July 4th is just around the corner and freedom is on people’s minds. But there is a freedom greater than any kind of freedom we can experience as Americans. That freedom is the freedom we have in Christ as believers.
But some don’t like to emphasize what it means to be free in Christ and feel a need to tone down the radical claims of the gospel out of fear that someone may use it as an excuse to live any way they want.
So, the message of gospel freedom drifts toward legalism in order to prevent others abusing our freedom.
But when the gospel is properly understood there is no risk of it being abused. In fact, when we properly understand the gospel it leads us to want to obey God more, not less.
This section in Galatians is all about gospel freedom the consequences when we don’t emphasize it, and what can happen when we abuse it.
1) What is the freedom we have in Christ?
1 For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Literally, the verse reads “for freedom Christ freed you.” In other words, freedom is both the means and the end of the Christian life. Christ came to earth for the purpose of setting us free.
The tense for the verb “set us free” is what’s called an “aorist” tense which means it is referring to a single past action that is now complete. In other words, Christ lived, died and was resurrected in the past and no further action is needed.
Now Paul’s not talking about our salvation here. Salvation rests on Christ alone but we can lose our freedom. It is possible to be saved while temporarily submitting to a yoke of bondage. That’s what the Galatians were doing and what Paul is so strongly against.
Stand firm! The yoke of slavery has been lifted off! Stand tall!
Remember, these Galatians were Gentiles and the slavery he’s referring to is the law. They used to be under a slavery of false idols and now they’re in danger of returning to a different kind of slavery, one of moralism.
So neither pagan idolatry or biblical moralism are substitutes for Christ. Both lead to a life of fear and guilt that are a spiritual kind of slavery. And living a life of fear and guilt is tiresome. It’s exhausting. It’s spiritual slavery.
So, freedom is both the means and the end of the Christian life. For freedom Christ has set us free and we must stand firm in that freedom resisting all kinds of spiritual slavery.
Freedom is also freedom from the law.
2 Take note! I, Paul, am telling you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all.
Now what was the big deal about circumcision? After all it’s just a little minor surgery on the body. Well, it’s a big deal because of what it represents. To the false teachers, circumcision represented an entire religion of obedience to the law. Their slogan was Acts 15:1 “Unless you are circumcised and keep the law, you cannot be saved.”
So Paul says in verse 3…
3 Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to do the entire law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace.
This holding on to the law was essentially denying Christ’s claim of “It is finished.” The false teachers were claiming what Christ did was great and all, but Moses is the one who finishes what is necessary. Wrong! Christ is the one who finished all that is needed for salvation.
Verse 4 tells us those who were trying to be justified by the law, which is what circumcision represented, were actually being cut off from Christ and grace!
Now, again, Paul isn’t talking about losing your salvation. If you didn’t earn salvation by your behavior, you can’t “un-earn” it by behavior either.
John says of those who permanently turn their backs on Jesus, “They were not of us, for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:19). In other words, those who permanently “fall away” from faith never really had it in the first place.
They might have prayed a prayer. They might have stopped using drugs. They might have never missed a church service but none of these things are what saves us.
Those that profess to be Christians need to be warned of this. True Christians need to be reminded that salvation is of grace and true Christians will keep coming back to this truth even if they have temporary setbacks. But those who aren’t Christians will keep relying upon their own efforts because they never started relying on Christ in the first place.
But Paul is assuming the Galatians are Christians. He’s assuming they are saved and therefore their “fall from grace” will be temporary.
All of us need to be reminded often that Christ alone is sufficient for salvation and as soon as we add anything to Him, we don’t have Him. Salvation by works and grace are mutually exclusive. If you want salvation, grace is the only way to receive it.
And because it is a free gift we have assurance.
Verse 5 says…
5 For we eagerly await through the Spirit, by faith, the hope of righteousness.
In English, the word “hope” means “hope so” as in Will it be cooler tomorrow? I hope so, but we have no way of knowing for sure. In Greek, however, the word “hope” means a powerful assurance and certainty of something.
Hope means we wait by faith for what is promised. We eagerly wait thorough the Spirit, by faith, for what we know will surely happen. We don’t work for salvation, we wait for it, by faith. So, salvation for those who wait for it by faith in Christ is secure.
Those that have this kind of assurance have great peace in their lives because they don’t have to worry about the future. They don’t just hope things will work out, they know they will.
They don’t wonder about where they will end up after they die and they don’t live in fear or anxiety. This is a fruit of believing the gospel. And if you don’t have this fruit in your life it could very well be you are not trusting in grace but in works.
Fatih is what matters…
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.
Our performance or non-performance, as symbolized by circumcision, doesn’t count for anything when it comes to our standing before God. Everyone is equally lost and equally able to be saved.
So when we do something right a Christian shouldn’t think God loves us more and when we fail we shouldn’t think God loves us less. The truth is that God is always working for our good! Our successes and failures are always being used for our good. What a freeing concept!
And it is exactly this kind of freedom that leads us to good works. Verse 6 says,
“…What matters is faith working through love.”
See, those that have freedom in Christ are not devoid of works, they are just not relying upon them for salvation.
So, don’t get the idea that the “waiting” and “hoping” we do is entirely passive. Christian waiting is active, and includes works, but because we have freedom in Christ we don’t rely upon these good works to save us.
So, we’ve looked at what freedom in Christ is and isn’t…
2) But what if stop practicing the freedom we have in Christ? What are the consequences?
Verse 7 says…
7 You were running well. Who prevented you from being persuaded regarding the truth?
So you were running well, but now you’re not. Some translations read “who prevented you from obeying the truth” but the Greek meaning is primarily one of “persuasion.” You can see this more clearly in verse 8.
8 This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.
You were persuaded correctly, but now you’re being persuaded falsely. And this new persuasion didn’t come from God the Father. It came from another father, the devil.
And there are consequences. One consequence is that this false gospel can spread quickly. Verse 9…
9 A little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough.
The consequences of thinking wrongly about the gospel can effect more than just you. It doesn’t take much yeast to make bread rise. This is why Paul is so adamant about resisting the teaching of salvation by works.
But notice he still remains confident. He believes he’s talking to fellow believers who will listen so he says…
10 I myself am persuaded in the Lord you will not accept any other view. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty.
See, if you’re in Christ you will turn from your false belief. There is no doubt you will. But for those who are not in Christ and are causing you to be confused…for them awaits the ultimate penalty.
But while the consequences for holding fast to the gospel are eternally better, they aren’t always immediately pleasant. Paul says…
11 Now brothers and sisters, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.
Paul experienced the consequence of being persecuted because he preached an offensive gospel. And the gospel is offensive because it says we can’t save ourselves. The gospel says we need a Savior and we are helpless to save ourselves.
This is offensive to human pride. People hate to be told they can’t do something. We like to be told we can be and do anything we want if we just think we can and work hard enough. That philosophy may work for a football team but it is disaster when it comes to salvation.
Preaching circumcision (that we can be saved by our own efforts) is flattering to people. It’s popular because people like to hear how good they are hate to be told they can’t do something.
And telling people they can save themselves makes Paul angry. Not in a vindictive way but in a compassionate way for those who are being deceived. He says in verse 12…
12 I wish those who are disturbing you might also let themselves be mutilated!
The KJV takes the liberty of softening Paul’s original words with “I would they were even cut off which trouble you.” That’s intentionally vague and obscures what Paul is really saying. The CSB makes it clearer but what Paul is literally saying is he wishes they would castrate themselves.
Why would he say this? Because those that have been castrated cannot produce children. Spiritually speaking he wishes these false teachers would cut themselves off so they can’t produce any more followers.
His language is graphic but not nearly as graphic as what will happen to those who deceive God’s children. In other words, don’t mess with God’s children when it comes to the true gospel!
OK, we’ve looked at what freedom in Christ is and some consequences for not having it. But…
3) Are there consequences for abusing freedom in Christ?
Yes, yes there are.
Being “free from the law” doesn’t mean we are free to set our own standard of behavior. It doesn’t mean that we get to decide for ourselves what is right and wrong. God has already done that.
We lose sight of the gospel when we are legalistic but we also lose sight of the gospel when we use gospel freedom as an excuse to sin.
Paul says in verse 13…
13 For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love.
Freedom in Christ shouldn’t lead to promiscuity and doing whatever you want. It should lead to serving others through love. In other words, it should lead to good works.
14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.
Don’t verbally bite and devour one another and use grace as an excuse to do so. Do what the law says! Love one another!
So are we to keep the law or not? The answer is yes. In one way we are obligated to keep the law but in another we are not. We are not obligated because the law can’t save us but once we are saved we will be more motivated to obey the law than ever before.
The gospel takes away our motivation to sin. Why would we want to sin after we understand what Christ has done for us? Anyone who insists the gospel of grace encourages people to sin doesn’t understand the gospel.
One well-known preachers says…
“Take a lie, for example. On the one hand, gospel freedom means that I do not have to fear that I will be cast off from God if I lie. I am free from the legal penalty of that lie. The person who is seeking to be perfectly honest as a way of winning God’s favor will be devastated when they slip and lie. But the gospel assures us that dishonesty will not condemn us.”
“However, let’s ask: Why did I even want to lie? It will be because we felt that we needed what we faced losing if we told the truth. A person who must have approval, power, comfort or success to have joy or worth will lie to get, or to keep, that functional savior. A person who knows the gospel, in their affections as well as their intellectual understanding, will say: I don’t need this thing. Therefore I can tell the truth. If I lied, it would not change my standing before God—I’m free to lie. But there’s no need to lie—why would I want to?”
So “for freedom Christ has set us free.” And this freedom is greater than anything our country has to offer. This time of year, don’t set you sights too low.
Don’t settle for a false freedom of works righteousness or a false freedom of living a sinful life as if it doesn’t matter what you do.
Instead, embrace the true freedom God offers to those who trust in Christ for salvation and the true freedom we have of serving not out of duty or obligation but out of love for the one who saved us.