Stop Trying So Hard to Be a Christian
“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest”
See Hebrews 4:11
“Are you going to go to sleep any time soon?” my wife asks me as I’m up way past my bed time, going back and forth in the comments section of a Facebook post.
“Yeah. But I really want this atheist to know God loves them. I wanna be sure to answer all of their questions even if they’re rude to me. I’m sure they gave up on knowing God because a Christian was rude to them, so I want to be extra nice and not write them off.”
On into the hours, I proceed to reply to each comment past midnight, until I felt they might be satisfied with all my answers. “If I can get them to like me, maybe they’ll give God a chance,” was how I was thinking.
Because of my Facebook theology session in which I mustered up all of my “amazing” religious vigor–but not legalistic “of course”–I only got a few hours of sleep and was very tired the next day. But I “witnessed hard” and I was “gently” expressing the love of Christ.
I’m writing in lots of quotation marks because who knows what that person thought after the hours-long social media exchange. But my camouflaged religious pride sure was puffed up the next day. After all, I did it “kindly,” I did “work” for the Lord. Sure, God can use this kind of effort. He can even use error to bring people to Him (see Philippians 1:15-18). So what’s the big deal that I’m making here?
My problem was this: I was trying way too hard to do something that should have just come natural.
And maybe, if I was, I might not have said anything in that post to the atheist. Let alone spend hours going back and forth. Or I might have said one thing and dropped it–or two or three things. There is no litmus test. It’s not effort that does work for God, but resting. When we rest, we are doing the most natural thing we can possibly do as holy people.
It was years ago when this event happened, and at the time, I was trying to “get” people to place their faith in Jesus. I had believed the lie of the enemy, that it was my job to save the world. It’s not my job to save the world. That’s God’s job. Such talk will stir up the chatter of the devil in many religious people’s minds. Those who are incorrectly finding their identity in church work, Scripture memorization, appeasing church leaders, knocking on doors, mission trips, or expressing supernatural gifts–they won’t like this topic. It angers the unrenewed parts of their thinking.
However, it was for freedom that Christ set us free! (See Galatians 5:1). It wasn’t for witnessing. It wasn’t for studying the Bible. It wasn’t for taking pictures with poverty-stricken kids in third world countries. It wasn’t for having a huge social media ministry or writing multiple books about Jesus.
I did not know this. I thought that if I was uber-nice and spent tons of time explaining what I believed about God then other people would become Christian then God would see me glow then He’d be pleased as punch with me. It was draining. It was stressful. Worst of all, I never knew if I was truly doing enough. Where was the tipping point and how could I be absolutely sure?
I had done all this stuff–I had stopped all this supposed “bad stuff”–I had read all this stuff, and produced all this stuff, yet angst was still leading my thought life each day.
“Do more! Be more! There’s more! That’s not enough! Stay hungry! Be radical! Get pumped up for Jesus and stay pumped! Be like me, I have tons of spiritual disciplines! This is what you need to do!”
…Oy vey. Where is this rest Christ talked about so often? I want that.
My Christian life was way out of balance, and this is no way to live. Yes, my intentions were good–and Christ was in me in full–but I was putting all of the pressure on actions rather than simply relax in who I already was. I wouldn’t let Christ just be Christ through me. I had been taught it was my God-given duty to make disciples of disciples. But when Jesus said “go make disciples,” He was not saying to force ourselves, but instead to be ourselves.
Then, one day I read this verse. It changed everything for me in regard to my stress-filled Christian life:
“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest” (See Hebrews 4:11)
In context, that rest is Jesus. The author of Hebrews was writing a group of people who worked extremely hard to please God through what they did and didn’t do–just like I was. He, or she, was letting the Hebrew people know the only thing they should be striving for is to enter the rest of faith in Christ alone.
“But I already have that,” I said to myself. “It can’t be that easy.”
So I looked up Hebrews 4:11 in other translations of the Bible:
“Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest”
“So let us do our best to enter that rest.”
“make every effort to enter that rest”
“Make every effort to rest?! How is this possible?! How can you put forth an effort to relax?! I don’t get it, God?!”
“Just be yourself,” I could hear His words in my spirit. Not in an audible voice, but in a knowing in a motivation. It was starting to make sense! Because of Hebrews 4:11, the Spirit of Christ began to open up my eyes to some other verses. Verses that I’ve read many times before, but just now realized what they meant:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
The legalistic teaching I heard all of my life used this verse as a threat of hell for Christians who weren’t “doing enough” for God. But that’s not what it means! This is a description of who we already are! It’s not a pre-scription of the Christian life–as in, “You better bear much fruit or you’re not abiding!”–No! This is a de-scription of what we naturally do as we live our lives! Jesus is explaining how and what we will produce–organically–not by Mosaic legislation, guilt, threats of hell, or force!
Jesus is the vine whom the branches do remain in! The branches are not responsible for straining to produce fruit or stay connected to the vine! ALL THE BRANCH DOES IS LIVE ITS LIFE!
It is the vine that provides the branch’s sustenance to even be able to produce fruit! What is the branch doing? It is witnessing hard? Is it stressing out trying to be sure it’s made the vine Savior and Lord? Is it begging daily for forgiveness so the vine hangs on to it? Are different branches being held to different standards? Is the branch going to seminary and conferences so the vine approves of its theology? Is it calling out all of the false branches–as if the vine cannot tell? Is it opening up another church? Is it “slain” on the carpet? Is it tithing to the penny, or giving an offering above the tithe?
Is this what it must do to produce much fruit?!
No…it is resting.
We are not fruit producers through our amazing efforts. We are abiding. Abide means live. All we have to do is wake up each day and relax, and live our lives.
“No way, Matt! You’re just saying people can be lazy! You will answer for these lies!”
Friend, is Christ lazy? I would say no. Who are we resting in?…Him. Yes, it is a strange paradox, but once I began to understand this truth–that if I felt pressured it was not coming from God–everything changed. And to be honest with you, I “produce” more now than I ever have in my life. Why? Because I’m doing it from a state of rest. I’m not simply trusting Jesus for my one-time forgiveness, but for His minute-by-minute guidance.
God wants to do the same for you. He really does. If you’re tired of the religious hamster wheel, if you’ve given it your best shot but you still feel like there’s more–rest. Strive to rest. Strive. To. Rest.
Realize you are a branch. What does a branch do or not do? Friend, branches just be. Christians just be.
So how do you know if you’re truly resting? How do you know if you’re truly being? As a branch, this is the fruit of the Spirit of Christ–the vine–which will be produced through your actions and attitudes without effort:
“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (See Galatians 5:22,23)
So today, my friends, know this: Try your very hardest to rest. Just try. As you do, you’ll be trusting Jesus. I’ve never known anyone who has understood this truth and gone buck wild in sin–as a matter of fact, just the opposite. I’ve witnessed someone who finally realized that sin has no part of them as a branch, and that sin will never come from the vine they’re connected to. In turn, fruit of the Spirit grew in truckloads from this person. That person is me. This is why I know that once you finally grasp who you truly are, Christian, the same fruit will fall from you, all over the place. So just be yourself. You have all you need for a restful, productive life.
A prayer for you: Heavenly Father, thank you for opening up my eyes to who I am, your child. As your child, you never pressure me to be myself. Instead, you encourage me, counsel me, love me, lift me up and guide me into who I really am. Thank you for being such a good Father. Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. For those who have been working so very hard for you, let them know they don’t have to work hard. They just need to rest. Let them know you are completely satisfied with them. Because of their faith in the Cross, this satisfaction of yours is on a level in which they cannot comprehend. Even if they never do another thing for you for the rest of their lives, you’re still infinitely proud of them. Teach them balance, Dad. Teach them authenticity. Let them know about the power that comes from within, Jesus, as they live their lives in Him. Amen.
This devotional is from my upcoming book, The Christian Identity, Volume 1. Check out my other bestselling books here!