Can It Really Be That Simple?
Jesus said that his burden was easy and his yoke was light (Mt.11:28-30). Whatever exactly he meant by that, it doesn’t sound like the experience most of us have following him. Why is that? How can we live into and out of that “easy” burden and “light” yoke in a world like ours?
Jesus has something to share with his followers – his own knowledge of God the Father. And it is free – gratis – to all who want it. We have only to receive it. Easy. Light. Get it? Jesus will welcome us who come as little children and share what he alone has to give. No entrance tests to pass or qualify on. No prerequisites. Just come and receive Jesus’ gift of his knowledge, that is, his relationship to the Father, and enjoy!
Ironically, just this coming and receiving we find almost intolerably hard to practice. Years ago now, Jacques Ellul claimed that human beings hate the gospel and the grace it offers. Even good church people. In fact, it may be church people who hate grace and gospel the most! Standing on our own achievements or merits, earning or way, deserving what we get, keeping what we have by our own efforts, all this seems seared into our hearts by what has become of us in the wake of Adam and Eve’s defection in the Garden. For we all choose to replicate their defection in our own lives by embracing just these patterns of thought and action.
And folks like us who think and act like that aren’t very open to receiving gifts. It embarrasses us. We fumble around and worry because we have no gifts to give in return. Sin has robbed us of our openness to the gifts and graces of others, especially God. Therefore, we shy away from the gracious Christ and his gracious Father who wants his children to know him. We create other deities who have the decency to let us have something to offer him for his gifts. Or one so loathsome we feel justified in staying away or ignoring. That way really never satisfies most of us. And we struggle and grow weary, our lives mired in frustrated longing because we cannot accept Jesus’ free offer of satisfaction and delight in his gift of the knowledge, that is, the experience of the love, comfort, and mercy of his Father.
I said earlier that even many church folk have a hard time with simply receiving God’s gifts to us gratis. And there’s a biblical book that deals with just that. It’s 2 Peter. A much-neglected book, perhaps because it’s a tad too close to the book of Revelation which most of us want to avoid at all costs!
Nevertheless, the writer addresses the first part of the first chapter of his letter to exactly what we have been discussing. Here’s what he says:
3 His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature. 5 For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7 and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8 For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.
Knowledge of God in Christ has graced us with everything needed for us to experience life as he intended it. He even goes so far as to call it becoming “participants of (or in) the divine nature” (v.4)! Then he lists goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love as qualities his readers should strive for (because God has already given them the “oomph” to strive for them). If his readers are finding it difficult to accept God’s gifts and do what he empowers them to do, the writer points to the one thing that hinders them: forgiveness. “Short-sighted and blind,” these folks have forgotten they’ve been forgiven (v.9)!
That is, they’ve forgotten they have only to show up to receive God’s gifts with empty hands and open hearts. And they can do this certain they’ve been cleansed and accepted and need bring nothing to offer God or stand on before him but themselves. Yet, as noted above, they struggle with this too, apparently. They cannot, or have not, remembered their forgiveness.
Forgiveness allows us to accept, even with joy, that we cannot and do not have anything to bring to God to justify his welcome of us. Forgiveness means we can forget the past; God has (Heb.10:17). Sin no longer burdens us or God or conditions our relationship to God or him to us. We are free to live, not apart from sin for we still do sin, but beyond it. In a reality that has overwhelmed sin, dealt with it, rendered it as no longer of any account and power over us. Strong enough even to break through our resistance to it, to enliven our memory to claim this forgiveness and draw nearer and nearer to God.
Can it really be that simple? Simply remember that we are forgiven? To enter into the joy of a living, renewing relationship to God in the midst of the turbulence and challenges of the day to day? Jesus says it is. 2 Peter affirms its true. It really is that simple!