I have written a whole book on this sort of misreading of so many believers—even of those who, as I am, are thoroughly convinced that salvation is in no way dependent upon behavior. Still, every time I reencounter such thinking—in others, in myself—it unsettles me anew. Why do we have this urge to outdo what God expects of us by burdening ourselves with holy acts we can’t possibly achieve? Why can we not accept Jesus’ assurance that his burden is easy and his yoke light? Why don’t we concentrate on the one work God does expect of us: to believe in the One God Sent—that is, not merely to believe in Jesus (or to believe on him, whatever that’s supposed to mean) but to believe simply believe him when he says such things?
I am reminded of the disciples asking Jesus to teach them how to pray “just as John taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1 TNIV). The disciples they’re wanting to emulate, mind you, are the followers of John the Baptist, an Extreme Holiness devotee if there ever was one. John’s disciples likely lived in the wilderness just as John did, dining on grasshoppers when they weren’t fasting and praying night and day.
“Shouldn’t this be harder?” Jesus’ disciples seem to be asking. And John’s disciples themselves wonder the same thing in Matthew 9:14, where they comment that, while they themselves “fast often,” Jesus’ disciples never do.
“What’s up with that?” they ask Jesus.
He answers that his disciples will fast when he’s no longer with them, but then he says something else:
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.”
He emphasizes this aphorism with another:
“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
There’s going to be a new way of going about the business of faith, in other words. Sacrificing and fasting and burdening ourselves and others with impossible rules was the old way. The new way is a wholly different experience. Easy. Light. Delightful.