This article was originally published here.
What is the dumbest thing you have ever said? You probably don’t want to repeat it. Since I think it is edifying to remember, I’ll reset my moment. I was a new Christian and talking to my wife one Sunday afternoon when I dropped this gem on her: “Christianity is so easy. I don’t see what the big deal is.” But, I wasn’t finished—“I read my Bible, pray, and talk to people about Jesus. Then, we go to church on Sunday and hear someone preach. What is so hard about it?”
God would show me what was so hard about it within 18 months. We began attending a church that emphasized fellowship and the “one anothers.” In no time I was getting on people’s nerves, and they were returning the favor. Life in community with sinners doesn’t fit on a Hallmark card. It’s messy and pride-exposing. It is anything but easy.
Love Is Hard
The difference here is simply the word love. Christianity was easy when I was taking, but it became real when I had to start giving. The difference is love. Love always gives, it rarely takes.
It is not surprising then that God would challenge us to be faithful in our love. When we read any number of passages in the New Testament we end up with that tilted dog reaction to a strange whistle. “Wait, what?”
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32–36)
The kind of love that God models and requires is not natural. It’s not easy. The pagans can do the self-congratulating love. Who can’t love the lovely people who love you? It’s not that hard.
On the other hand, God also wants us to love the unloving and unlovely people. This is the kind of love that reflects Christ’s love in the gospel. The gospel is our model and motivation for love (cf. 1 John 4:7-11).
A friend of mine likes to put things succinctly. He said recently, “You don’t even have a real friend until they have annoyed you. Until they’ve gotten under your skin you’re still in the realm of the superficial.” You haven’t had to love them . . . you just kinda like them.
Difficult Love of God
Think about what God has done: he has lavished us with his love and then surrounded us with a group of people who are just as needy of that love, and then said, “Go and love one another and show this love to the world around you.” This community should be especially sensitive to this love because they should know how unlovely and unloving they were. They should know and esteem God’s love so highly that they itch to show it to others.
Sadly, this is often not the case. We settle for the kind of love that comes easy and miss out on the kind of love that takes sweat (and grace). The love that God requires from the church is not natural; it takes work and it looks different. It is not the stuff that you hear in the intercom at the supermarket, read in a magazine, or pick up in a romantic drama. Instead of being self-referential, it is self-denying.
If you think that Christianity is easy, then maybe you are not loving people very well. Perhaps you are not living closely to other believers. Perhaps you are not frequently applying the gospel. Perhaps the person and work of Jesus is not the model and motivation for your love. When we examine the Bible and what God requires of us as Christians we see that it is neither easy nor natural. It is hard work that would be impossible without grace. Go ahead, dig in; get your hands dirty—there are plenty of opportunities.