“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” – John 12:24
“The last enemy to be destroyed is death...Death is swallowed up in victory.” – 1 Corinthians 15:26, 54
"The greater the sin, the greater the mercy, the deeper the death and the brighter the rebirth.” - C. S. Lewis
"This story...has the very taste of primary truth." - J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Paradox of “My Yoke Is Easy, and My Burden Is Light”

5. Freedom in Obedience

“I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” – Psalm 119:32

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30, see also 1 John 5:3
This paradox in the Christian life is related to our paradoxical position as sinful creatures (see “The Paradox of Sinful Man”). Since we are fallen and sinful, we are naturally inclined towards disobedience (for example, abuse of the gift of sexuality, or taking vengeance into our own hands in our excessive hatred and anger). God commands us to stand strong against our sinful inclinations. This often seems restrictive and legalistic, when we are inclined to do otherwise. Yet obedience, according to Scripture, gives a new and better freedom, the freedom from sin that comes from new life in Christ (see “Saint Paul and C. S. Lewis: Death to Self and Life in Christ”).

You might look at it this way (thanks to Dr. Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College, for the analogy): A gorilla is free to play a piano with total autonomy. He has no restrictions at all – he can move his hands wherever he wants and play as hard as he wants. What could be better? Quite obviously, listening to the music of a seasoned pianist. He has a different and much better kind of freedom, the freedom of understanding the notes and chords so that he can play beautiful pieces of music. Nothing is preventing the gorilla from doing this, but he doesn’t understand the secret of knowing and understanding the rules of the piano.

¬Similarly, it can be a joy to learn God’s commands and, by his grace, obey them. Yes, there is, I suppose, some short pleasure in being able to bang on the keys however you want in life, but there is a greater joy in knowing and following Christ. What a joy it is to submit to God, surrender to God, give up oneself, and be given a new life in which one is no longer trapped in sin, but freed from the prison of pride – free to live without the fear of failure or the burden of having to prove anything, because Christ is already victorious, and our “success” as the world calls it, our honor, is in him. This freedom from pride, a freedom to live for something greater than oneself, is truly liberating – it is something I long for. Although it takes time, God will give to those who seek him joy in obeying his commands out of gratitude and honor for him. He gives the strength to obey with a heart of gladness and bears with us the burden of obeying his commands (Matthew 11:30) – because Christ himself was obedient unto death (Philippians 2:8).

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