1 John 5:3 (DRB) For this is the charity of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not heavy.

Cf. Mt. 11:30.


According to Protestantism, to what commandments does "his commandments" refer, and what does St. John mean by they "are not heavy?"

2 Answers 2


"Protestantism" is rather broad, but generally "his commandments" would be all of God's commandments for Man that weren't given as part of a specific covenent.

For instance, prohibitions against drinking wine or cutting hair were binding only on Nazarites.

Similarly, circumcision was commanded of the Israelites as part of the Old Covenant, as a physical symbol of the special relationship between Israel and God.

That God had extended his relationship to all of mankind under the New Covenant, and that Gentiles were not expected to receive circumcision was a concept that took the new Christians a while to understand. Acts 15 describes some of this process.

On the other hand, many of God's commandments apply to all mankind, and for all time. They are often presented as being related to God in some manner (e.g. sacred to God, or and abomination to God), and not a specific directive to a specific group of people. E.g. the Sabbath was declared a holy day during the first week of the Creation.

Deciding which commandments are for everyone, and which were for specific times and people, is one of the reasons there are so many denominations. The Adventist Churches say that Christians much obey the seventh day sabbath and clean meat laws, while on the other extreme some denominations say that Christians are no longer bound by the Ten Commandments.

As I said, "Protestantism" is rather broad.

As for God's commandments not being "heavy", John is pointing out that for a Christian, obeying God should be a natural thing, something that gives one pleasure, not something that could be considered a burden.

I once wrote something describing how the Ten Commandments could be seen in a totally different light, viewing them instead as Ten Freedoms. I think that is the message that John is trying to convey.

  • Excellent answer! You said, "Deciding which commandments are for everyone, and which were for specific times and people, is one of the reasons there are so many denominations"—that's one of the key reasons as a Catholic I would argue no matter of the faith ought to be up for deciding, and the faith once delivered to the saints is something received already, and that's what the Councils all believed in condemning heresies against the once for all delivered faith. Thanks for the articulate answer; I've marked it as the accepted one. Mar 13, 2019 at 21:40
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    God had extended his relationship to all of mankind under the New Covenant Can you point to evidence for that statement ?
    – Nigel J
    Mar 13, 2019 at 21:48
  • @SolaGratia The Councils did the same thing that these denominations do. They debate which way Jesus and the apostles taught and claim that their own belief is the original.
    – user32540
    Mar 13, 2019 at 23:01
  • No they didn't, they cited the tradition ("the faith once for all delivered to the saints") accepted by all the Christian Churches from the beginning, and made a point about the novelty of the heresy—in which all heresy consists. Arius, e.g., as Athanasius pointed out, couldn't point to any history of this interpretation of Scripture, it was just a twisting of it unknown to the Christian Church, and rejected as such. Orthodox Christians could readily do so.If teaching a new interpretation which contradicts the lived faith since the beginning isn't the measure of heresy, what possibly could be? Mar 13, 2019 at 23:16
  • @SolaGratia I agree, the belief that was practiced in the beginning will be the correct one, but if a heresy gains popularity before anyone notices, and it gains a history before it can be challenged, then an appeal to tradition will be deceptive because a superficial view of the argument will appear identical to the opposing argument. Jesus gave this illustration at Matthew 13:24-30, and further gave its interpretation at verses 36-43. The imitation Christians (weeds) will grow together with the sons of the Kingdom (fine seed) until the appointed time for the angels (reapers) to separate them
    – user32540
    Mar 13, 2019 at 23:48

The saying “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” is part of a larger passage (Matthew 11:28–30), in which Jesus tells all who are weary and burdened to come to Him for rest. He isn’t speaking here of physical burdens. Rather, it was the heavy burden of the system of works that the Pharisees laid on the backs of the people that Jesus was offering to relieve. Later on in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will rebuke the Pharisees for laying heavy burdens on the shoulders of the people (Matthew 23:4).

The “yoke of the Pharisees” is the burdensome yoke of self-righteousness and legalistic law-keeping. It has been said by biblical scholars that the Pharisees had added over 600 regulations regarding what qualified as “working” on the Sabbath. That is a heavy burden! Recall the story of the lawyer who asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment of the Law (Matthew 22:36). You can almost read between the lines of the man’s question: “What law, of all the laws we have, do I absolutely have to keep?”

Jesus was saying that any kind of law-keeping is burdensome and amounts to a “heavy yoke” of oppression because no amount of law-keeping can bridge the gap between our sinfulness and God’s holiness. God says through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah that all of our righteous deeds are like a “polluted garment,” and Paul reiterated to the Romans that “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law” (Romans 3:20). The good news is that Jesus promises to all who come to Him that He will give them rest from the heavy burden of trying to earn our way into heaven and rest from the oppressive yoke of self-righteousness and legalism. Jesus encourages those who are “heavy laden” to take His yoke upon them, and in so doing they will find rest for their souls. The yoke of Jesus is light and easy to carry because it is the yoke of repentance and faith followed by a singular commitment to follow Him. As the apostle John says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

This is what Jesus says in Matthew 11:30. His yoke is easy and His burden light. Now, we might think that there is really no difference between the commandments of Jesus and the Jewish Law. Isn’t the same God responsible for both? Technically speaking, yes. If anything, one might argue that the commands of Jesus are even more burdensome because His reformulation of the Mosaic Law in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7) actually goes above and beyond a mere outward conformity to the Law and deals instead with the inner person.

What makes Jesus’ yoke easy and His burden light is that in Jesus’ own active obedience (i.e., His perfect fulfillment of the Law of God), He carried the burden that we were meant to carry. His perfect obedience is applied (imputed) to us through faith, just as His righteousness was exchanged for our sin at the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our obedience to Jesus then becomes our “spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Furthermore, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who works in our lives to mold us into the image of Christ, thereby making the yoke of Jesus easy and His burden light. The life lived by faith is a much lighter yoke and a much easier burden to carry than the heavy and burdensome yoke of self-righteousness under which some continually strive to make themselves acceptable to God through works.

from: https://www.talkjesus.com/threads/matthew-11-30-meaning.63779/

  • I was going to upvote but as I read on it just started to look like a railing against keeping the commandments more or less at all as necessity, whereas Jesus plainly states, "If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love," and "If any one remain not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth," and of course, "if you want to enter life, keep the commandments." It's just a little too extreme a view to be considered any yoke, or a cross carried daily, or something I can upvote. Mar 15, 2019 at 22:55

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