Grace. It's hard.
One of the most common criticisms of Christianity is that it is an “easy way out” of the frustrating reality that life is painful and difficult. Christians, so the argument goes, buy into a fairy tale because they’re too strong to handle the truth. It’s a criticism that goes back at least as far as Nietzsche.
In response, Christians have often said that Christianity is anything but easy. “Restrain your lust, restrain your anger, restrain your greed, restrain your pride? These are easy things? Wouldn’t it be easier to deny God and yield to our impulses?” Though this reply is on target toward the objection, I worry that it misidentifies what is truly challenging about Christianity, especially since these requirements are common to all major religions.
See, although moral purity is difficult, moral purity isn’t the hardest thing about obeying Jesus. The hardest thing is emulating God’s ridiculous, foolish, impractical grace: forgiving enemies, giving to people who have behaved stupidly, and putting your own welfare at risk for those who won’t appreciate it.
These commands aren’t just hard, they’re downright irrational, which is why we don’t do them. In truth, we all secretly believe that these most distinctive characteristics of God are actually ridiculous and embarrassing, a judgment we share with Jonah, the Pharisees, and the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal sons. Hence, the real mark of Christian obedience isn’t personal moral purity, but a life which imitates the absurd grace of God. That’s why real Christian repentance must begin here, not with those other sins.