The Yoke of Slavery

 

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 5:15-21see 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.

Read that over again if you must; read it as many times as you need to in order to fully grasp this amazing concept. We are no longer slaves to sin, therefore do not allow it to throw a yoke upon you and carry the condemnation it has in the Law. We are under grace, not Law. Paul continues, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:16-18). We are no longer slaves of sin, but slaves of righteousness!
Now, do not think of “slave” in the modern use of the word. Like Paul says in verse nineteen, he was speaking “in human terms because of [our] natural limitations.” In the original Greek, the words “slave” and “servant” are the same word, δούλος (DOO-los). So this “slavery” is not the chattel slavery we often think of, but rather one of service. In the Old Testament, an Israelite would become a servant/slave by choice if they were unable to pay a debt to a creditor. Their service as a servant/slave would last for 6 years and be freed on the 7th (Exodus 21:2) while they were paid, fed, and had a place to live, and upon completion of their service they would go back to their original lives, their debt paid in full. In fact, some were treated so well and loved to serve so much that they continued the service/slavery for the rest of their lives. With the yoke of slavery that Paul denotes, one serves sin. But for the Christian, this yoke has been broken by Christ, and we now serve Him.
Thus, we are servants of righteousness—the righteousness of Christ we receive through faith (Romans 3:22). The yoke of Christ is His righteousness. Take this yoke upon yourself and learn from Him because He is meek and humble and He will give you rest. The yoke of sin is hard and heavy, but the yoke of Christ’s righteousness and grace is easy and light. Whenever you are struggling with the burden of the sin that may enslave you, remember these words by St. Paul in the Spirit and especially the words of Christ. Jesus Christ defeated your sin on the cross, and He allows you to come to Him and rest in His grace as He helps you to cast these sins away.

Ricky Beckett

Garrick Sinclair "Ricky" Beckett first started his Christian writing on a blog titled "The Lutheran Column" where he hires proficient Lutheran writers to convey biblical truth. Along with the blog, he also writes poetry, string quartets in music composition, enjoys doing photography, reading, and playing video games. Ricky is a graduate from Concordia University-Ann Arbor from the Pre-Seminary program with a major in Christian Thought and a minor in Theological Languages. Currently, Ricky is a seminarian at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis as he works on his Masters of Divinity to become a pastor in the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod).

2 Comments

  1. Aaron Siakah on July 21, 2022 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks for the teaching. Really good for consumption.

  2. Kim Klein on February 1, 2022 at 2:08 pm

    Thank you Ricky for this word today. It ministered to me as I wonder whether to hang onto or get rid of a strict sponsor who sets unnecessary rules and restrictions around my food addiction. Rules seemingly not related to the food. I want to fight the food addiction and know that, in Christ, I need to fight this idol. But I’m sensing a new kind of guilt and bondage as I try to live up to her expectations and demands and find myself lying to her more and more and now have the guilt that lying also brings… Gotten myself in a pickle with letting my eating get so out of control but not sure this food addiction group is the way out. Help Lord!

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