Acts 15 – The Yoke of Bondage

yoke of bondage sin slavery
“My yoke is easy, my burden is light” – Jesus

In times past, a wooden yoke was placed upon the shoulders of a person in order to carry pails of water and other heavy objects.  What a heavy yoke that would be.  That is quite the burden.  Today, there are many who would like to put a heavy yoke on their own brethren.  And the bible calls this yoke “the yoke of bondage” (Gal 5:1) In other words a yoke of slavery.  But God wants his children to be free children, not slave children, children of the free woman. (Gal 4:31).   What does God want us to be free from?  This is what we will examine in this bible study.

Some teachers are saying that we are free from the law.  And in a sense they are right, some say just circumcision, and in a sense they are right.  But do we know what that means, are we misinterpreting it, it’s very possible that we are still slaves to the yoke.   Misunderstanding this is the difference between the true gospel and “another gospel”(Gal 1:7) 

False Brethren and the Yoke

Galatians 2:3, 4  But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:  And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

Many quickly assume that the yoke of bondage is circumcision.  Some go further and say that the law is the yoke.  What were they in bondage to?  What liberty did they have?  We read:

Galatians 5:1-3  Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.  Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.  For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

“put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples”(Acts 15:10)

Wow, if not carefully read, we would think that maybe it is a bad thing to be a “doer of the law”.  But many fail to take into account the context.  What these “false brethren” are saying is that “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.”(Acts 15:1).  It’s not a bad thing to be circumcised.  It’s not a bad thing to be circumcised on the eighth day even as Moses wrote.  What’s bad is saying that this is your means of justification, and salvation.  Instead of putting what Christ did on the cross as the means of salvation, these men were putting circumcision as a means of salvation saying that if you don’t do this “ye cannot be saved”.  If you keep the law, you can be saved, now here is your yoke, be sure to carry it yourself.

Act 15:10  Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which
neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

What does a “yoke” signify?  It signifies hard work.  The yoke that these false brethren are trying to share is that you are saved by your works, rather than by faith.

Acts 15:8-9  And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us;  (9)  And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

Act 15:11  But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

Rather than being saved by circumcision or the law, they were saved by grace through faith.  Back to Galatians 5 and the context.

Galatians 5:4-6  Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.  For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.  For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

Here is the matter laid out.

1.  False Brethren come in teaching that in order to have salvation you must be circumcised and keep the law.
2.  Those teaching this have  put a yoke or burden on the back of the disciples teaching that salvation is acquired by ones good works.
3.  The disciples and Galatians began to listen to these false brethren, and then all were under the yoke.

After these men had cut off a piece of their flesh, they began to glory in their flesh, in their own works.  In what they could do.   It was not glorying in the work of what Christ did to save them from sin.  Christ and the cross was made of no effect.  Christ and the cross had nothing to do with their salvation according to them.  They believed that they were justified by their own works. It was glorying in being saved by circumcision. (Acts 15:1) And furthermore they could glory in keeping the law.  That this was how a man was justified.   What a terrible yoke of slavery to be under.

The Yoke of Sin  – Liberty From its Dominion

Galatians 5:1  Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,

liberty from sin free burden pilgrims progress
“The liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free”(Gal 5:1)

What has Christ made us free from?

John 8:34-36  Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant(slave) of sin.  And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.  If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

We were in slavery and bondage, sold under sin, we were under a burden, that we were carrying on our back.  Sin was our master, our ruler.  Sin had dominion over us, and sin was a tyrannical king in our life.   But praise Jesus, that he has given us “liberty”, he has “made us free” from the cruel tyrant.

Rom 6:18  Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

And so in reality, these false brethren were trying to bring the disciples and Galatians into bondage to sin.  Under the yoke of sin, under its reign and power.

Why was it sin to be circumcised?  It’s not a sin to be circumcised.  It’s sin to do something without faith.  We are told that “… whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”(Romans 14:23)  The issue here boils down to how the law is kept.  Not whether or not the law is kept.   Circumcision was a sign of keeping the law.  And let’s be careful with the sacrifices and the remedial system since that was performed in faith to point towards Christ, the remedy for breaking the law.  The remedial system would not be needed if the law had not been broken.

Ye Must Do This To be Saved

Let’s say that some brethren came in saying “In order to be saved, thou shall not murder”.  Is that a bad thing?  The only part bad about this is actually saying that the means of salvation is not killing.   Not killing someone is not a bad thing in itself, but to actually believe that in order to be saved this is what you must do to actually be saved is to miss the entire gospel.

The gospel is that God is “…purifying their hearts by faith”(Acts 15:9).  When you “believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved”(Acts 15:11) You then can see the wondrous love and by this your heart becomes purified.  By faith in Christ, having a pure heart, it would never even enter your heart to murder someone.

Now if someone were to come to you saying you must keep the whole law to be saved.  They are are teaching another gospel.  They are missing the point.  It’s not a bad thing to keep the whole law.  In fact we are told by James:

James 2:10-12  For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.  For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.  So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.

In the end we will be judged by the law.  Interestingly it’s called the “law of liberty”.   God be thanked for his grace, and not only his grace, but the purifying of our hearts by grace, so that by grace we might no longer be transgressors.  It is certainly bondage when we are under it’s condemnation and have yet to be freed from sin.

Rom 6:14  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

Paul said that sin no longer reigned over you, that sin is no longer the tyrannical ruler in your life, that you are no longer the slave of sin,  no longer “under sin” and sin no longer has dominion “over” you, but you have been set free.  It also says you are no longer under the law.  What does that imply?  It implies that the law is no longer condemning you as a transgressor.  You are free from what the law did when sin was your master.

Does that imply that we are free to break the law?  God forbid.  It implies rather that we are free from breaking the law.  Paul said he only knew what sin was by the law.

Rom 7:7  What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

John also said plainly that “sin was the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4)  Therefore the term “under the law” means “under the condemnation of the law”, it means we are “under sin”, and that sin has “dominion over us” and we are yet to be made “free from sin”.


Now we all know that the remedy for breaking God’s commandments was Jesus Christ being nailed to the cross to die for our sins.  Or for our transgression of God’s law.  He didn’t die so the law could be changed.  If the law could be changed then what would be the point of him having to die.  Just make sin legal.   But no, breaking God’s law is so serious that the remedy was not a change of the law, but Christ actually had to die and by this showed the immutability of the law.

So what then was circumcision?  The bible tells us it was a sign between Abraham, his seed and God.

Gen 17:11  And ye(Abraham) shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token(sign) of the covenant betwixt me and you.

So circumcision was a symbol of God’s covenant with Abraham and his family.  When was this to be done to the children?

Gen 17:12  And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.

Basically the covenant was with those who were born into the family, or were bought(redeemed).  But the bible says that Abraham has two types of children, children that are born after the flesh, and children born after the spirit.

Galatians 4:22-23  For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.  But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise."...the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir "(Gal 4:30)

One of those children was a symbol of the slave.  He was born after the flesh.  A covenant of works. It was a covenant that included Abraham and Sarah’s own devising.  They tried to make a son using Hagar the handmaid as the child bearer.  But God’s covenant was a covenant of faith not in what the flesh could do, but in what God could do.  Isaac was to be born by a miracle, by the spirit, by the promise of the word to do what the word said.

What is my point?  Well, the same point that Paul was making to the Galatians.  That the cutting off of the flesh was merely a symbol of being born into the family.  But to truly become Abraham’s seed, it was not about cutting off a piece of skin.  It was about cutting off the flesh, being born again of the spirit.  That is what true circumcision is.

Gal 3:14  That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Galatians 4:28-29  Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.  (29)  But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.

Now Isaac was a symbol of the New Covenant experience, which was not of works, but by faith.  The only covenant by which men might be saved, the covenant of grace through faith.   And  this covenant called for a cutting off of the flesh.  And it also was a symbol of the new birth into the family of Abraham.

Today, when accepting that we are children of Abraham, we have accepted that we are newborns into his family “In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.”(Colossians 2:11, 12)

So baptism is a symbol or sign of the birth into the family of Abraham, the same thing by which circumcision was to be a sign of.  It is not to say that it is wrong to circumcise, but this is not the means by which one must be saved.   Nor does it have that significance since the cross.

If I came to you and said “Except ye be baptized, ye cannot be saved.”(See Acts 15:1)  I would hope that you would recognize right away that I was preaching “another gospel”(Gal 1:7).    This is the gospel that is preached by many churches and congregations today.   Some  in the book of Acts received the Holy Spirit before baptism.  So therefore Baptism did not have to be performed in order to be saved.  The thief on the cross is another example of one saved without baptism.

Just as Abraham received the sign of circumcision after he had already been circumcised in the heart.

Circumcision a Sign of Righteousness By Faith

Romans 4:11-13  And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also:  And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.  For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

The promise of the new heaven and earth and the eternal inheritance was not given through the law, or through being circumcised.  Paul again is exposing this teaching of the “false brethren”.   He is not saying that we no longer keep the law, but rather that you will not be saved “through the law”.  You are saved “”.  And it is by the gift of God.

Again, to make it clear, this is not to say that the law is bad.   This is to say that trying to attain salvation by your working at keeping the law is not the way to “be saved”.   That is “another gospel”.   But let’s look at circumcision carefully for a moment.  What else does Paul say about circumcision to the Romans.  In Romans 2 we read:

Rom 2:13  (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

Consider that those who are not “doers of the law” shall not be justified.   So I don’t believe one should teach that we are not to keep the law.   And that’s definitely not what is being taught in Acts 15.  In fact Paul goes on in this chapter.

Romans 2:22-25  Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?  Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?  For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.  For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

He just listed two commandments in the above passage, then he said to those who had the circumcision in the flesh, that they were uncircumcised if they were breakers of the law. He also said that those who kept the law, though not being circumcised in the flesh, were actually already circumcised by keeping the law by faith.   So what then does this tell us?  That we are to keep the law.  He continues:

Rom 2:26  Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

If an uncircumcised person keeps the law, he is considered circumcised.  In fact Paul goes on to tell those who were circumcised in the flesh that they were not even Jews unless they kept the law.

Romans 2:27-29  And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?  For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:  But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

That’s how it is.  Therefore as Paul told the Colossians, we are circumcised already with the circumcision of Christ.  This is not some outward show of the flesh.  But rather the law is written on the heart, and we are a “walking epistle”.

Galatians 6:12-13  As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.  For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.

These “false brethren” did not even “keep the law” themselves.  Circumcision was a sign of keeping the righteousness of the law by faith in the heart.   And these brethren didn’t even understand that.  They had set this up as a means of salvation.

Walk in the Things Ordained of Old

Ephesians 2:8-10  For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of GodNot of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Well, we have established already that God has a circumcision still today.  But he also ordained things that we should walk in “before” Paul says.  What is Paul talking about?  What did God say that we must “walk in”?

Deu 30:16  In that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

Now, here we have God telling us to walk in his ways, that we might have life, that we might inherit the promise to Abraham of the land.  This would be similar to what these false brethren were teaching, if we failed to read the context.  Without the context it is “Do this and live”.   It is definitely God who “before ordained that we should walk in them”(Eph 2:10)  But he told us clearly that it is “not of works” and “not of yourselves”.   Therefore it could only be by faith.   And we will examine the context of the quote very carefully.

We read first in verse 5 and 6:

Deuteronomy 30:5-6  And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed,

"..abstain from blood"(Acts 15:20, 29, Lev 3:17)
“..abstain from blood”(Acts 15:20, 29, Lev 3:17)

and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.  And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.

The land is the “promised land”.  This promise is still to come.(See Heb 11:9-16)  They may have sojourned there as pilgrims, but the promise that Abraham should be heir of the world is still to come.  God will bring us into the land.  However the down payment on that promise is that God will circumcise the heart.(See Eph 1:13, 14)  We might have circumcised the flesh, but God circumcises the heart by faith.  And this is a miracle of the Holy Spirit.    This is the liberty wherewith Christ shall make us free.   This is the freedom from that yoke.  All that the Lord has said HE WILL DO.

Eph 2:11  Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;

This is the New Covenant promise.  The promise of “circumcision without hands”(Col 2:11)  That is the covenant with Abraham and our Fathers.

Eph 2:12  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:

And so we are the children of Abraham by faith, A Jew in the heart and spirit, an Israelite indeed, circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.   No longer a stranger to the everlasting covenant of grace made with our fathers that we should be heirs of the land to come.   No longer children of the bondwoman, in bondage and slavery to the yoke of sin and unbelief.

Paul said regarding Righteousness by faith:

Romans 10:6-8  But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)  Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)  But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;

This is “righteousness by faith” which Paul is preaching, the word written on the heart, not just on tables of stone.  But wait. He is quoting Moses here.  And yes the same chapter, Deutoronomy 30.  Righteousness by Faith Paul says, God writing his law on your heart, the circumcision made without hands, the new covenant promise, right here:

Deuteronomy 30:10-14  If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul. For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.  It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?  Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?  But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

Wow.  That’s the gospel.  The law is already in our heart by faith.   Moses was preaching the gospel.   And here so many today are trying to say, that the law and gospel are contrary to one another.  No.  Trying to attain salvation by the law is contrary to the gospel but being a “doer of the law” is the power of the gospel.

The difference between the New Covenant and Old Covenant is not that we don’t keep the law.  Moses was a preacher of the New Covenant of grace.  In the New Covenant the law is written on the heart.  When making an old covenant it is merely written on paper, and when not written on the heart, it can only condemn,  and this is why Paul called the law written merely on paper or stones a ministry of condemnation.

2Co 3:3  Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

2Co 3:6  Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

We are a walking epistle, walking in the things he ordained of old, the commandments, statutes and judgments, accepting that God has written them with his spirit on our heart.   That is the gospel of faith that Moses preached.  We are told that this is what Israel was blinded to when reading the law of Moses.

2 Corinthians 3:14-15  But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ.  (15)  But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart.

Even today when Moses is read, people don’t see the gospel in it.  But who has blinded their minds to the glorious gospel of Christ?

2Co 4:4  In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest

glorious gospel of christ moses glory
“…lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”(2 Cor 4:4)

the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.

So many fail to see the perfect symmetry of God’s character manifest from the back to the front of the bible.  And many of these ministers have turned God into a tyrant.  Paul calls them ministers of condemnation and death. (2 Cor 3:7, 9) He also calls them “false brethren” who are bringing God’s children into bondage.

They blind the minds of the people so they can’t believe, so they are not at liberty.  And many times they use Paul’s words against the very ones that are teaching the true gospel.  May Father open our eyes today to see the glorious gospel of Christ that the devil has blinded many to seeing when reading Moses, and the Old Testament.   And may the covenant of Grace through faith, God writing His commandments, statutes and judgments on our heart be the covenant you are under.

In Acts 15 we are told to keep certain statutes such as “That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.” And that they were to “place no greater burden than these necessary things” on the new believers.   And that “Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.”  And when the words of Moses are rightly divided, they are not a “burden”, but in actuality can be a blessing and the law can be a means of “liberty” when written on the heart setting us free from the yoke of sin.  Jesus said “My yoke is easy, my burden is light” (Matt 11:30)

Psalms 119:43-45  And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.  So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever.  And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.

Gal 5:1  Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

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