Did a Google search for “religious duty” and came up with 105,000,000 hits! Things like duty to kill other people, polygamy, environmentalism, circumcision, etc. Religion seen as a duty is often bloody, dreary, and burdensome. However, God calls men to be sons, to share in His work of making all things new, to be co-creators with Him! That is what being disciples is about. What a wonderful privilege that is!
The advent of our Savior into the world was announced by an angel while a multitude of the heavenly host chorused, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” This message is the introductory overture to the “gospel,” the good news about God breaking into human history to do something so wonderful, so astounding, that it reverberates with gladness even to this day! There has never been a news item to parallel this for the sheer joy it breathes – neither before nor since. The Birth of Jesus has been celebrated by multiplied millions of people for centuries by echoing that refrain, “Glory to God in the highest” over and over each time.
The remainder of the story is even more stunning. Jesus’ life was lived in amazing simplicity. He often found himself in open conflict with the lifestyles and beliefs of those considered the most devoutly religious people of His time. He deliberately and refused to bow to the customary concepts of man’s duty to God. He did so, not as a social rebel, but as one who knew better than anyone what God really expected of man. His was not an up-tight, anxious, scurrying-from-one-religious-obligation-to- another kind of relationship, but a confident, easy one with His heavenly Father. And in spite of being the prophesied and proven Messiah, He was rejected by the Jews and with the complicity of the Roman government was accused, tried, convicted, crucified and buried.
But that is not the most amazing part – it is the conclusion that climaxes the story – His resurrection from the grave that turned the most heinous crime of the ages into the most joyous event in history. Oh, there had been some people before this who had been resurrected, but they all had to face death again. Only Jesus was raised to immortality, and by His resurrection brought the hope of resurrection to eternal life to all mankind. By this He became the beginning of a new creation and brought the promise of a reversal of the curse of sin that has enslaved all the creation from the time of Adam’s sin.
How is it then, that with all this joyous news, this bright hope, that men are hopelessly mired in the dull drudgery of “religious duty?” Why is it that those who are supposed to be “gospel preachers” – proclaimers of the good news – spend most of their time in the pulpit haranguing people to “do their duty” toward God? Why do you hear of people who do their duty and “go to church” complaining about getting nothing out of the assemblies? Why do so many fearfully doubt that they are doing enough to please God when they are “doing their duty”?
Duty speaks of servanthood, not friendship. The servant only does what he is required to do and expects no thanks in return. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 17. “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” Duty is a dreary, thankless obligation which one does out of necessity, not out of joy. Taken to the extreme, duty is often violent, offensive and destructive to those around us. Is it any wonder that religion that wears the dreary robes of a slave is unappealing and has to be enforced under the threat of death?
Duty also speaks of obligation – a repaying of what we owe – a rendering of what is due. For the Christian, there is no way to repay the debt we owe for our salvation. What can we do that equals or surpasses in value the price that was paid for us – a price that is far greater than gold and silver? We can never, if we labor from now until the Lord comes again, begin to repay the debt we owe. We can never satisfy our obligation by doing our duty.
When the Lord died for our sins, He canceled all the debts we owed. We are forgiven, not bound under another obligation! The service we now freely perform for the Lord is not as an onerous duty, but as a joyous privilege! We are free, not to do as we please, but to enjoy the blessings of our friendship with our loving Father. We have the freedom to pursue the goal of attaining the full potential of our being – of being fully human – of coming into the full expression of our likeness to Him. We serve Him, not out of obligation, but from our relationship with Him as sons and daughters! Duty does not bring joy, but sonship does!
We are eternally thankful that you have given Jesus as the means of our salvation. We realize that we could never make up to you the debt we owe on account of our sin.
But rather than be crushed under a burden of duty, teach us to rejoice – and out of that rejoicing serve you with gladness.