Imagine a prisoner who has served a long sentence in harsh conditions. Finally, he is pardoned and released. What will he want to do? He will not walk back to prison and ask to be readmitted. To return would be utter folly. The Galatian Christians had been set free. The bondage they had been living under was broken, yet they were beginning to return to the old ways. Paul was deeply concerned about them and wrote to address their problem. We consider Galatians 5:1 Freedom in Christ.
1. Freedom from
We begin with the negative aspect of freedom. Paul refers to a ‘yoke of slavery’ to which Christians are not to become subject again. In the context of Galatians, it is freedom from:
(i). The law. It is not that we have been freed from an obligation to love God and our neighbour (Mark 12:30-31). We are, however, freed from the curse of God that rests on the breakers of his law (3:13). The Saviour has paid the price for our release. We are also set free from the ceremonial law of the Old Covenant which Christ has fulfilled. We are also freed from trying to establish our righteousness by law-keeping.
(ii). Sin. In Christ we have redemption from sin in all its aspects: the guilt of sin, since the atonement he made at the cross deals with our debt of sin (Ephesians 1:7), and the power of sin, since we have died to sin in our saving union with Christ (Romans 6:11).
2. Freedom for
Freedom in Christ has also a wonderful positive aspect. We have been set free to enjoy life ‘to the full’ (John 10:10). We are under the light ‘yoke’ of Christ (Matthew 11:29-30). We are freed for discipleship, following the king who freed us. Note 2 key elements:
(i). Holiness. We are to ‘strive’ for holiness (Hebrews 12:14), because our God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Holiness is likeness to Christ, best summed up in the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (v22-23). Where the Spirit is, there is true freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).
(ii). Service. Freedom is never an excuse for idleness. The Lord gives gifts to his people that are to be used (like the talents of Matthew 25:14). Whatever the gifts entrusted to us, our responsibility is to use them fruitfully, in his service, by the enabling of the Spirit.
3. Freedom preserved
It is possible to lose our freedom, not in principle, but in practice. We may not realise its value or we may regard it as restrictive since it prevents indulgence in sin. To forsake freedom in Christ is to return to the ‘yoke of slavery’ which is nothing but a burden. We must ‘Stand firm’ – holding fast to freedom. We have the responsibility to preserve the freedom – ‘do not let yourselves be burdened’ – of course with the help of the Spirit. In the context of Galatians, Paul sees 2 threats:
(i). The law. We may begin to think our obedience earns God’s favour.
(ii). Tradition. We may add manmade rules to try to enhance our merit with God.
Both produce bondage since we never obey well enough. We are to live free in the saviour who promises, ‘I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28).