Summary: How to lighten our load of four burdens that can crush us in the spiritual life.
For many people today the spiritual journey is filled with crushing burdens. I think of the character Rodrigo from the 1986 academy award winning movie The Mission. Rodrigo, played by Robert DeNiro, portrays a slave trader who kills his brother in a fit of rage. He’s filled with such terrible remorse and guilt that, to pay penance and get rid of his guilt he carries his armor through the jungle as a symbol of the crushing burden of his guilt.
Are you burdened like Rodrigo in your spiritual journey today? If so, I’ve got good news that you can lighten your load. It’s likely that many of us are carrying burdens today that don’t belong on the journey, burdens like the armor that Rodrigo was carrying on his journey. Today we’re going to look at how to lighten our load of four specific burdens that crush us in our spiritual journey.
I. The Burden of Disobedience (5:1-3).
The first burden we’re going to look at is the burden of DISOBEDIENCE in vv. 1-3. John tells us that the person who’s truly come to faith in Jesus as the Christ is so radically changed that the only word picture that adequately describes the transformation is a new birth. A faith commitment to Jesus Christ isn’t just adding a little religion or reforming our morals, but it’s a new birth. This is how the Bible insists that we enter into the spiritual journey, not through church attendance, not by getting religious, not by trying to be good people, but by coming to a faith commitment to Jesus Christ that totally reorients our life…to use the words of Jesus, "by being born again." New birth is the door into the Christian journey.
Since we undergo a new birth, this makes God our Father in a remarkably new and profound way. God adopts us into his spiritual family, he receives us as his own sons and daughters, ensuring our security and future in his family. And John also tells us that our new found love for our heavenly father will naturally lead us to love that Father’s other children as well.
These first three verses of chapter five show us the remarkable interplay between our love for God in the spiritual journey and our love for other people.The Bible never lets us separate our love for God from our love for other people. When Jesus Christ was asked once what the most important command of God was, Jesus replied by saying, "The most important command is to love God wholeheartedly, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself, there is no command of God more significant than these" (Mark 12:28-31). Our love for God is intimately connected to our love for other people, we can’t separate these two loves because in God’s economy the two are forever related, they’re two sides of the same coin. That’s why our church exists to help people love God and others, because this is the acid test of true devotion to Jesus Christ.
This interrelated love is an expression of our obedience to God’s commands. We don’t like hearing words like "commands" these days, instead we like "suggestions," "insights," "proposals," or "advice." But John tells us that it’s obedience to God’s commands that expresses our love for God, that this obedience doesn’t destroy the spontaneity of love or squelch the sincerity of devotion. Jesus Christ said, "If you love me, you’ll obey what I command" (John 14:15).
Our tendency is to think that God’s commands are impossible for us, that God’s just too unrealistic and demanding, he doesn’t really understand the challenges of life in the 90s. But we learn here that God’s commands aren’t intended to be "burdensome." This word means "heavy," "crushing," like the armor our friend Rodrigo was dragging behind him on his journey. This is the word Jesus used when he accused the religious leaders of his day of tying heavy legalistic burdens on people’s backs. This is also the word Jesus used when he said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt 11:28-30).
You see, John knows that disobedience to God’s commands is a far more crushing weight than obedience is. Christians often talk about the cost of discipleship, how following Jesus Christ does indeed cost us. But people rarely talk about the cost of non-discipleship, that a Christian who chooses a path of disobedience to God chooses a much more painful and difficult path, because the weight of disobedience is a crushing weight. Dallas Willard writes, "To depart from righteousness is to choose a life of crushing burdens, failures, and disappointments, a life caught in the toils of endless problems that are never really solved" (The Spirit of the Disciplines 2).