It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
We are free! As Christians, we have been delivered from the curse the Law pronounces on the sinner who has been unsuccessfully striving to achieve his own righteousness. We now embrace Christ, His righteousness imputed to us, and the salvation granted through Him by grace and are justified and righteous by His merit alone (Romans 5:15-21; see also Philippians 3:9). St. Paul exhorts us to stand firm in this grace because of the undeserved blessing of being free from the Law and the flesh. A better translation for “subject again” is “to be burdened/oppressed by” because of its connection to a yoke. A yoke refers to the wooden crosspiece that is used to control domesticated animals, fastening it over the neck of two animals and attached to a plow or cart that they are to pull. Below is an image of what it looks like:
The Jews thought (and still think) of “the yoke of the Law” as a blessed thing—the essence of true religion and salvation. Paul, however, argued that for those who pursued it as a way of salvation, the Law was actually a yoke of slavery because all the Law does is reveal to us our sin and thus condemn us, hence the imagery he used. The Law cannot save us, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ does.
The use of the Law is to make our sins known, and immediately following must come the Gospel, which is the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins through the sacrifice of Christ. When Christ died on the cross, our sins died with Him. When He rose from the dead, our sins were left in the dark, empty tomb. This is why Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Look at the image above again. What those two animals are carrying looks heavy, right? They’re not only pulling the straw, which is relatively light; but they are also pulling the carriage itself and the human on top of it all, plus the heavy yoke on their necks. Without Christ, the Law binds us and casts the weight of our heavy sin upon us—all our failures, our self-doubts, our self-loathing, anything that causes us misery. Not only do we feel these things, but we also lack the ability to cast the weight of our sins off us. Jesus, however, takes the yoke of our sin off, casts our heavy sins away, and He invites us to carry His light and easy yoke of peace and meekness. In Christ, the shackles are off and we are free in Him. Read these revealing words by St. Paul in Romans 6:3-7, 10-11, 14:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ were also baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin… For the death He died He died to sin, once for all, but the life He lives He lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus… For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.