TITLE: The Yoke of Christ
By Bill Mellen
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The Yoke of Christ
By Bill Mellen
"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)
For some, the Christian walk is like a journey through a minefield – one false step and their acceptance before God could be blown to pieces. Subsequently, many attempt to cover all their bases by clinging to works of the Law. Yet, just as salvation cannot come by works of the Law, sanctification cannot as well – Christ alone is all in all.
Jesus proclaimed that He alone is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” (John 14:6) and affirmed, “The truth will make you free.” (John 8:32) At Calvary, Jesus has most assuredly set the born-again believer free from all works of the law. “He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Col 2:13, 14) Yet, too many Christians today are being “subject again to the yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1b) by well intentioned but misguided attempts to advance their standing before God through persistent efforts to uphold the works of the Law. “For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” (Rom 10:3) As the late Chinese evangelist, Watchman Nee explained:
"Come to understand that God does not provide the way, the truth, and the life; neither does Christ merely use His power to restore man’s life or man’s sight. In the whole of John’s Gospel we see only one monumental fact, which is, that Christ is all these things. He says He is the light of the world – He does not say He is able to give people light. He says He is the bread of life – He does not say He will give us the bread of life. He says He is the way – He does not say He will guide us to walk in the way. He says He is the truth – He does not say He will teach us a truth. He says He is the true life – He does not say He will give us a life . . . . What we need to comprehend before God is that in our experience there is neither thing nor affair but only Christ: not that He gives us light, but that He is our light; not that He leads the way, but He is the way; not that He gives us a life, but He is our life; not that He teaches a truth, but He is the truth."
We must surrender in obedience to our Savior’s plea, “Take My yoke upon you,” (Matt 11:29) abandon all self-effort and trust solely in the righteousness of the Lamb of God. In the words of Dr. Stephen Olford, founder of the Stephen Olford Center for Biblical Preaching in Memphis, Tennessee: “What we need at this hour is anointed expository preaching that brings men and women to brokenness and helplessness and, therefore, to utter dependence on God. The Avis philosophy (‘We try harder’) is fatal in the Christian life. We do not live the Christ-life by trying, but rather by trusting”. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
The Plan for the Body
God set Moses, the Law-giver, apart to perform a vital function for the body of Christ. As believers today, we are members of that same body. “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ . . . .” (Rom 12:4, 5) Each member of the body plays a specific and essential role, and it is Jesus who assigns and sustains each task the body performs. “He [Jesus] is also head of the body, the church . . .” (Col 1:18); “ . . . from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (Eph 4:16) Hence, the ministries of Moses and all other servants of God have been built upon one foundation – “Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (Eph 2:20-22) It is Christ who edifies the body, supplying the life and liberty God has intended His children to enjoy.
The Purpose of the Law
We know that God used the ministry of Moses to introduce the Ten Commandments, along with many other moral statues, laws of societal behavior, dietary requirements and ceremonial and sacrificial practices. What vital function did this perform and how has it impacted the rest of the body? “Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions . . . until the seed would come to whom the promise has been made.” (Gal 3:19; emphasis mine) The moral Laws of God diagnosed the illness that plagued the body – sin. As Paul testified, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law.” (Rom 7:7) The accompanying laws served to treat the symptoms but could not provide the cure, “for the Law made nothing perfect . . .” (Heb 7:19). Furthermore, the Law set the sons of Israel apart as God’s “own possession among all the peoples” (Ex 19:5) and served as a tutor “for their instruction” (Ex 24:12), teaching them how to live obediently before their Holy Father until His redemptive plan was fulfilled. “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” (Gal 3:24)
The Problem with the Law
Due to the sinful nature of the body, the schoolmaster became a taskmaster who could only condemn the body to death. “ . . . For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on the law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” (Gal 3:21, 22) Thus, “when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Rom 7:9-11); for, “the wages of sin is death.” (Rom 6:23) So then, the Law placed the body under a curse. “For as many are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law to perform them’.” (Gal 3:10)
The Perfection of the Law
The Savior came to free the body from the curse of the Law, and cure its illness forever. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’.” (Gal 3:13) At Calvary, Christ’s body provided a substitute for the body of believers. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:21; emphasis mine) The Lamb of God offered his sinless body as an eternal sacrifice, thereby reconciling the debt of sin with payment-in-full, “so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us . . .” (Rom 8:7). “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17)
When you are born-again, you are “buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col 2:12). Hence, being alive in Christ, we are dead to the Law. As Paul taught:
"Or do you not know, brethren . . . that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? For the married women is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God." (Rom 7:1-4)
Moreover, “do you not know that all of us, who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3, 4; emphasis mine). Rev. Lester Roloff, the late country preacher of The People’s Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, illustrated it this way: Imagine a policeman pulling over a hearse and citing the passenger in the coffin for speeding. That is silly you say. Why? After all, the speed limit is clearly posted – it is the law. Yes, but it is silly because the passenger is dead, and so the law no longer applies.
The Promise of the Spirit
Following the resurrection of Jesus, the tutor, which was the Law, was overshadowed by the Helper, who is the Spirit; “but now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal 3:25). God’s people are no longer commanded to keep the letter of the Law, but to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Rom 7:6); “ . . . as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3:6) Once we receive the Spirit through saving faith in Jesus, we have been declared to be righteous before God apart from the Law: “Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith’. However, the Law is not of faith . . .” (Gal 3:11, 12). “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Rom 3:28); “for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Gal 2:21)
The establishment of the Law was truly glorious; after all, God, leaving no room for human error, punctuated the importance of the Ten Commandments by miraculously engraving them into tablets of stone with His own glorious finger – twice! God surely wants the believer to always remember His past works; more importantly, He wants His children to rejoice in His present work – the cross. Engraving tablets of stone cannot compare to the miracle of resurrecting Christ from the grave, or the glory of indwelling every new believer with the Spirit of the arisen Christ. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
"But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it." (2 Cor 3:7-10)
Thus, the believer is no longer being led by the ministry of the Law, but by the more glorious ministry of the Spirit. “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Gal 5:18) The Spirit has broken the shackles of the Law, which chained us to unworthiness and shame, so that we may possess the joyful assurance of acceptance as children of the Father. “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Rom 8:14-16)
The Power of the Spirit
Jesus has, then, perfectly fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law, thereby making it impossible for the born-again believer to be pronounced “guilty as charged” for any transgression of the Law. As a result, the ministry of the Spirit has bestowed upon each the liberty to establish a personal, one-on-one relationship with Holy God. “Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away . . . but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor 3:12-17) Many misinterpret this liberty to be a license to sin. Adrian Rodgers, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee, once told of a man who approached him following a sermon on grace. The man accusingly said, “If what you preach is true, then you can sin all you want to”. To which, Pastor Rodgers replied, “Sir, I believe you are right. I can sin all I want to. In fact, I sin more than I want to; but you see . . . Jesus has changed my want-to”. 
God has not disregarded the Law: “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18). Many objectives of the Law have been accomplished in full. Yet, as Matthew Henry, a 17th and early 18th Century minister in Chester, England, explained, “Many of these commandments are moral, and of perpetual obligation”. Hence, as Jesus declared, “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to so the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven . . . .” (Matt 5:19) However, through the indwelling of the Spirit, God has deposited His Law into heart of every believer – fulfilling the prophetic words of Jeremiah: “I will put My Law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer 31:33). Thus, we are a “letter of Christ”, having His commandments “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor 3:3). As Matthew Henry explained, “He once wrote his laws to them [God’s people], now he will write his laws in them; that is, he will give them understanding to know and believe his law; he will give them memories to retain them; he will give them hearts to love them and consciences to recognize them; he will give them courage to profess them and power to put them into practice; the whole habit and frame of their souls shall be a table and transcript of the law of God.” God has indeed changed our “want-to” and we now rejoice with the psalmist, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.” (Ps 40:8)
It is no longer the tutor of the Law that instructs and convicts the heart of the believer, but the Spirit of God Himself. Through the prayerful study and preaching of the Scripture, we are able to discern the direction of the God’s will through the “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12 KJV) of the Spirit. Henceforth, we are released from the burden of staying within the bounds of the Law by our own strength; instead, we rest full confidence in the power of the Spirit. “Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” (2 Cor 3:4, 5) “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)
The Protection of the Spirit
Through the Spirit, who has the power to direct our actions, each moment and in every situation, we find protection from the “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph 6:16). “But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” (2 Thess 3:3) The believer today does not necessarily have to be confronted with a “Thou Shalt Not” from the Law to recognize sin; the Spirit is faithful to convict the heart. Therefore, “sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Rom 6:14) As Watchman Nee once wrote, “The cross not only interdicts our sin, it also inhibits our activity. It curbs our action as well as checks our sin”.
If obedient to the Spirit’s guidance, we will never abide outside of the Law. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Gal 5:16-19) So then, the Spirit will never allow a child of God to consistently practice the works of the flesh and simultaneously live a joy-filled life. For, the conviction of sin by the Spirit will eventually yield the plea of the psalmist, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,” (Ps 51:12) from the repentant heart of the believer. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever, Amen.” (Jude 1:24, 25)
The Practice of Freedom
God has set mighty and fulfilling ventures before every one of His children to embark on: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do . . . .” (John 14:12) To this end, we are to use our freedom in Christ, not as a license to sin and indulge the flesh, but as an opportunity to carry out the work of the Father: “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.” (1 Pet 2:16) “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Gal 5:13) Likewise, in the newness of the Spirit, we are to exercise our freedom in works of faith, not in works of the Law. “So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” (Gal 3:5); “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Rom 7:5, 6) Furthermore, we are to be motivated to action by our Lord’s promise, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.” (Rev 22:12) His reward will not be earned by those attempting to keep the works of the Law, but by the obedient and faith-filled children of God who allow the Spirit to work in and through them – “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1:11)
The Priority of the Believer
Freedom from the Law has been bought with a great price – God’s only begotten Son. Only by God’s merciful grace, through faith in the Son, are we able to serve in the newness of the Spirit. With a gift of such value comes the vital responsibility to vigilantly guard it from those who seek to take it away. “Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.” (2 Tim 1:14) No one is able to rob us of our liberty unless we surrender it. Tragically, many believers today (often at the urging of church leaders) unintentionally surrender their liberty in an attempt to please God through works of the Law (refer to Appendix). Moreover, believers frequently place themselves under the bondage of a self-inflicted system of works. They attend three worship services weekly, plus Bible studies, plus teach Sunday school, plus visitation, plus choir practice, plus . . . . These activities attract a child of God eager to be blessed because they represent works “we can do” that have the appearance of bearing fruit for God. Such things are not wrong for us to do (quite the contrary); however, if the Spirit does not direct them, we will become enslaved by a burden to do them.
As a result, so much time is spent staying active for God – no time is spent with God. As Watchman Nee described:
"There exist two kinds of life among the children of God: one kind is full of things while the other kind is Christ. In appearance they look almost alike. Hence it is extremely difficult to locate their differences. Both may speak of humility, gentleness, love, or forgiveness. They are hardly distinguishable outwardly. Even so, the one is but a chain of things, whereas the other is Christ Himself. How completely distinct they are inwardly. Let me state it bluntly: if yours be things, you do not need the cross; but if yours be Christ, you learn to have the cross."
God desires our fellowship foremost. Time spent quietly alone with our Heavenly Father ought to take first priority in our lives; “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33) Fruit of eternal value will only be found within the confine of a growing personal relationship with Almighty God – nurtured by prayer, praise and thanksgiving, and nourished by a steady diet of His Word. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6)
The Production of Fruit
Our strivings to serve God in our own strength and on our own schedule produce only unprofitable and sinful fruit, which will receive no reward from the Father – “ . . . all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags . . .” (Isaiah 64:6 KJV). Hence, it is foolish to create our own opportunities to serve. Instead, we must yield our schedules to the Lord each day, and trust His sovereign Spirit to place tasks on our hearts as He sees wise. Again in the words of Watchman Nee:
"Many difficulties arise just at this point – that God’s children consider it well if they do good, yet they fail to realize that their good is merely a thing. In the presence of God the whole issue is Christ. Christ is that good thing, Christ is the life. If He remains quiet, how can we move? We can easily utter many comforting words, but if He does not speak we ourselves dare not speak. For if we do we will touch death, and thus are we inwardly weakened and shattered. We may without effort help people in many concerns and earn the praise of men as being tender-hearted; yet when we set about to performs these helps we immediately feel deflated within. Herein do we see the cross: that whatever matters we may accomplish by our doing good does not require the cross; it is only when we allow the Lord to live in our lives so that He may be our things and our all do we need the cross. If He makes no move, how can we move? Oh how we need to ask God to deliver us from our good works just as we ask Him for deliverance from our sins. How often it is relatively easier to be delivered from sin (since sin is condemned) than to be delivered from the natural life (since to many the latter is neither condemned nor rejected)."
If we patiently abide in the Spirit by faith alone, God will indeed provide us with ample opportunities to produce fruit of eternal value. “I am the true vine and My Father is the vinedresser . . . . Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1-5) Additionally, this kind of fruit bearing will be accomplished with strength, joy and sense of fulfillment – “those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:31) Within the boundaries of such a relationship, we will soon grow like the “seed in the good soil” that are able to “bear fruit with perseverance.” (Luke 8:15)
The debt of sin and the ransom for our freedom from the Law has been paid-in-full by Jesus Christ, the matchless, eternal Lamb of God. This is the Good News, the glorious hope of the Gospel:
"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did; sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Rom 8:1-5)
So then, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1) In the insightful words of Watchman Nee:
"For Christ is the sum of all spiritual things. Christ is our righteousness – He has not given us a righteousness. Christ is our sanctification – He has not granted us a thing called power to make us holy. Christ is our redemption – He has not offered us a redemption. Christ is the way – He has not opened to us another way in which to walk. Christ is the truth – He has not presented some truth before us for us to understand. Christ is the life – He has not conferred on us a thing called life. Brothers and sisters, as we travel along God’s course, we will discover more and more that all God’s grace there is only one grace, of all God’s gifts there is only one gift. That grace is Christ, that gift is also Christ. Thank God, day after day He is showing us how Christ is all-inclusive. Formerly we thought of the Lord as our Savior; now we can say He is not only our Savior but also our salvation."
How will the Lord find us when He returns? Will we be wholeheartedly devoted to our religion, or deeply committed to our relationship with Christ? Will we be laboring arduously to keep the works of the Law, or quietly listening for the Spirit’s call? Will we merely know of God, or will we be known by Him? For the Savior said, he “will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matt 7:20-23)
Let us rest from our works, allowing Christ to become our Sabbath by humbly surrendering to His finished work at the cross – “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). So then, struggle no longer under the burden of keeping the laws intended for the sons of Israel – “for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom 10:4) Faithfully, open your heart to the Spirit’s call – “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Cor 3:17) Continually, yield to obedience – “you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness.” (Rom 6:16) Unwaveringly, abide in God’s grace – “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works . . . .” (Eph 2:8) Finally, above all, heed the appeal of the Savior: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30)
 Watchman Nee, Christ The Sum of All Spiritual Things (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers Inc., 1973), 58-59.
 Stephen F. Olford, Not I, But Christ (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 1995), 136.
 Lester Roloff, radio sermon preached in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1997.
 This statement is not original. It was assimilated from the scholarship of another (author’s name unknown).
 Paraphrased from Adrian Rodgers in a televised sermon preached at Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn. in 2000.
 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Modern Ed., vol. 1, Genesis to Deuteronomy (n.p.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 440.
 Ibid., 6.743.
 Nee, Sum of All Spiritual Things, 84.
 Ibid., 84-85.
 Ibid., 38.
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