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Is God’s Law “Bondage” and a “Heavy Burden”?

      How do most people today view God’s law?   They view it as burdensome and oppressive.  They view it as “bondage” and as a “heavy burden.”   Yet, why do people have that concept?   Is that what God’s word, the Bible, teaches? 

God’s Spiritual Law

     Only God, in His supreme wisdom, knows the way of life that leads to peace, happiness and prosperity  (Isa.55:8-9).    The Bible is God’s revelation of that way of life.   In telling us how to live, God gives us laws that He commands us to live by. 

     The law being referred to is God’s spiritual law  (Rom.7:14)---the law that is summarized by the Ten Commandments.   The Ten Commandments show the basics of how to show love to God and to fellowman.  It is the way to every good thing in life.

     What do people see so “burdensome” about having no other god before the true God?   About having no graven images, and not using God’s name in vain?   About honoring one’s parents, and refraining from murder, adultery, and theft?   What is “burdensome” or “oppressive” about keeping these commandments?

     King David, who God called “a man after My own heart,” certainly didn’t view God’s law as a burden.   “Oh, how I love Your law!” exclaimed David (Ps.119:97).

     A young man approached Christ and asked, “what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”   Christ replied, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments”!  (Matt.19:16-17).    And Christ then went on in verses 18-19 to show that He was referring to the Ten Commandments.

     Jesus Christ lived a life of obedience to God’s law.   He said, “I have kept My Father’s commandments” (John 15:10).    Likewise, He said that we too are to strive to live “by every word of God” (Luke 4:4).    Yes, Christ is our example (I Cor.11:1; I John 2:6).

     He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt.7: 21-23).

     When a person accepts Christ and truly repents, then, upon baptism, the person receives God’s Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).   If God’s Spirit dwells within an individual, then it is actually Christ living His life within that person (Gal.2:20; Rom.8:9-10).    To the extent that the person yields his life to Christ’s guidance, Christ then lives in that person the same manner of life that He lived 2,000 years ago---a life of obedience to God’s law.    Yes, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb.13:8).

     Accordingly, the individual then begins to take on the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5)---a mind of humble obedience to God (verse 8)---an attitude of “not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

     As the person matures spiritually, he increasingly has God’s laws written in his mind and heart.   Indeed, that is the very purpose and goal of the New Covenant!   “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD:  I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them” (Heb.10:16). 

    Rather than a burden, God’s law is the “law of liberty”!  (James 1:25; Ps.119:44-45).    It’s the way to every good thing in life.

    The Apostle John lived longer than Paul and any of the other apostles.   Because of the fact that John wrote so much about the subject of love, he is often referred to as “the apostle of love.”    Yet, notice what this “apostle of love” said about God’s law:  “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.   And His commandments are not burdensome”!   (I John 5:3).

    Furthermore, that scripture was written by John almost 60 years after Christ was crucified!



WHY People Wrongly View God’s Law as “Burdensome”

     Since we’ve plainly seen that the Bible shows that God’s spiritual law is not burdensome, then why do people believe that it is?   The answer to this can be given as three basic reasons, as we’ll now see.


(1)  Human Nature

     This first reason why man considers God’s law as "burdensome" is clearly stated by Paul.   Paul speaks of the “carnal mind”---i.e., the unconverted mind---the mind that each one of us is born with.   He says that “the carnal mind is enmity against God [‘hostile to God’---NIV]; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Rom.8:7). 

     Paul continues:  “So then, those who are in the flesh [i.e., those who don’t have God’s Spirit] cannot please God.   But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (verses 8-9).

     God gives His Spirit only “to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32; Rev.14:12).    When a person repents and receives God’s Spirit, he then partakes of God’s divine nature (II Peter 1:4)---a nature that wants to live in obedience to God’s law.  Yet, the person continues to also have his own carnal, human nature---a nature which hates God’s law.   So, he then has two natures ---which are at constant war with one another (Rom.7: 15-25).

     This total contrast of the two natures is also spoken of in the book of Ezekiel, where God foretells of the future New Covenant---when mankind would be given an opportunity to receive God’s Spirit:  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezek.36:26-27).

     Yes, people hate God’s law.   They want nothing to do with it.   Yet, God’s word long ago predicted that men would call that which is good “evil.”   “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil” (Isa.5:20).    Also, notice the context of this passage in Isaiah.   Just four verses after Isaiah speaks of people “calling good evil,” he says that such people “have rejected the law of the Lord of hosts” (verse 24). 

     Furthermore, consider this important fact.   Not only is one’s natural mind not subject to God’s law, we are also greatly influenced by Satan the devil to reject God’s law---just as Satan himself rejects it!


(2)  A Second Reason

     A second reason why some people mistakenly view God’s spiritual law as “burdensome,” is due to their erroneously thinking that certain New Testament scriptures refer to God’s spiritual law---when those scriptures actually refer to Judaism!

     Before citing some of those scriptures, let’s first understand this about Judaism.   Judaism (both modern Judaism and the Judaism practiced by the Pharisees and scribes of Christ’s day) is a corruption of both God’s law and the teachings of the Old Testament.  It is a corruption of God’s way of life. 

     One such corruption is that Judaism adopted a system of pagan penance.   Another major corruption came about after the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, when the Jewish religious leaders came to deeply realize that God had sent the Israelites into captivity due to their flagrant breaking of God’s laws.  The realization of this fact, led the current religious leaders into the misguided solution of trying to “insulate and protect” the law of God---by building a “fence” around the actual law---so that it would never be broken again.  In their misguided zeal, they added more than 600 man-made laws, commandments, rules, regulations and oral law to the laws of God (and, in particular, to the Law of Moses). 

     Among these more than 600 fence laws were some 65 do’s and don’ts concerning Sabbath keeping.   When the entire compilation of the law of Judaism was made in the 3rd century A.D. (in a book called the Misnah) this book was 800 pages long!   What’s more, the Talmud (an authoritative commentary on the law) came to 12 printed volumes! 

     The people had come to fear that any act they did, might in some way be contrary to one of these many do’s and don’ts.   Jesus Christ saw this fear of religion as bondage.   He referred to this legalistic  adherence to the laws of Moses as “heavy burdens and grievous to be borne” (Matt.23:4 KJV).    Christ condemned this “straining at a gnat” (verse 24), legalistic attitude of the Pharisees.   (Also, see Mark 7:7, 13.)   Yes, Christ was very much against this man-made legalistic corruption of God’s law.   He was definitely not, however, against God’s law itself!   In addition to these two verses in Matt.23 cited above, here are some other scriptures referring to the bondage of Judaism: 

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath.  And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, ‘Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!’” (Matt.12:1-2).

“And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand.  And they asked Him, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’---that they might accuse Him” (Matt.12:10).

“The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, ‘It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed’” (John 5:10).

“Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world” (Gal.4:3).


     Furthermore, consider this.   In addition to these scriptures referring to the heavy burdens of Judaism, there are also New Testament scriptures that refer to the system of ritualistic laws that God Himself imposed, temporarily, on Old Testament Israel   Such New Testament scriptures are oftentimes mistakenly thought to be referring to God’s spiritual law---when those scriptures are actually referring to the system of ritualistic laws that God temporarily gave Old Testament Israel.   A prime example of such scriptures is Paul’s use of the phrase "works of the law" [see subheading "Further Evidence"].

     These New Testament scriptures referring to the ritualistic law, are simply addressing the fact that a person never could be justified---or gain salvation---through those rituals and animal sacrifices.                                                                                                               

     This temporary system of rituals and sacrifice never was a means to salvation!   Judaism, however, came to erroneously view it as such.   The fact is, Old Testament Israel was never offered salvation---only the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament were. 

     The ceremonial rituals were added temporarily by God, for the purpose of teaching and instilling within the ancient Israelites the habit of obedience.   These rituals were things to do repeatedly---morning, noon and night.  God intended this system of rituals to be only a temporary substitute until, in New Testament times, when the Holy Spirit would be made available.  Once God’s Spirit was made available to dwell within the members of the New Testament Church, those physical rituals were no longer needed!  (Gal.3:24)

     Likewise, the system of animal sacrifices was only a temporary, physical substitute.   It was a substitute for---and until---the sacrifice of Christ (Heb.7:27).    It served to remind people of their sins (Heb. 10:3), and to remind them that the penalty of sin is death (Ezek.18:4). 


(3)  A Third Reason

     The third reason why people view God’s spiritual law as “burdensome” is, like the second reason, a misunderstanding of what certain scriptures refer to.  Many people think that certain New Testament scriptures refer to “bondage to God’s law”---when those scriptures actually refer to people being in bondage to sin and Satan. 

     Let’s first look at some scriptures that are very plainly speaking of bondage to sin and/or Satan.   Jesus Christ plainly stated that “whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34).    Here, Christ was speaking of those who sin as a way of life---those who are unrepentant---those who have not surrendered their lives to God---those who are not striving to live by every word of God (Luke 4:4).

     What does Peter say of such people?   He says, “they themselves are slaves of corruption; for BY what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved [‘brought into bondage---NKJV]”   (II Peter 2:19, NAS).

     Now notice the 6th chapter of Romans, where Paul discusses what happens to a truly repentant person at baptism.   Among other things, baptism pictures the “crucifixion” and burial of the old self---the sinning self.   It pictures the coming up out of that watery “grave”---symbolic of a changed person, who is resurrected to a new, spiritual life in Christ.   …that our old man [our old self] was crucified with Him [Christ], that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin”  (verse 6).

     “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you ARE that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin [leading] to death, or of obedience [leading] to righteousness?   But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you [now] obeyed from the heart…and having been set free from [slavery to] sin, you became slaves of righteousness…now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God…” (verses 16-22).

     Yes, sin enslaves a person, and brings him into bondage.   Yet, as we’ve seen, one can be set free from that bondage.   But, such freedom has its price:  the price of becoming a “slave of God”---a “slave of righteousness.”   In other words, at baptism, we unconditionally surrender our lives to God---and, from then on, we become a living sacrifice (Rom.12:1-2). 

     We are then no longer our own!   As Paul said, “do you not know that…you are not your own?   For you were bought at a price” (I Cor.6: 19-20).  And that “price” was the supreme price---Christ’s shed blood!

     So, we then become “Christ’s slave” (I Cor.7:22).     And Christ does require obedience (Matt.19:16-19; 7:21-23; Luke 8:21).    Yet, such obedience leads to a life of peace and happiness.   Accordingly, Christ said, “Take My yoke upon you…and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt.11:29-30).

     Having examined the above numerous and plain scriptures about how one can stop being a “slave of sin,” we can now understand the true meaning of certain other scriptures (especially in Galatians) which people tend to misunderstand.

     Notice Galatians chapter 5:  “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (verse 1).

     Likewise, in chapter 4, verses 6-11, Paul is addressing Gentiles who had converted to Christianity.   Here, Paul said, “you are no longer a slave [to sin]” (verse 7).  Yet, these Gentile converts were beginning to resume their former pagan and sinful practices---including the observance of pagan holy days (verse 10).    So, Paul warned them to not return to such sinful practices.   Paul said, “But now after you have known God…how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements [‘weak and miserable principles’---NIV], to which you desire again to be in bondage?”  (verse 9).   

     No, Paul was not speaking of bondage to God’s law!   The Expositor’s Bible Commentary discusses what type of “bondage” that Paul was referring to in Galatians chapter 4:  “He [Paul] would be thinking of a demonic bondage in which the Galatians had indeed been held prior to the proclamation of the gospel…The ultimate contrast to freedom in Christ is bondage to Satan and the evil spirits”  (Vol. 10, p.472). 



God’s Law Not Bondage

     Let’s now summarize.   There are basically three reasons why mankind mistakenly views God’s spiritual law as “burdensome” and “bondage”:   (1) Human nature---with a mind which is “not subject to the law of God” (Rom.8:7);   (2) The misunderstanding that certain New Testament scriptures are actually speaking of the burdens and bondage of Judaism;   (3) The misunderstanding that certain New Testament scriptures are actually speaking of being in bondage to sin.

     Rather than being “bondage,” God’s spiritual law is actually “the perfect law of LIBERTY”  (James 1:25).    It is the way to every good thing in life.   As the Apostle John stated:  “His [God’s] commandments are NOT burdensome”!