Bream and Broken Yokes
By James Campbell
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
I am not always as patient as I’d like to be. For that reason alone it may surprise some of you to know that I really enjoy fishing. Perhaps I should be more specific; I especially enjoy fishing when the fish are biting and I’m catching them! Since patience is not always my strong suit, how I fished (especially when I was young) was impacted. When I would go fishing with my dad as a child, he would cast his line out towards the middle of the river to catch the big fish; I, however, was content to fish along the banks to try to catch bream.
Bream don’t usually grow very big, but if you are an impatient fisherman, a bream bed is some of the most fun imaginable. I would catch them by the tens and twenties. There were times I could even drop an un-baited hook in the water and they would still bite! There were also times when I would catch the same fish multiple times. Due to this fact, I always considered bream to be pretty dumb. I mean, if you tried something once and it was unfulfilling and hurt, why would you do it again? Of course not! So I figured bream just weren’t that bright.
As I read the verse above, I had to re-ask myself the question- If you tried something once and it was unfulfilling and hurt, why would you do it again?
Oh-oh. I was struck by just how like the bream I can be at times.
Outside of Christ, God’s law usually just left me frustrated. I had grown up around church, and so I knew most of the “thou shall” and “thou shall nots”. I also knew how many times a week the “good Christians” went to church and that the truly devout went to Wednesday night prayer meeting. I knew about not lying, lusting, stealing, and coveting. The problem wasn’t so much just the knowing, the problem was the doing. As Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” I had bought into a religion (some based on parts of Scripture and some based on parts of culture) of being good and the idea that if I was just “good enough” I’d make it to heaven. This, for me, became the anti-gospel. Gospel means good news. If my performance in following God’s law was the basis of my getting into heaven, I was in a world of hurt! God’s law led me to be painfully aware of my inability to measure up.
Then I heard the good news. Oh, I’m certain I had heard it before, but this time my heart heard it. My acceptance by God was not based on my performance but on the performance of Christ. Salvation was based in what He did, not what I could do. Stressing out over obeying every single law with the mindset that if I obeyed it God would love me more was like a heavy yoke placed on my neck, a yoke of works-based salvation. The good news of Christ set me free from that yoke and broke the yoke of salvation based on my obedience into a million pieces.
Like a fish released after being caught and spending too long on the bank, I breathed in deep the Living Water!
So why, after diving into the waters of grace, would I then go back to looking for a hook to bite? Still, the truth is that I did, and sometimes I am still tempted to go back to biting at the lure of works. I find myself doing things out of motives of guilt instead of motives of love. I find myself chasing after shiny lures of rules, tasks, or doctrines, as though any of them could add one ounce more love to me from the Father. After being set free into the waters, I find myself trying to leap back onto the bank…even though I know there is only death awaiting me there. I sit with religious super-glue trying to put a yoke back together so I can wear it.
Unlike the impatient child, Jesus did not set us free from the Law in the hopes of just catching us with the same old hook of the Law again. He set us free for the purpose of freedom! He did not break the yoke so I could try to put it back on to work harder; he broke the yoke of works-based salvation so that I could rest in Him when I am weary and heavy laden. His yoke is light.
Those who Jesus has set free are free indeed. May we rest in Him and leave the old yoke of works behind. May we breathe Him in deeply and swim in the depths of His grace. Amen.