"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1)
hat one verse captures the essence of Paul's whole appeal to the Galatians. It could be called the key verse of the book of Galatians. It distills Paul's whole answer to the Judaizers in a single statement.
Note: it is an imperative. It gives us an order to obey. It is a strong and unequivocal command to stand fast in the liberty Christ has given us. It powerfully reminds us that our freedom in Christ is a sacred trust to be carefully guarded. Liberty is not just one optional benefit of our salvation; Paul says it lies at the very heart of God's saving purpose.
In other wordscontrary to those who like to define Christianity with a list of rules that govern our public behaviorScripture defines the Christian life as a life of complete and total liberty. It's the purest kind of heavenly freedom. It's the only true freedom.
That's about as foreign to most people's thinking as it can be. The world tends to think religion should be a confining, constraining thing. But Scripture portrays Christianity as just the opposite: a liberating, emancipating, bondage-breaking freedom. Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). And, "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (v. 36).
At the very outset of Jesus' ministry, when He read the Scriptures in the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from Isaiah 61:1, that prophetic passage that says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives . . . to set at liberty those who are oppressed" (Luke 41:8). So the idea of setting people free was very much at the heart of Christ's redemptive work, and it is therefore the very heart of Christianity.
Of course, when Jesus spoke of freedom for captives and liberty to the oppressed, he was not describing something as mundane as political liberty for people under earthly tyranny. He was not planning the overthrow of the Roman government, as despotic as that system was. He was not trying to foment political revolution. He was not employing those terms the way modern political radicals employ them.
Instead, He was speaking of a spiritual libertythe birthright of every believer. It is a vast freedom from the yoke of any earthly, sinful, or Satanic bondage. It is the greatest liberty imaginable. It includes both freedom from the bondage of sin and freedom from the yoke of the law. There's a built-in equilibrium to the whole principle.
And the principle itself is the very antithesis of the Pharisees' idea of holiness. Their answer to sin was a list of rules and a catalogue of rituals. They tied up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and laid them on people's shoulders" (Matthew 23:4). But Jesus wonderfully set sinners freefree from sin, and free from the burden and the condemnation of the law.
There's an inexorable tendency toward legalism in every fallen human heart. We're all more or less naturally inclined to try to deal with sin the way the Pharisees tried toby compensating for our sinfulness and trying to constrain the flesh through manmade rules and rituals. It doesn't work; in fact, it is sinful in and of itself. It compounds guilt and weighs the sinner down with false duties and false hope.
Last Thursday's post made that point, and the long comment-thread following the post illustrates how difficult it is to shed legalistic ways of thinking.
Today is a holiday (in America, anyway), so I'm not going to write any more on this subject this morning. (I slept in and am late with this post already as it is.) But in the days and weeks to come, we'll be looking in closer detail at this subject of Christian liberty and it's twin foes: legalism and libertinism.
As we discuss these subjects from Scripture, I hope we can set aside the vitriol and snarkiness that surfaced a few times in last Thursday's comments.
In fact, let's make a rule for today's comment-thread: no arguing, from either side. Instead, use the meta of this post to pose some of the questions you'd like to see us address as we delve into this surprisingly difficult subject.