accountable. We gather with believers and are fed by the word, strengthened when we sing the truth, nourished and convicted in Lord’s Supper, and refueled to continue in the process of sanctification. We do not do this alone or by our own strength. But we will, if we love Jesus, regularly recommit ourselves to loving him by obeying his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. Believe that word of God.

A Description of God’s Commands

~I think we all know that, from time to time, it can be hard to follow the commands of God. We are sinful people after all. We struggle. Our flesh rebels against our purpose of glorifying the God who made us. And this, of course, is why we are so grateful for grace. We are not saved by being good or doing good.

Sometimes, if we are not careful, we will let ourselves go too far with thoughts about how hard it is to follow the Lord. We confuse what makes following God hard. We mistake our own sinful leanings for harshness in God’s commands. We allow ourselves to think that God really made things tough on us. But this is not and has not been the case.

1 John 5:1-5 – 1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Notice what is happening in this paragraph in God’s word. WE are clear in this paragraph that salvation comes to us from Christ and is by grace through faith. There is nothing here that indicates that we are supposed to perform to gain salvation. There is also a highlighting of the theme in John of loving fellow Christians as a mark of salvation. But at the heart of the passage, we see that a genuine saving faith leads to people obeying the commands of God.

But look even more closely at the end of verse 3, “And his commandments are not burdensome.” How about that? God is inspiring a perfect word. God’s word is more true than your experience or my feelings. And God is clear that his commands are not burdensome.

Christians, this thought should have a few impacts on our lives today. First, it should cause us to give God thanks for his commands. God could have given us commands that are burdensome, and he did not do so. Take a look at old myths, and you will see burdensome commands. You will see capricious deities commanding the impossible of incapable people. But the God of the Bible commands ordinary obedience from people he has empowered to obey by his Spirit.

That verse should also cause us to stop pretending as though God’s word is a burden. God has made it clear that his word is not a burden. God’s word and obedience to his commands is the way to joy. If we love God, we obey his commands. This is no burden, but a delight. Let us not dishonor God by mischaracterizing his commands as if they are hardships.

If God’s commands are not burdensome, we should also stop making excuses for our disobedience. God does command Christians to obey. We do not obey to be saved, but because we have been forgiven. But none of us has an excuse to ignore the commands of God because we feel like they are hard. Instead, we should see that God is kindly giving us ways that we might express love for our Lord and gratitude for his grace as we seek the joy of honoring him.

Can it be hard to obey God’s commands? Yes, but not because of the commands. What makes obedience hard is what we bring to the table. Let us remember this, turn from sin, and love our Lord in obedience to his word.