More than 1,800 years ago, a Jew told a Christian, "I am aware that your precepts in the so-called Gospel are so wonderful and so great, that I suspect no one can keep them; for I have carefully read them" (Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 10).
Unfortunately, today, a lot of Christians agree with him. Worse, there are teachers who claim Jesus' teaching do not need to be obeyed because they were given while the Old Testament was still in effect. Jesus' own teachings, these absurd teachers say, are to be rejected as "law" because he had not died yet.
Trypho the Jew was referring to Jesus' commands when he mentioned "precepts in the Gospel," but modern Christians often dismiss the commands of the apostles as well, giving themselves license to ignore Jesus and his apostles because "we are under grace."
I could refute that idea by pointing out that the only occurrences of "under grace" in the Bible are in Romans 6:14 and 6:15, where Paul tells us that sin will not have power over us because we are "under grace" and that we should not sin because we are "under grace." But let's skip that and get to the heart of the matter.
Jesus' commands are not easy.
Let's just look at commands that are in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).
When you look at the commands, it is easy to see pain. It is easy to see hard work, an impossible transformation of our human nature, a self-control beyond the reach of anyone. That's what Trypho the Jew saw.
If you look only at the commands, that is what you will see too. You will see pain.
I prefer to look at the promises.
He who hears my words and does them is like a man who built his house on the rock. The rains came, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall because its foundation was laid on a rock. (Matt. 7:24)
The apostle Paul said, "I consider the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18). Hebrews 12:2 says, "Look at Jesus, the trailblazer and the One who has mastered our faith. For the joy that was before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
We don't understand the promise. We don't see the joy ahead like Jesus did, like Paul did. Notice in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus did not just endure the shame of the cross, he "despised" it. He brushed it away as nothing because he was looking at a joy. He was going to triumph over our captors. He was going to crush them, take away the keys of Hades of death (Rev. 1:18), triumphantly parade them in chains to the world (Col. 2:15), then sit down at God's right hand. He saw the victory from before the cross, so he went through it for you, for me.
Paul saw the fruit of Jesus' victory. He saw the glory that shall be revealed in us. He prayed that we would, too:
I never stop giving thanks for you, mentioning you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of your calling and the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. (Eph. 1:16-18)
Paul wanted that glory so bad that he wrote:
I consider everything loss because of the superiority of the knowledge of Jesus Christ through whom I have suffered the loss of everything, and consider it all dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having my own righteousness from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God which depends on faith, so that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share in his sufferings becoming like him in his death so that, if possible, I may attain to the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already complete, but I press on to make it my own, because King Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider myself to have it in my hands already, but I do one thing, I forget what lies behind, and I strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Php. 3:8-13)
To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite movies, "The Kid," Paul was "working his butt off" to get what he finally obtained:
I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith. What remains reserved for me is the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the just Judge, shall give me on that day, and not to me only, but to all those who have loved his appearing. (2 Tim. 4:7-8)
Paul trained toward a goal like an Olympic athlete. His goal, however, was much better. Olympians train for a medal that will eventually turn to dust. We train for a crown that will last forever (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Paul pictured that crown, that promise, so clearly that the pain was next to nothing. "Our momentary and light afflictions," he said, "are producing a much heavier weight of glory" (2 Cor. 4:17).
Did you catch his picture? If you are going to weigh my suffering in the balance, it is temporary and is light. Put the glory reserved for me on the others side, and the scale will drop to the bottom. The glory is much heavier. What were his light afflictions?
Five times I received forty stripes minus one from the Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I suffered shipwreck. I have been a night and a day in the deep. I have been in travels often, perils of rivers, perils of robbers, perils from my countrymen, perils from the Gentiles, perils in the city, perils in the wilderness, perils in the sea, perils among false brothers; in labor and travail, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, and in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are outside, there is that which presses on me daily: anxiety for all the assemblies. (2 Cor. 11:24-28)
Are we weighing our pain in the balance against God's promises. If we had that Spirit of wisdom and revelation that Paul prayed for and understood the "riches of the glory" of our inheritance (Eph. 1:17-18), we would think like Paul. We would think like Jesus.
In the cases of Jesus and Paul, there was real suffering: whips, blood, insults, hatred, plots, and finally execution. They weighed these in the balance and found the pain worth only being ignored. There was a goal, a much greater weight of glory. Let us pray for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we can understand the goal like they did.
I started this post by suggesting that the commands of Jesus are overwhelming. They are overwhelming for the same reason our actual suffering, our actual pain--broken bones, sicknesses, emotional blows, grief, or lashes from a whip--are overwhelming. We don't see what is eternal like Jesus and Paul did.
We do not understand the promises God has given us in regard to the commands of Christ. This is because very few people are showing them to us. A few years ago, Colorado shut down a man's business because he would not make a wedding cake for a homosexual couple. Afterward, I read complaints from Christians all over Facebook. I read about lawsuits and the rights of the business owner. Oddly, I read nothing at all about this man, nor about any other Christian, dancing in the streets because he had been persecuted (Matt. 5:11-12).
Later, a couple years ago, I read about a man coming into a church, in North Carolina, and shooting those inside, probably for no other reason than that they were black. Afterward, I did not read about lawsuits or complaints. I read about forgiveness and love. Those Christians knew the promises. They not only knew the promises of glory in the next age, but the promise of an unexplainable peace in the midst of "tribulation" (Jn. 16:33). Sometimes tribulation looks like death, but the peace that Jesus gives always looks like something not of this world.
I mentioned at the top of this blog that a Jewish man, around A.D. 155, wondered if anyone at all could keep the precepts of the Gospel. Around the same time, a Christian also wondered. He wrote:
Sir, these commandments are great, and good, and glorious, and fitted to gladden the heart of the man who can perform them. But I do not know if these commandments can be kept by man, because they are exceeding hard. (Hermas, c. 160, The Pastor of Hermas, Commandment Twelfth, ch. 3)
He asked this in a book he was writing. Putting words into the mouth of the "Angel of Repentance," he answered:
O fool, senseless and doubting, do you not perceive how great is the glory of God, and how strong and marvellous, in that He created the world for the sake of man, and subjected all creation to him, and gave him power to rule over everything under heaven? If, then, man is lord of the creatures of God, and rules over all, is he not able to be lord also of these commandments? For ... the man who has the Lord in his heart can also be lord of all, and of every one of these commandments. But to those who have the Lord only on their lips, but their hearts hardened, and who are far from the Lord, the commandments are hard and difficult. Put, therefore, ye who are empty and fickle in your faith, the Lord in your heart, and ye will know that there is nothing easier or sweeter, or more manageable, than these commandments. (Hermas, c. 160, The Pastor of Hermas, Commandment Twelfth, ch. 4)
Jesus agrees with Hermas, The same Jesus who said, "You are my friends if you do whatever I command you" (Jn. 15:14), also said, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matt. 11:30).
How could all those commands, that cause all of us to wonder if they can be obeyed, be "easy" or "light"? We have the examples of Jesus and Paul in regard to suffering, but what promises do we have regarding obedience?
His divine power has given us everything regarding life and godliness through the knowledge of him that has called us to glory and virtue. Through these we are given exceptionally great and precious promises, so that by these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (2 Pet. 1:3-4)
Some of these exceptionally great and precious promises are:
I really should add, here at the end, that we can do nothing apart from Jesus (Jn. 15:5). If you are not devoting much of your free time to being with Jesus, you will have a very hard time living in his promises.