“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
Before I came to Christ, I viewed Christianity as a strict religion based on a bunch of rules and commands. And if I was honest with myself, I would never be able to follow them; let alone would I want to follow them in the first place. It was a “yoke of slavery” that I had no interest in succumbing to.
The term “yoke” that was often referred to in the Bible represents two things. In the natural, it was a wooden harness fitted on the neck of oxen to bind them together, that they would be mutually guided to plow the land or haul a load. In the spiritual, the image of the yoke was often used in Jewish tradition to describe the Law’s role of guiding people in righteousness.
So what is this “yoke of slavery” that Paul is referring to? It’s enslavement by the Old Testament rules and commands (the Law) that God had specifically given to Israel to set them apart as His holy people. The Law was essentially judge, jury, and executioner, as the Israelites were bound to withhold this law that was humanly impossible to withhold.
But Christ came into the world to set us, Jews and Gentiles alike, free! The Son of God gave Himself as the final, all-sufficient sacrifice on the cross, thus fulfilling the impossible standards of righteousness required by the Law. He freed us from the yoke of slavery and from pursuing justification (being acquitted from sin) based on rules and regulations that we can never satisfy on our own. He gave us a new life conceived through forgiveness and grace.
For by grace we have been saved through faith in Jesus, not by any means of our own doing, but as a free gift from God (Eph. 2:8). God’s Law is good, but no matter how hard we try to follow the laws in the Bible, we will fail, because we are an imperfect people trying to live up to the standards of a perfect God. We can never earn salvation no matter how “good” we are or how “hard” we work at it; and even then, we will never deserve it. But those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior can rejoice, because He paid the price to set us free!
In the same way, our motivation to live right should not stem from fear or from the pursuit of perfection, but instead from our genuine love for God and desire to worship Him. Repentance should not come from the bondage of guilt or shame, but from a heart that cherishes our relationship with our Heavenly Father above all else.
To love God and love others are the new commands that Jesus has given us the freedom to live by. We can either choose Christ, or choose impossible standards that enslave us both in the spiritual and natural realms.
I choose Christ, and will stand firm and free in His grace.