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The Cross and the Yoke

Jesus commands us to take up our cross daily and follow Him (Mt 16:24). He also invites us to "Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me" (Mt 11:29). So the natural question is -- are these two metaphors referring to the same thing? Is taking up the cross the same as putting on the yoke?

Actually, no, they are two separate responses to the Holy Spirit.

To take up our cross refers to dealing with our fleshly nature -- our opinions, our reactions, our plans for the day. These we crucify by saying to ourselves, "hold on, stop, quiet down. Let's see what God has to say."

Putting on the yoke refers to accepting the discipline of the Holy Spirit. This brings up an apparent contradiction in the Gospel's message. "if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (Jn 8:36). And "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor 3:17)." Biblical freedom is not what we think - "free to be me", free to "realize myself," the autonomous individual. The Biblical context is that the Spirit of the Lord makes us free to be yoked to God's will. Let's not start showing reruns of "sons of anarchy" here. Christian freedom is subject to submission to the sovereign will of God.

Or in other words, putting on the yoke of Christ daily happens after taking up our cross. First we say no to our agenda, and submit to God's plan for this day. Second we walk this out in partnership with the Holy Spirit, yoked to His leading and counsel. When Paul says "walk by the Spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh," he is describing a believer who is yoked with Christ.

You cannot wear the yoke without first taking up the cross. Why? Because if you start the day with just putting on the yoke ("Let's go, God!"), you won't get far without your flesh cropping up and attempting to pull you off course: "Stop, we're going too fast; this yoke is too heavy, it pinches my neck; wait, I want to go over there in that direction..."

So the cross takes priority, and the yoke subsequently guides our steps into fruitful paths.

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