Teaching series from 1 John

When God's Commands Seem Burdensome

1 John 5:1-5

Teaching t10551


Reiterate John’s three interwoven proofs of spirituality: believing the Jesus is God’s unique Son, the Savior/Messiah, responding to God’s moral guidance, and giving his love to others (DIAGRAM).  In 5:1,2 , John brings all three of them together (read).

Read 5:3.  We expect the first part (“This is love for God: obey his commands”), but not the second part (“His commandments are not burdensome”).  My guess is that all of us sometimes and some of us all the time view God’s commandments as very burdensome.  Yet John says, “His commandments are not burdensome.”

How can John say this?  What was his secret?  Read 5:4,5.  The key to God’s commandments not being burdensome is trusting Jesus.  Somehow, trusting Jesus overcomes the heaviness of God’s commandments.  When God’s commands seem burdensome, then, it must be because I am not trusting Jesus in some way.  This morning, I want to explore the two main reasons why God’s commandments feel burdensome, and how trusting Jesus frees us from this burden.  (If we have time, we’ll discuss other reasons after the teaching.)

Are you trying to earn God’s acceptance by obeying his commandments?

If you view God’s commandments as the means by which you must earn his acceptance, they will feel very burdensome to you.  For several reasons, we instinctively believe that we have to earn God’s acceptance by doing good works—and we instinctively believe that God gave us his commandments to show us how to do this (LADDER RUNGS).  I call this the “religious mentality.”  But God says this whole mentality is wrong-headed—he never gave his commandments for this purpose.  Paul explains this in Rom.3:19-26.

Read Rom.3:19,20.  Did you get that?  “No one can ever be made right with God by doing what his law commands.”  Then why did God give us his commandments?  To make it clear to us that we fall short of his standard, to blow away our excuses, and to convince us that we are under his judgment—so we’ll seek his acceptance through the other means he has provided.  (e.g., M.R.I. OF MY SHOULDER)

Religion tries to make God’s commands less burdensome by diluting them so that earning his acceptance is easier (i.e., RITUALS), and/or by saying that as long as we do more good deeds than bad deeds God will accept us (SCALES).

But God hates this perversion of his commands, because it obscures our true moral guilt and breeds false security.  He insists that his commands involve not only external religious practices, but also our heart attitudes.  And he says that anything less than perfect obedience is unacceptable (Matt. 5:21-28; Jas.2:10).

Are you burdeneded by God’s commands?  Have you despaired of earning God’s acceptance by obeying his commands?  Are you convinced that if you are ever going to be accepted by God, it will have to be through some means other than keeping his commands?  Good!  Paul says you are ready for some really good news.  Notice three things:

Read 3:21-23.  Notice what God is offering you.  God is offering to freely and permanently accept you (make you right in his sight), completely apart from your obedience to his commands and no matter how badly you have broken his commands.

Read 3:24,25a.  Notice why God can offer this to you.  He can offer this because his Son Jesus paid your price—he took the punishment for your sins when he sacrificed his life for you on the cross.  (This is what he promised in the Old Testament prophecies and sacrifices—cf. 3:21b.)

Read 3:25b.  Notice how you receive God’s offer.  You don’t clean yourself up first, you don’t have to make any vows—you just have to humbly admit you can’t earn God’s acceptance and put your trust in Jesus’ death to earn it for you.

When you make this decision, you will (immediately or later) experience a huge sense of relief.  God’s commands are no longer burdensome because they no longer threaten you with his rejection because you have disobeyed them.  This is what it means to have peace with God (quote Rom.5:1).  Do you have this?  If not, why not ask God to accept you through Jesus’ death right now?  If you need to consider this further, I urge you to read How Good Is Good Enough?

WARNING: Beware of the tendency to slip back to the “acceptance based on performance” mentality!  Even after you have been permanently accepted by God by receiving Jesus, it’s easy to slip back into this mentality.  When you start to relate to God or other people or yourself in this way (e.g., beating self & avoiding God after sinning; comparing self to others; hiding & rationalizing sin), your relief dissolves and God’s commands become burdensome again.  That’s why it’s so important to keep focused on God’s acceptance as the foundation of your relationship with him.  “‘I am accepted’... ought to be the automatic response of our hearts whenever we wake, like the compass needle that always points north.  This is a response that is always relevant to our spiritual condition.  We never make such progress in sanctification that we can depend on it for our acceptance.  And our continuing record of sin and failure never expands beyond the limits of the love of Christ, who has covered our debts for all time, past, present and future.”1  (TATTOO IDEA: aphiemi & chorizomai)

Are you trying to follow God’s commandments by your own resources?

Once you have peace with God, what are you supposed to do with God’s commands?  Even though you don’t have to obey them to earn God’s acceptance, you want to serve him and you realize that he does want you to follow them.  The problem is that we assume that we have to do this on our own—by our own resources.  This will always lead to a burdensome Christian life (duty, martyr, burned out vs. grateful for the privilege of serving God; humanly possible niceness vs. supernatural sacrificial love; affections straying to other things vs. thriving off of following God & serving others)—unless you learn how to trust Jesus to supply the resources for following his commands.

This is what Jesus is talking about it Matt.11:28-30 (read NLT).  He is speaking to those who want to follow him—but who feel bone-weary and crushed because they’re trying to pull the yoke of God’s commands by themselves.  He says to get in his yoke—let him guide you and let him supply the strength to pull—and then his burden will be light and you will have rest for your soul even while you are following his commands.  It’s not that you put forth no effort and feel no stress, but that his power courses through you (Col.1:28,29) and his peace guards you (Phil.4:6,7).

How do you trust Jesus in this way?  What does it look like to get in his yoke?

Focus more on God’s promises than on his commands.  When you focus on his commands and lose sight of his promises, this weighs you down.  But when you focus on his promises, this releases the Holy Spirit’s power to transform you (read 2Pet.1:4).  Read and reflect on God’s promises in Rom.8—he will never condemn you, he will give you life and peace, he will gradually change you, he will one day glorify you, he work through all circumstances for good, he won’t let anything separate you from his love, etc.  Focus on this—and you will start to relax in the confidence that he will have his way with you as you simply keep walking with him.

Ask Jesus for his guidance and empowering in every situation.  Read Gal. 5:18,25—the emphasis is on continually allowing his Spirit to lead and empower you.  You can’t store up Jesus’ power (like recharging a battery)—you have to continually depend on him to empower you.  You can’t learn his will well enough to determine your direction on your own—you have to continually ask him for guidance.  You don’t need him just for the really big stresses of life—you need him in every situation in every day.  The more you turn to him in this way, the lighter the load gets.

Lean on your brothers and sisters in Christ.  We tend to read Matt.11 individualistically (“just Jesus and me”), but the “you” is plural.  We are to get in Jesus’ yoke together.  This is why Paul says we should bear one another’s burdens—because it is in this way that we fulfill the law of Christ (Gal.6:2).  You can’t follow and serve Jesus by yourself.  You have to let other Christian friends into your life.  You have to let them know what your burdens are (DOUBTS; TRIALS; SINS; FEARS) when you are burdened (not after they’re gone) so they can help you bear them.  You have to let Jesus comfort and encourage and remind you of his promises through them.  You have to pray with them about your burdens and let them pray for you. 

If there is one thing I have learned in my years of following Jesus, it is this: “The issue is never the size of the burden—it is always whose yoke I’m in.”  Whose yoke have you been in lately?

FOR DISCUSSION: Why else might God’s commands seem burdensome?

God’s commands also feel burdensome when you believe they are designed to restrict or exploit you.  But when you trust Jesus that his commandments “fit” the way a good God created you, they become invitations to freedom and experiencing more of God’s goodness (Deut.10:13; Rom.12:2b >> SEXUALITY; GENEROSITY; SELF-GIVING LIFESTYLE).

If you mistake human commands for God’s commands, this will also feel burdensome.  When I believed that God was behind SUNDAY BLUE LAWS, GOING TO BORING CHURCH SERVICES IN FORMAL CLOTHES, etc., the whole idea of following God felt extremely burdensome.

If you reverse God’s ethical priorities (major in minor’s; strain out gnats & swallow camels”), they will feel burdensome.  Receiving God’s love and giving his love away to others is not burdensome; thinking God is obsessed with not smoking or cussing, tithing, etc. is very burdensome.

1 Richard Lovelace, Renewal as a Way of Life (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), p.142.