In my last post, August 1, 2011 I said that being filled with and led by the Holy Spirit would give us the tools we need to develop discernment. That made me think of Galatians 5:25. Being led by the Spirit, requires that we make a conscious choice to follow the Spirit. This should not be considered a burdensome task, but part of the freedom of living for Christ. Let’s look at the context of this verse beginning today with Galatians 5:13-14.
Galatians 5:13 tells us that we were called to freedom; God never intended for us to be bound by religious legalism. But there is a wide span between legalism and lawlessness, and we should not use the freedom we have in Christ to indulge our sinful nature. Just as a rock climber needs a foothold to get to the next step, we provide a foothold to Satan if we give in to our sinful desires. Being free does not mean having no boundaries. A.T. Pierson has said:
True freedom is found only in obedience to proper restraint. A river finds liberty to flow, only between banks: without these it would only spread out into a slimy, stagnant pool. Planets, uncontrolled by law, would only bring wreck to themselves and to the universe. The same law which fences us in, fences others out; the restraints which regulate our liberty also insure and protect it. It is not control, but the right kind of control, and a cheerful obedience which make the free man.
Instead of using our freedom to indulge ourselves, we should use it to serve one another. We are of course expected to obey the laws of our land, (Romans 13:1) but we also need to obey the most important commandments of Christ, which are to love God with everything we have within us, and love others as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-40) Love should be the motive and the result of all Christian behaviour.
In these days when John Deere and Massey Ferguson are common names on the farm, the yoke has become an unfamiliar implement. Before the tractor was invented however, the yoke had been used for millennia to link oxen, horses or other animals together to plow the fields or to haul heavy loads. Although there are different types of yokes, they are essentially molded wooden beams used to bind animals together so that they work in unison. Often the yoke was molded so that a larger, more experienced animal could be linked with an animal that needed to be trained.
The idea of a yoke would have been well understood by Matthew’s audience, both literally and symbolically. They understood the concept of a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1) The religious leaders known as the Pharisees had taken God’s laws, the commandments given to Moses, and added to their own rules to them, rules that were so strict that they were a burden to follow. In Matthew 11:29-30 Jesus is telling his listeners that what He expected of them was not as difficult as the expectations of the Pharisees. It is not that our load is taken from us when we decide to partner with Jesus, but He helps us to bear it; if we yoke ourselves to Him, He will teach us and share our burdens. If we follow Him, learn from Him and do things His way, we will find rest for our souls. When we come to Jesus, we are free from the law, not the laws of the land we live in, (Romans 13:1) but the extra religious laws like those that the Pharisees imposed. Today, that would be seen as the legalism of some churches—burdens that God had not intended for us.
The Pharisees rejected Jesus because they didn’t feel that they needed Him; they believed that they were already righteous, because they followed the rules so closely. But to those who wanted it, those who felt weary and burdened, Jesus offered the gift of rest. (Matthew 11:28) We need to come to Him, to believe and to accept His gift. Let me emphasize that we are coming to the person of Jesus, not a church or a religion. Following religious rules is not the way to find rest for our souls. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) We can receive this gift of rest from no one else.