not fear a clear statement of the
requirements of the gospel.
freeing and delightful passage!
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 of heart, and you will find rest for
your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my
burden is light”
Jesus tells us that to follow him is restful,
easy, and not burdensome. When I was growing up,
I understood this passage to mean that Jesus was
offering us a life without restrictions, a life
without demands or the commandments of the past.
Jesus is a God of love and graciousness and
gentleness; we are relieved that we no longer
have to fear him as the people of Israel feared
God under the old covenant.
That is the
“gospel” I heard as a teenager. What
tremendous news, I thought, that to follow
Jesus frees me from the need for discipline
I have come to agree with a close friend,
named Helmut Niklaus, who passed away
recently. He saw things a bit differently. For
several decades he had been a leader of
YMCA-Munich, a major outreach to youth. During
those years he had met thousands upon
thousands of young people, many of whom have
grown up in Christian homes. But surveying the
condition of modern Western youth as he met
them day by day, Helmut said, “One of the
greatest problems today among Christian youth
is a lack of proper fear of the Lord.”
it actually mean to fear the Lord?
Too often we equate it with living under a
tyrannical God, with obeying his laws and
rules out of fear of punishment.
this understanding is distorted. In Helmut’s
view — and in mine — young people today suffer
enormously from being left in a state of false
freedom that knows no laws or restrictions, no
obedience or discipline. That is not the “rest
for the heavy laden” that Jesus speaks about
in Matthew, chapter 11.
speaking of entering into his way of life and
becoming his disciple. The yoke is the yoke of
his word and his teaching. It is “easy” and
“light” not because there is no obedience or
discipline, but because it is the teaching and
the way of life designed by God for human
beings. People have a choice either to follow
in God’s way or to become slaves to their own
passions and desires and to the prince of this
of Jesus, the yoke of his teaching, the
discipline of obedience to God
— these bring life
and rest and refreshment.
My friend Helmut had seen the sorrow, the
pain, and the suffering of those who have been
“set free” from obedience to God’s law. We
have all seen the fruit of promiscuity, of
rebellion, of the pursuit of pleasure in the
lives of those around us, both the young and
is sometimes assisted by those who ought to be
teaching the way of God. John Paul II once
said, “We can say that Europe today... with
the collaboration of many students of
theology, and above all of moral theology,
defends itself very effectively against the
necessity of conversion. Formerly the task of
theology . . . was how to follow, how to
proceed side by side with the process of
conversion. Now it seeks to free the human
person in the name of the dignity of that
person from the necessity of conversion.”
can be no “freedom from the necessity of
conversion.” Jesus, in calling us to make him
our Lord, also calls us as well to live our
lives entirely according to his word. This is
the call to conversion.
Many of us
today, whether teachers, parents, pastors, or
youth workers, are afraid to teach the need
for a full conversion of the lives of those
who belong to the Lord. In failing to firmly
and clearly preach the necessity of that
conversion, we keep those who hear us from
humbly submitting to the yoke of Jesus’
teaching and finding in it life and
passage again. The yoke of discipleship is
easy; the burden of Jesus’ teaching is light.
We have nothing to fear from the gospel, and
neither do those who listen to us.
Yocum is President of Christ the King
Association and a member of the International
Executive Council of The Sword of the Spirit.
This article was originally published in New
Covenant Magazine, February 1989.]