They tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them. Mattthew 23:4
The first kind of yoke that keeps God’s children in bondage is, 1.) The religious yoke.
Jesus came down hard on the Pharisees when He told them that they were placing a heavy burden of rules upon the people, adding more and more laws that ‘The Law’ did not include. The people labored under it. Jesus called that burden ‘heavy’ and referred to His own burden as ‘light’.
As a young monk, Martin Luther confessed that he didn’t love God, he hated Him. He felt that he just couldn’t please Him. Luther beat himself, fasted for days, slept outside in the cold, and all because He felt the guilt of his own sin. He couldn’t sleep at night because he thought, “Can I possibly do everything that God requires of me?” His mentor told him that confession is to bring relief to those burdened with guilt, not add more. But Luther was so bound up by a religious yoke that, though he confessed constantly, he found little relief. While some around him made their complete confession in just a few minutes, Luther would go on and on for hours. Nagging guilt caused him to be an overachiever; so much so that he advanced in the ranks of the monastery very quickly. It’s a reminder to me that perceived holiness is often driven by forces other than a love for Christ.
How do I know if I suffer under a religious yoke? I have a nagging feeling that I’m not good enough. I have no peace. I don’t feel forgiven. I don’t believe I’ve paid enough yet for my sins. I feel I have a long way to go to prove to God that I’m sincere. I keep myself insanely busy to dull the ache of unworthiness. I become an overachiever with a need to eclipse the successes of those around me. I need to be God’s ‘teacher’s pet’. At that point, I am the older brother in the prodigal son story who kept all the rules but was probably only looking out for his own inheritance. He felt his father owed him; which is easy to feel if I’ve been a rule keeper. Under a religious yoke, let hard times come and my underlying attitude can be, “God, how could you? After how good I’ve been?”
If I labor under the yoke of religion, I believe that my good behavior proves to God that I’m really a good child. I am bound to the law and ignore the fact that Jesus already fulfilled it. He did it because I couldn’t. Jesus took my sin, annihilated every reason I’d have to perform, and gave me His righteousness. I’m invited to rest in my salvation.
If you suffer under the torment of a religious yoke, how do you escape it? Repent of self-exaltation and minimizing the power of the cross. Affirm again that you have been saved by faith alone – which is where Martin Luther ended up. He began to see that the scriptures were really the language of a loving Father to little children. He was free to worship and celebrate such a great God who provided such a great Salvation from self.
Break the chains of the yoke of religion for every one who is bound. Amen