The “Easy Yoke” & “Light Burden” of Discipleship – Part II
“Come to Me, all you 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…” -Matt. 11:28-30
We Are Not Called to Comfort, But to Obedience
Due to a plague of prevailing negative mindsets, many disciples misunderstand what Jesus meant when He spoke of His yoke being “easy” and His burden being “light.” To clarify, “easy” in this Greek context is chrestos, meaning “useful, good, better, gracious, kind”; and “light” is elaphros/elatton, meaning “to carry less, small, least.”(1)
Our affluent Western culture corrupts our perception of Jesus’ tenor, tempting us to interpret hard passages (and deceivingly simple ones) according to our own standards, not God’s. Too often we are quick to satisfy ourselves with our own understanding of Scripture (as it accommodates our preference) rather than humbly and eagerly listening to what the Spirit is truly saying.
Sadly, most Christians choose to keep life (and their discipleship) manageable and safe by serving God on their own terms, not His. They are not searching for “burning bushes” to investigate, so they ignore, reject, and miss out when God moves or speaks. “Otherwise,” they say, “I would have to leave my comfort zone, which could lead to undesired lifestyle changes, which would be very inconvenient or uncomfortable as my life rhythms are already being established. So I will just keep my head down and do the best that I can.” Indeed, there is no need to invite further change when such “Christians” determine for themselves what God’s will is for their lives. Better for them to just watch Netflix, play video games, sell out to career and family, and pursue contentment–oh, and thank God for His goodness while playing church along the way. Certainly, so the thinking goes, God wants everyone to live life abundantly without any pesky burdens! And surely, being a loving God, He will excuse weak or non-existent discipleship because He understands that busyness and the cares of the world are the bane of the West. Besides, heaven is the endgame, right?(2)
I have even heard some express that they would be happy to just slide into heaven by grace alone without any regard or interest concerning the crowns they might receive (via fulfilled obedience) to cast at Jesus’ feet. This is dispiriting, for such a heart attitude is not one that loves God, but one that is full of fear and loves self to the point of believing in Christ for the benefit of saving one’s skin rather than serving one’s Savior! Souls in this state have not progressed beyond belief to actionable conviction. Any confidence they carry rests in what they know, not Who they know.
If we are more intimately familiar with our fleshly wants than with the Spirit of God, yet claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, then we are in fact deceiving ourselves and mocking God (Galatians 6:7): “For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Galatians 6:8-9).
Regrettably, many weak disciples fail to mature spiritually for failure to “sow to the Spirit.” And it is the Spirit who sets us free from bondage to all that is less than Christlikeness, including the bondage of righteous deeds–a result of the wearisome aims to be righteous in our own strength.
The Cost of Discipleship
Contrary to the pervasive reasoning outlined above, our perception of God is determined by our proximity to Him and our worship of God is determined by our perception of Him. Therefore our worship should increase over time per our growing perception of God, which warrants that our worship of and intimacy with Him be greater every month and every year, proving (or disproving) our spiritual maturity.
I know scores of Christians who live as if Jesus’ commandments are burdensome–a mindset born of unintentional unbelief and a failure to truly follow Jesus’ way of life in every aspect of life. Is it even possible to live such a Christ-saturated life? Indeed it is. If our faith is in Christ, we must necessarily believe that He knew how to live. Why, then, do so few Christians display the spiritual fruit that Jesus promises will be evident in the lives of those who are His?
The apostle John wrote that Jesus’ commandments are not burdensome, and that if our faith in Christ is genuine we will overcome the world via His victory over death (1 John 5:3-5). This is not to say, however, that Jesus’ disciples will not be burdened; for what is burdensome is the reality of a cursed world and a sinful human nature ever warring against the spirit and truth, making it impossible to worship God in spirit and in truth without disciplining oneself toward overcoming such burdens by way of Jesus’ victory and the Spirit’s power (John 4:23; 1 John 4:13).
Spiritual discipline is not for the super spiritual, it is for anyone who would call Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior. In examining Jesus’ life we see Him actively implementing purposeful and prayerful solitude, simple and sacrificial living, relational engagement with believers and nonbelievers, constructive confrontation with both believers and nonbelievers, intense study and contemplation of God’s Word and ways, and intentional but unhurried service to others. We were created and commanded to live this way, His way. But we rarely enjoy the quality and power of a life promised to us by our Creator because we treat His teachings and example merely as an encouraging ideal and an impractical and unlikely reality. Then we justify our failure and appeal to an unholy level of grace that excuses us from the necessary travail and commitment of true discipleship. Thus, we miss the “easy yoke” and “light burden” of sharing in both Christ’s suffering and in His fortifying fellowship.
Does Your Heart Break For What Breaks the Heart of Christ?
Here is wisdom: Christ’s “yoke” is His direction, and His “burden” consists of the responsibilities and awareness that He has charged one with according to His purpose (2 Tim. 1:9-10). As one walks obediently with Christ in the Spirit, He will share revelation and wonders, including burdens and authority that are hard to bear–and impossible to bear alone.
Jeremiah did not receive prophecies of doom with a smile; John did not avidly receive camaraderie and revelation from Jesus without seasons of anguish; and Paul joyfully but frustratingly and painfully suffered because of His love for Jesus. Yet neither hung their head and complained that the God they served was unfair or unloving, for their discipleship was of a severe nature that did not allow them to hold fast to this life and its vanities. They did not cloak themselves in a deceptive form of grace that did not come from God.
Rather, their complaints reflected God’s own–that people’s hearts are full of idols and their hands covered in blood for lack of love and forsaking God’s will to the point of denying their crosses (Matt. 10:38). Yet, for these men, such complaints were sacrificed on the altar of God’s Presence, and the reward was the Creator’s friendship.
Consider the vast difference between knowing what a burden is conceptually, and then literally receiving and sharing a burden with Jesus. Such burdens are impossible to bear without Him, yet are a privilege to receive though they last for a season–only to return for another season! The true disciple understands this, for one’s heart learns to break for that which breaks the heart of Christ… and without actually sharing (spiritually, physically, mentally, emotionally) His burden for the lost, the imprisoned, the hurt, the lonely, the prideful, the poor, the blind, the weak, the lame, the pretentious, and the foolish, one cannot truly know Him.
Jesus’ yoke here is “easy” in that it becomes easy to follow His lead without fleshly resistance; His burden is “light” in that He bears such in solidarity with the willing disciple toward unified intercession together with Him and the Holy Spirit. We learn obedience only through suffering (Hebrews 5:8). And the reality of sharing in Christ’s burdens is a fulfillment of “suffering with Him” (Rom. 8:17). Moreover, the joy that is born of this holy solidarity wholly recognizes pain and suffering as a part of life in a cursed world, and it never seeks comfort beyond the cloak of Jesus’ grace where there is only condemnation (Rom. 8:1).
The Prophetic Burden
Also, prophetically, Jesus’ burden is “light” in that such is an illumination into the very heart of God. Recall Jesus’ words to His disciples just prior to their return to Bethany and the resurrection of Lazarus: “If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks in the night, he stumbles because the light is not in him” (John 11:9-10). The instruction here is easily lost as human reason assumes an obvious lesson in salvation from sin–that though we recognize our Savior (as hearers only), we may still walk in darkness because of pride and pretense (not being doers of the Word; James 1:22).
However, the deeper and more important instruction concerns absolute Christlikeness in that it is easy to follow Jesus’ ideals toward godly living as long as they are obvious, manageable, and convenient. But it is not easy to follow Jesus’ conduct in that such requires inconvenient sacrifice and an intimacy with Him that even many disciples do not have, or strive for. Hebrews 12:14 enlightens us to “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord…” Said “holiness” is synonymous with Christlikeness.
Discernment (i.e. light in the darkness) is not a given just because the Holy Spirit is present in the life of a believer. The Spirit must be asked to direct one toward Christ’s grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18); a relationship with Him is not assumed, it is developed and matured. Otherwise He is grieved and truth is suppressed in unrighteousness–and the light is not present. Knowing and applying are not the same. Intentions and exertions are not the same. Accumulating information about God and Spirit-led transformation in Him are not the same. Jesus said that He is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). Therefore, if our lives are lacking Christ’s resurrection power, then we are lacking Christ Himself!
Jesus saw beyond the burden of Lazarus’ death and the surrounding bereavement when no one else did. And He wept, not for Lazarus’ death, but for the burden of people’s unbelief–people that were dear to Him! Yet He saw the glory of resurrection in the midst of darkness because the light of truth was in Him. This prophetically paralleled His own death and resurrection. And so it must parallel ours.