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Good For You? | Is Christianity Restrictive?

May 12, 2024
Matthew 11:28-30

28“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst

To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships

To participate in God’s mission to the world 

Opening Prayer

O God, the king of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: We beseech you, leave us not desolate but send your Holy Spirit to comfort us, and exalt us to where our Savior Christ has gone before, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forevermore. Amen.

Responsive Prayer—Psalm 37

Trust in the Lord, and do good;

Dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

Delight yourself in the Lord,

And he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;

Trust in him, and he will act.

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

And your justice as the noonday.

Summary and Connection

Robert Frost, the famous American poet, was asked in 1954 what he thought freedom was. He replied, “It’s being easy in your harness.” Seventy years later, we seem to lack the nuanced appreciation of freedom that Frost was expressing. While “freedom” means many things to many people, we usually use the word to mean “liberated from restraint.” While freedom from restraint is a good thing, it’s only half of the story. Freedom from implies a freedom for. While our culture excels at discussing liberation, we are almost silent on liberation’s proper use.

Frost understood that true freedom is being well-yoked to something that matters, like a workhorse to a plow. But unfocused freedom can paradoxically become a new kind of restriction, as the philosopher James K.A. Smith writes: 

When we imagine freedom only as negative freedom — freedom from constraint, hands-off liberty to choose what I want — then our so-called freedom is actually inclined to captivity … my choice is just another means by which I’m trying to look for satisfaction … I keep choosing things with diminishing returns, and when that becomes habitual, and eventually necessary, then I forfeit my ability to choose. The thing has me now.

Without direction, purpose, or telos, freedom is another road to nowhere. At the same time, many cultures throughout history have made the opposite error, enforcing rules for the sake of rules and creating societies that were stratified, oppressive, and unforgiving. Between these two equal and opposite errors, empty freedom and cruel constraint, it seems impossible that there could be such a thing as a “freeing restriction.” However, everyone intuitively knows what a freeing restraint is. Whether it is establishing boundaries, going to the gym, practicing musical scales, or studying for exams, everyone understands that constraints can lead to emotional, physical, musical, and intellectual freedom. Freedom for is properly fulfilled when we choose the right restrictions for ourselves.

Yet there’s a problem, as Saint Augustine pointed out centuries ago. If no one chooses to be unhappy, why do we live unhappy lives? Somehow, we are not truly free to choose the right constraints. We call this “oppression,” usually caused by external systems, but the Bible calls this “sin,” a nuanced concept that includes systems, selfishness, and evil itself. That is why we cannot freely choose, and that is why Jesus warns us that eventually every other harness will chafe and choke, except for his. His is the only yoke that is easy and light. That is hard for us to believe, of course. Christianity seems more known for its restraints than for its liberations. But what if Jesus’ yoke can give us real rest, and real freedom? That is what we hope to discuss during the current sermon series, Good for You? as we ask, “Is Christianity Restrictive?”

Discussion Questions

1. Looking at the Bible

Observation: Read the passage privately. What does the text say? What according to you is the theme of this passage? Do you notice keywords, parallels, or surprises?

  • Consider Jesus’ central metaphor. What is the purpose of a yoke? How does a person use it? What do you think makes the yoke a fitting image for Jesus’ invitation to come to him?

2. Looking at Jesus

At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.

  • What effect did Jesus’ yoke have on himself? How can he offer a yoke that is so light, easy, and fitting?

3. Looking at Our Hearts

  • Jesus offers us “rest for our souls,” which literally means, “rest for your psyche,” or your whole life down to its deepest level. What would it mean for you to take his yoke? What would it mean to have his rest? Share what differences following Jesus has made in your life, or ask what differences it could make.

4. Looking at Our World

  • Once we are set free, how does Jesus call us, as a church, to relieve the burdens of the world? 


God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.

  • View Study Guide Notes

    Question 1: As one commentator notes, “The purpose of a human yoke is to make it easier to carry or pull a load. If there is a burden to be borne, it is better with a yoke than without.” Jesus is assuming that life is full of burdens, and that we require equipment to bear up under the load. A person using a yoke would hang it on his shoulders in order to properly balance the load across his back. The yoke is a tool to help accomplish the hard task of manual labor, and the person with a yoke will be more productive and less tired than the person not using one. At the same time, a yoke is an image of discipline, and discipline is another word for discipleship. Jesus invites all who are tired of their burdens to take his refreshing, easy, and restful yoke instead. 

    Jesus’ message is the gospel, or good news, and the life that we are called to live is one of freeing grace. This message of freedom is, if not the main theme, then a major theme of the whole Bible. Most of the Old Testament is a narrative of Israel’s escape from slavery and into freedom. The Messiah was the kingly figure who would restore freedom to Israel. The Savior was the one who would set God’s people free from sin. Paul, writing to the Galatians, summarized it this way: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (5:1). That is to say, the ultimate oppression is sin, and the ultimate freedom is given to us by Jesus. 

    Question 2: Answering this question will require some knowledge of the end of the story, because it is only through Jesus’ whole life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension that he can offer us this freedom. Jesus bore many things for us. He bore the frailty of a human body and spirit, subject to weakness, hunger, and thirst. He bore the pangs of poverty and exile, and the humiliation of having been born to an unmarried mother and raised in an unremarkable village. He bore the particular weight of living a perfect life in a fallen world. Finally, after enduring the betrayal of his friends, injustice from the government, and torture by Roman soldiers, Jesus carried his cross until even that became too much to bear. His yoke was our salvation, the full weight of which finally crushed him on the cross. As Isaiah prophesied, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6). Yet, because Jesus bore the ultimate yoke for us, he is free to liberate us from it, and that is why he can tell us confidently, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).

    Question 3: These are personal application questions. This is a chance for newer or non-Christians to think through the personal and practical results of following Jesus, and for older Christians to share what it has meant for them to follow Jesus. One commentator answers like this: “The yoke of not living Jesus’ hard way is harder living, really…For Christians everywhere and at all times finally have to confess that being a Christian is, indeed, the best way to live. ‘His commandments are not burdensome’ (1 John 5:3).”

    Question 4: This is a personal application question.