Recently, I saw tweet from Rick Warren posted on Facebook. It said, “Saying I’m a ‘spiritual’ person is easy. Modern spirituality is self-centered and narcissistic. Following Jesus is hard.” Warren is spouting what has been taught for many, many years in the church, that following Jesus is hard and difficult to do.
But is that true?
I believe that this common statement actually demonstrates that so many church leaders have taught and believers believe that the gospel has a form of the Old Covenant superimposed upon it. And because of this, in both approach and practice, they deny something very important that is what actually makes the good news good.
As Paul demonstrates in Romans 7:5-24, following the law under the Old Covenant was hard. A person would know what was right to do, and inevitably, no matter how hard that person would try, eventually s/he would break the law. It would be like him/her saying, “Don’t do that, don’t do that, don’t do that. Oh, man, I did it!” That’s how things worked under the Old Covenant while the followers of God were still in the natural or flesh nature. This was so because under the Old Covenant, God only visited upon people, never to stay, so their nature remained unchanged.
So, following God while under the Old Covenant was hard, very hard.
If it’s the same under the New Covenant, how is that good news? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. It’s not good news.
The biggest change from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant is that those who have believed the message of Christ have had their natures changed from that of the flesh, which was killed when they participated (were crucified with) in Christ’s death, to that of Christ (as their one and only true nature) when they also participated in the resurrection, resurrected to walk in newness of life as Christ was.
Paul says in Galatians 2:19b-20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and no longer do I live, but Christ lives in me; and now, that which I live in the flesh, I live by faith, that of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.”
This change in nature is a very significant and crucial change that occurred from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. God, through the Spirit of His Son, now inhabits those who are His adopted sons and daughters. And now, because of this, following Jesus is the natural thing to do.
And because it is the natural thing to do, it is not hard. Think about a habit that you have, even a bad one. I have the bad habit of biting my fingernails. I often do it subconsciously. I have been doing it practically all of my life. It is very easy to do. I don’t have to think to bite my nails, but I do have to think to not bite my nails. That’s because it’s part of my nature.
In the same way, the adopted sons and daughters of God must truly realize that they now possess a different nature. And because of having that new nature and identity, following Jesus isn’t hard; rather, it’s natural. Because, just as Paul said in Galatians 2, it is Christ living in him, and every follower. And I think it’s the natural thing for Christ to live according to his nature.
It is so important, actually it’s CRUCIAL, for the leaders of God’s people to teach the full gospel and why it is GOOD NEWS! That means it cannot, must not, be subjected to being superimposed by how things were done under the Old Covenant. Yet, this tweet by Warren demonstrates that he truly views the gospel through the lens of the Old Covenant. And he’s not alone in that view.
So, in a nutshell, here’s why I disagree with the phrase, “following Jesus is hard.” When I believed, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into my heart (Gal 4) to be my one, only, and true nature. Because it is Jesus living in me, it is natural for Jesus to live according to His nature and, therefore, it is easy for me to follow Jesus because it’s Him living. What’s hard is when I decide to intervene and do something different, because I have forgotten that my old self, my old nature, is dead. That takes effort and thinking because now I have to dig up my old self.
If followers of Jesus truly realize this reality, they will realize that following Jesus is the natural (easy) thing to do. And that’s why the gospel is GOOD news.