In 1 John 5:3-4 John makes what seems, on the face of it, to be a ridiculous claim: the commands of God are not burdensome. What? Has John not read the Old Testament with its 613 commandments? Was he not there for the Sermon on the Mount, complete with Jesus’ proclamation that his followers are required to be perfect, just as their father in heaven is perfect?
As if those laws weren’t burdensome enough, we could add all of the self-imposed Christian commandments, like the kinds of movies we allow ourselves to watch (maybe a swear word or two is okay, but nudity isn’t), the cars we drive (we like nice things as much as the next person, but we don’t want to be showy, do we?), or even the expressions on our faces (we want to be cheerful, to show people what a good life Christ has given us). We are burdened…perhaps more than anyone.
The idea that God’s commandments are not burdensome seems to diametrically oppose our experience: to us, they feel super burdensome.
The promise of an easy yoke
And yet, we do have Jesus offer of an easy yoke and a lightened burden. He does promise rest. But how does that work? How do the obviously burdensome commandments of life become not burdensome? How is it that Jesus’ yoke is easy when he is the one asking us to be perfect?
Laying the burden on another
The answer, though incredibly profound, is actually quite simple. Though the commandments are indeed burdensome, that burden has been laid on the shoulders of another. Jesus Christ, who demands that we be perfect, achieves perfection in our place. Jesus Christ, the culmination of the Old Testament story, fulfills the Old Testament laws. That same weight that threatens to break our backs actually did crush our savior. The weights that we bear every day are simply aftershocks of our human attempts to save ourselves. The weights we feel are a phantom; they’ve already been taken to the cross, carried up the Via Dolorosa on Christ’s back. We are free. We are, in Christ, unburdened.
This is true today, and every day.
Tullian Tchividjian is a South Florida native, senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, a visiting professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, and grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. He is the founder of LIBERATE (liberatenet.org), a bestselling author, a contributing editor to Leadership Journal, and a popular conference speaker. Tullian and his family reside in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Follow Tullian on twitter at: @pastortullian