It’s July 5th, the day after the US celebration of “Independence Day.” The remembrance of bold steps taken and battles fought to be free from British authority is in many ways inspiring. We often forget to appreciate the freedom here: freedom to live by our own values, to make our own choices, to follow our own beliefs, without the threat of being imprisoned or killed which is faced by Christians around the world.
Yet freedom is one of the contradictory concepts that emerge when considering the call of Jesus. On the one hand, freedom from sin is foundational to the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection. But as we reclaim that freedom, we face another question: Am I willing to give up my own will to follow Christ? Will I freely choose to be a servant? We are called to freedom; we are also called to surrender. Jesus stated that by remaining faithful to his teaching, his disciples would “know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Paul wrote that “Christ set us free for freedom” (Galatians 5:1), while also stating the “although I’m free from all people, I make myself a slave to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:19). Peter called for submission to government and to “do this as God’s slaves, and yet also as free people.”
Likewise, although the yoke was generally a sign of slavery, it is used in distinct ways in Scripture. Paul finished his statement in Galatians by telling them to “stand firm and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Yet, Jesus called all to “take up my yoke and learn from me… For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28). The truth is that we will always be serving someone, carrying someone’s yoke. “Free will” suggests we are able to choose whom to serve.
When confronting such a choice, rationally weighing the odds would reveal a stark contrast between the two forms of servitude. On the one hand, being a slave to sin means being caught in an ugly cycle of shame and guilt, ever burdened with the weight of iniquities that can never be paid for by good deeds, trapped in lies about our worthlessness and failures. On the other, being a “slave” to God, surrendering our will to his, is based on trust in his love, our freedom paid for by Christ’s blood, our value expressed when God calls us sons and daughters. Even if serving Christ means suffering and death on earth, the promise of eternally basking in the love and joy found in God’s presence far outweighs any temporary persecution or hardship. But how many Christians get up every morning saying, “I’m your servant and I’m willing to lay my life down for you today”? I can’t say that’s always my mindset.
Why is it that despite our original submission to Christ and subsequent gift of redemption and freedom, we so often tend to drift into our own desire for independence? We ignore our need to rely fully on God, often in an attempt to prove our own capabilities (either to oneself or others) or the belief that we are not important enough to “bother” God with our daily questions and concerns.
I believe we like feeling that we have some degree of control over our lives. Although we can choose how to respond to circumstances, we really have minimal control over what’s going on around us. When life appears predictable and stable, it’s easy to stray from prioritizing our relationship with God. But when tragedy strikes, we are unprepared to depend on God for the strength necessary in the midst of difficulties. Suddenly our own limitations become much more visible, and the loss of false security contributes to feelings of helplessness.
But God does not expect us to rely on our own strength! Isaiah 40:29-31 says:
“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
When Paul was at his lowest point, asking God for release from the “thorn in the flesh,” Jesus told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul realized that weaknesses were the time to experience God’s power, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Jesus offered his easy yoke after calling the weak: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:27).
The call to surrender our lives to Jesus is not a demand to minimize our own value; it is the opposite, allowing us to experience the greatness of God in our own lives. Laying down our broken, sinful lives results in living Christ’s life of love and grace. Embracing the honor of being servants to the Lord of all creation leads to being welcomed as his very sons and daughters.
For those in a fairly stable season of life, I think one of the biggest challenges is being proactive in giving up our independence. Over and over again the Israelites cried out to God when under attack, then drifted away during times of peace, setting up their own gods and accepting the gods worshiped by those around them. When we put our own “success” (whatever that means to you) above our service to God, we have created an idol. What is your highest priority in everyday life?
For those facing difficult times, the challenge may be more about accepting weakness as a chance to encounter God’s strength. This is a powerful alternative to hopelessness, helplessness, and self-condemnation—feeling like a failure when needing to ask for help. Learning to depend on God can lead to a deepening of your relationship with him. Are you willing to allow God’s strength to be what sustains you in times of weakness?
I would put forth the challenge to begin each day with a conscious decision to surrender our lives to Christ and invite him to take control. When you do so, get ready to experience his Presence. Out of this comes his freedom from sin, discouragement, lies, and guilt. Being filled with his love and grace is a wonderful alternative!