Imagine for a moment that a local reporter stops you coming out of church. She asks you a straight-forward question: “Is it easy or hard to follow Jesus?”
How would you respond?
If you’re like most believers, you’d hesitate to answer. If you say “hard,” you risk belittling the atoning work of Christ, making it sound as if salvation depends upon your own effort. On the other hand, if you answer “easy,” you might contradict Jesus’ warning to count the cost of discipleship.
If you could hit the pause button on this scenario and consult a Bible for the answer, what would you discover? How exactly does Christ depict discipleship? Is Christianity easy or is it hard?
A Practical Paradox
The quick answer to this important question is that both descriptions are correct. Christianity is both easy and hard. Now, before you dismiss this as just a vague spiritual paradox, know that Christ breaks the distinction down in extremely practical terms. Let’s look at two of Jesus’ statements on the subject, both from the same book of the Bible.
The first is Matthew 11:29-30 where Jesus says:
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
An easy yoke and a light burden. This makes it sounds as if Christianity is a breeze. Well not quite. Just a few chapters earlier, Jesus gives a contrasting image of discipleship. Read his words from Matthew 7:14:
“For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Ok, so maybe being a Christian isn’t so easy. Apparently, it’s hard – so hard in fact, that only a sliver of humanity finds the path to eternal life. What are we to do with these two divergent metaphors from the book of Matthew?
Notice that Jesus Chose His Words Carefully
The answer is found in paying attention to the noun/adjective pairings that Jesus uses. Take a look at them below:
Christ’s Yoke is Easy (Matthew 11:30)
The Way is Hard (Matthew 7:14)
What this means is that Christians carry light burdens on a hard path. Reverse this image and you’ll get the contrasting nature of the world, people who carry heavy burdens on an easy path.
The burden the world carries is the weight of performance and the shame of guilt. In place of this, the gospel offers the imputed righteousness of Jesus and the removal of guilt through His sacrificial death on the cross.
However, while a Christian’s burden may be easy, their path is difficult. It’s a trail marked with suffering, persecution, delayed gratification, and a regular dying to self. The world’s path is much easier. It promises as little suffering as possible, acceptance by many, immediate gratification, and the promotion of self.
Satan’s Word Switch
Satan’s ploy for the Christian is to mix up the word pairings from these two passages. He regularly preaches that a Christian’s life is supposed to be easy (the health & wealth gospel) and that Christ’s burden must be hard (legalism).
When you’re tempted to feel your identity is found in spiritual performance, remember that Christ’s burden is light because of the cross. You do not need to muster up greater spiritual clout to impress God. You wear His righteousness and have been forgiven of sin because of His sacrifice.
On the other hand, when life gets difficult as a Christian, remember that this is the path God promised on route to Heaven. Don’t be surprised by suffering. Rejoice in it as you identify with Christ.
You’ll likely not be stopped by a reporter asking you questions about your faith. However, if you’re faithful to make disciples in Christ’s name, you need to be honest with them about the life they’re signing up for.
Tell them that Christians carry light burdens on a hard road. This is how Jesus describes the temporary tension between the gospel’s freedom & its demands.