"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." --Galatians 5:1
At this point in Galatians, Paul has established a firm theological ground on freedom in the Christ. He has shared with the Galatians the reality of who Jesus is and who they are by faith in Christ. We call this the indicative of the Gospel. Most of Paul’s letters are structured with the indicative (information) first and the imperative (implications of the information) as a result of the indicative.
In other words, Paul is going to tell us that since we have been set free in Jesus Christ, we can now live a life that reflects and enjoys that freedom. People who have come to faith in Christ are completely changed in their hearts, minds, and souls. Their lives look different. Plain and simple.
He begins in verse 1 of chapter 5 in this way, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” At first glance, when someone reads the letter to the Galatians they might think that freedom in Christ means that they can live their life any way that they want to. After all, Jesus has wiped the slate clean and salvation has nothing to do with their works or behavior. Their ticket to heaven has been punched and verified! But a life changed by the Spirit, who is now free from fear, free from condemnation, free from religion, is a life that lives in gratitude and desire to obey a gracious God.
We are free from the rules as a way of salvation, but are also now free to obey out of our gratitude. And this is not a yoke of slavery. Obedience is the mark of a free man.
What is the motivation behind living in obedience? In verse 5, Paul tells us that we are to eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. In the Biblical context, hope means much more than it does today. Today, we use the word “hope” in a way that indicates uncertainty. We have no real assurance that what we hope for will actually come to pass. But in the time that Paul wrote, hope meant real assurance. In other words, Paul is saying that Christians live in expectation of the righteousness that is already theirs and will be theirs. The hope Paul speaks of has no hint of uncertainty. Christians are to live in light of certain glorification and very real justification.
We know what is ours. We know what is ahead. We will be with Jesus, like Jesus, and in perfect relationship with God. John writes in his letter, “Dear children, we do not know what we will become, but we know that when he appears, we will be made like him.” In the Bible, being with Jesus and like Jesus is certain.
In turn, we live our lives in light of this hope. God sees us eternally. He does not see us as the version of us that we hope to be one day. God does not love us less or more depending upon our behavior, but instead sees us as His eternal children. Our lives must reflect this knowledge. That is why we can live in obedience and without fear and anxiety.
Our options are to live free or die trying. Paul makes this clear in the next verses when he says that circumcision (moral obedience/religion) and uncircumcision (paganism/irreligion) have no value at all. That means that without Jesus our good works have no value. Tim Keller puts it this way, “Neither moral exertion nor moral failure counts. Period.”
How can Paul say this? Whether you are religious or irreligious has no weight on whether or not you can be saved. It has no bearing on how much God loves you or his capability of saving you. I often remind my children that I do not love them more when they do good things and my love is not diminished when they do stupid things. I can only follow this imperfectly, although I want to believe that I am a perfect father. But our Father in heaven is perfect and His love is not based on what we bring to the table or what we leave behind. His love is entirely based upon the work of Jesus.
We have to hold to this truth and stand firm. When good things happen to us, we ought not to believe that it is because of our good works, but rather because of God’s good and perfect love. When bad things happen, we ought not to think that God has now loved us less. Rather we must continue to believe that all things are working together for God’s glory.
In verses 7-8 Paul interjects his thoughts with a question, “You were doing so well. What happened?” He warns them that religion, morality, or pagan licentiousness is not from God. They had added just a tiny bit of bad doctrine and now they were in danger of not finishing the race.
Paul finishes up his introduction to the practical section of the letter by reminding the Galatians once more that they were called into freedom from bondage. We have been called into freedom and are now free to obey the Law – not as a means of justification, but as a means of gratitude. Christians live lives of gratitude under the Gospel when they obey God.
The final verses show us what this looks like. We are not to use our freedom as an excuse for sinful lives. Instead, we have now been given the ability to choose what is right and to live in freedom and obedience to God.