The Yoke's On You: Slavery to Sin or Freedom in Christ

By Aaron Welch, LMHC, NCC

God has really been speaking to me lately. Yes, really. Amazing as it sounds for a man who has been a Christian for 31 years, I am just now learning that God still speaks to us, if we will only listen. For years, I don’t think I fully believed this…..that we could really hear the Lord’s voice. I just thought that God only spoke through the scripture….an attitude that results from being raised in “the age of reason” where anything of the heart is portrayed as naïve at best and, at worst, a trick of the devil. It never dawned on me, until recently, that this attitude does not fit the God portrayed in those very scriptures. A God that actually states, when choosing David as king, that He looks MOST to the heart, while man looks at the externals. A God who continued to speak to and through the disciples even after Christ ascended to His throne. The question I never asked myself is, “why would He stop now”? Well, I’m not sure why it took me so long (I guess I’m a little slow on the uptake) but I’m overjoyed that God is showing me that He does continue to speak to us, if we will learn to listen. I thank God for the writings of men who really knew Him and walked with Him. Men like Tozer, Lewis, Thomas a Kempis, and others. It is so refreshing to begin to really know God….not just know about God. I can see why God told Moses that nobody could look fully at Him or they would die because just going into a deeper walk with Him and hearing His voice has been almost overwhelming to me at times. How awesome that He is available to us!
One of the areas that He has really been working with me on is what it really means to be free in Christ. As a therapist, I see Christian men and women every day that truly are still slaves to their anger, their habits, their vices……to their sins. I look at the church in general and I still see so many people who look as if their yokes are truly heavy, not light as Jesus promised His yoke was. I even look at my own life and history and wonder why even my life has felt like such a heavy burden over the past few years. If Jesus’ yoke is light, if we are to truly experience freedom in Him, why is it that many Christians seem to lack that freedom?
Well, God is still working on me in understanding all of this more fully but I’ll tell you what He has shown me so far…
It is simply about where our focus is.
I have written previously about my opinion that much of the church’s teaching focuses on behavior control, or of how we can overcome certain sins we struggle with. I cannot tell you how many messages I have heard over the years on “3 steps to overcome sexual temptation” or “4 ways to tame the tongue” or “the 5 practices that enable us to be more obedient servants to God” or things like that. We certainly mention that Christ wants a personal relationship with us but even that teaching is intertwined with making sure we have devotions every morning (and we all know that God is more present early in the morning J ) and that we read a certain amount of scripture each year and other “behavior-oriented” teachings. But what I’m hearing from God is that this preoccupation with behavior is why we are remaining slaves to sin. It’s the focus. The tunnel-vision. I really cannot think of a better word than, once again, PREOCCUPATION. When we focus our hearts and our eyes on our behavior, on how we mess up, or even on trying NOT to mess up, this enables Satan to keep us shackled to sin. Even focusing on NOT sinning keeps us in slavery to it. Can we deny this, really? On one hand, if we are focused on our sin because we are indulging in it, then we know that we are allowing ourselves to be chained to that behavior. Few would argue with me on that point, I’m sure. We see this in those who are stuck in the addictive cycle, whether it is to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or sexual affairs. Much of their lives revolve around where they will get their next “fix”. It is blatant slavery to that sin. But, my friends, listen to me. When most of our focus is on how we will NOT sin, it still enslaves us. The truth is that we can only stop sinning through sheer willpower for so long. No matter how hard we try, we will eventually mess up. This is why the world needed Christ, because we were hopeless in ever trying to live up to the standards of the Law.
Yet, what God is showing me is that, much like the Galatian church, we are still trying to do our best to live up to the “standards” of both the Old Testament Law (the Ten Commandments) and a new law we have set up, based on New Testament principles of behavior. So much of our focus, both in and out of the church, is on how we can obey those commands. Even the world places this pressure on us. For instance, if a high-profile minister is caught in sin, the world jumps on his inability to live up to the very standards he teaches about. But that’s the point! We cannot live up to those standards. By trying to do so we are emulating the Galatian Christians, who were trying to get new converts to obey the Law even after accepting Christ. Even worse, by focusing on how we can keep these standards and by teaching others the same (and that it is actually possible) we mirror the very leaders that Christ was the most harsh with, the Pharisees. Christ said they placed a HEAVY yoke on the people, one that they were unable to bear. Without meaning to, I believe that many of us as leaders, preachers, teachers, elders, and laymen are doing the same. By focusing on behavior, we are placing a yoke on people; a yoke of shame (believing they are bad at their very core) caused by an emphasis on standards that we will never be able to live up to. This is slavery, pure and simple, because we are teaching people to either focus on what they are doing or we are teaching them that they are shameful beings, incapable of ever being who God wants them to be. This is a focus of bondage, and it is why most Christians have no clue about what it means to be free in Christ.
The freedom that Jesus spoke of is when our focus is completely different. That freedom is found when we focus our hearts on walking with God. It sounds so simple and yet rarely do I see it taught in detail. What does it mean to daily walk with Christ? How do we hear His voice? What does this relationship really look like? I fear that this kind of in-depth focus on our walk with God is glossed over because many of us as leaders aren’t really walking with Him ourselves. I don’t mean that as an attack at all. The truth is, as I noted to begin with, I am only just now beginning to walk with Him on this level. I’m confident that this article is incomplete and imperfect because these are truths I am just now beginning to understand. I’m hopeful (in that confident hope we can have in Christ) that He will continue to flesh out what all this means in the coming months and years. Yet, for now, what He is showing me is that freedom comes when we stop worrying about and focusing on our behavior and, instead, focus on our walk with God. Freedom is when we learn how to “give up” our hearts to Him and submit to His work in our lives. It is when we learn to slow down and be silent before Him, enabling Him to speak to every part of our lives. It is when we learn what it means to hear His voice…….a journey that does not seem natural to many in this age of “cognitive” religion.
You see, this is where the freedom comes in. When we focus on Him and learn to submit, HE will take care of our behavior as a natural result of walking with Him. As a counselor and as a minister, I am less concerned about people’s actions and more concerned about their heart. I know that a pornography addict, for instance, cannot control his impulses for very long in his own willpower. But, if we can work on turning his heart’s focus to his relationship with God, then I know that God will work on the healing and transformation of that heart……and his behavior will change as a result. The “freedom” is in the submission…….the releasing of our will and heart to God. That is the lighter yoke…..that we allow God to carry the burden of changing our hearts and behavior. That we allow Him to remove our shame (there is no condemnation in Christ) and we begin to see how valuable we are to Him. The freedom is in our heart’s knowledge (not just head knowledge) that we are so valuable to God that He desire’s to walk with us moment-to-moment in spite of our sins (thanks to Christ). The yoke is light because HE is carrying us….we are not carrying the yoke ourselves.
The illustration that comes to mind is when Peter stepped out of the boat to walk to Jesus on the water. Remember, it was when his focus turned to external things (the waves, the wind, the circumstances) that he began to sink. He could not, no matter how diligently he tried, do this on his own. However, when his focus was on Christ, he was able to walk on the water. It was all about his focus.
The same is true for us. No matter how hard we work at it, we can never control our behavior for long. Even Paul testifies to this in Romans as he describes his own struggle with sin and behavior. However, Paul writes that we are no longer “slaves” to sin…not that we no longer sin. That is a powerful distinction that should free us up from shame and bondage. But only if we teach people how to walk with God. Only if we stop focusing so much on sin-control and more on hearing God’s voice and submitting to Him. Not just that people should have this kind of relationship, but showing them how to live in this way, day-by-day.
We really can lead people to freedom in Christ. We can show people how to escape the chains of addiction and sin. Not that we have the freedom to sin but that, because of finally realizing our value to God, we are free NOT to sin. We can lead people to this by changing our focus, and theirs. By giving up our need for control, submitting in relationship to Him, and letting Him carry the burden of changing us.
Until then, the yoke’s on us.

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