The Yoke's On You - Freedom In Christ Or Slavery To Sin?

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 attitude that results from being raised in "the age of reason" where anything of the heart is portrayed as naive 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 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.