Galatians 5:1-12 (NIV)
1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. 7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!
Christian freedom is an essential truth to get our heads around. Freedom is part of Paul's theology, and if not fully understood leads to abuse and a new form of legalism.
It is easy to blame others for undermining our faith, but it must be our job to make sure no one “keep(s) you from obeying the truth…”
It takes very little “bad” for the fellowship to be corrupted – bad doctrine always leads to bad behaviour.
Freedom is not merely from something, it implies that we a free to do, be, become and live in another way. What is this other way?
Pauls understanding of slavery came from the age that he was born into. Slavery was a normal part of Roman society, and Jewish privileged society. Slavery has been an evil in the world since humans learnt to take freedom and dominate others for their own satisfaction.
We often think of slavery as a historical issue, and breathe a sigh of relief that those days are gone. But this is a naive thing to think. Today slavery drives the whole of our modern economy and materialism demands this evil to exist.
According to a report made by the BBC in May 2016 they state:
More than 45 million people are living in modern slavery, with Asia accounting for two thirds of the victims, a new report says.
The 2016 Global Slavery Index, from the Walk Free Foundation in Australia, defines slavery as "situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power or deception".
Modern forms of slavery can include debt bondage, where a person is forced to work for free to pay off a debt, child slavery, forced marriage, domestic servitude and forced labour, where victims are made to work through violence and intimidation.
The US state department lists the following as modern slavery:
Sex trafficking of adults.
Child sex trafficking.
Bond labour or Debt bondage.
Forced Child Labour.
Unlawful recruitment and use of Child Soldiers.
All of which a large part of the globe is involved with.
For NZ one area we are involved in slavery is through global companies. Companies like Nestle for example who have been in trouble for using slavery in the production of their products, and the fishing industries overseas who supply most of the global market who use slaves to do their work.
Slavery is a historical issue as it was in the day Paul wrote in – and this concept is embedded in what we are discussing in our reading. So, how did Paul understand slavery?
Slavery was an ever-present feature of the Roman world. Slaves served in households, agriculture, mines, the military, manufacturing workshops, construction and a wide range of services within the city. As many as 1 in 3 of the population in Italy or 1 in 5 across the empire were slaves and upon this foundation of forced labour was built the entire edifice of the Roman state and society.
(www.ancient.eu/article/629/ accessed 17/6/17 11:19 am)
A slave had absolutely no freedom, but were under dominium (complete mastery) of his or her owners. Slavery was such a prevalent practise that it was said to be so normal it became invisible by its acceptability. For Roman society, it was a necessity to develop and run its empire. Most well-off families might have several slaves. But extremely wealthy people, like prefect L. Pedanius Secundus of the 1st century had 400 slaves merely for his private residence.
They were the lowest in the social order with no rights, and the power of life and death in the hands of their owners. They were seen as such a social status that it was common for the very wealthy to walk in public with an entourage of as many as 15 slaves according to the same above site.
Paul speaks of legalism as if it were a slave master, an owner of individuals who had forfeited the rights of citizenship and personal liberty. To him the Judaizers were no different in their doctrine as a person who would sell slaves in the market to those who would exploit and dominate others. Merit, legalism, ritualism and works based religion was seen as wholesale slavery and an evil opposed to the intention of God in our saviour Jesus Christ.
Such was Paul's hatred of such enslavement that he reminded his readers of a proverb of the day “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” (v9) - a compromise on the one issue of circumcision would lead to an enslavement to the whole Jewish law now laid aside by Jesus Christ.
Point one: Freedom at the heart of the matter.
Breaking open the section.
Let’s see exactly why I say this claim.
Read through the scripture Galatians 5:1 - 12.
He uses the following phrases that capture this idea:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…”
“…do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…”
“…who ever let’s himself be circumcised is obligated to obey the whole law.”
“You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ…”
“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” – a little law, merit or bondage corrupts everything.
Often the church can look like a place of ritual slavery, or performance based acceptance. Instead of looking free in our faith we enslave each other by enforcing behaviourisms that Christianise, but don’t lead to the liberty we have in Christ.
Don’t do this, dress like that, speak in tongues, you must not say this or that – we reduce our faith down to a set of rules and performance. And maybe we do it to justify our need to prove something, but when we inflict unimportant performance based practices on people to validate their faith are we not enslaving people, are we not failing them as the Judaizers failed the Galatian church?
Now, I am not setting aside morality or holy living. What I am saying is that we can put standards on people that are the superficial land not the truly godly or worthy of this effort.
“What denomination do you go too?”
“Are you Spirit filled or just a normal Christian?”
“Who do you listen to one YouTube?”
“I am KJV only, why aren’t you?”
“Christians shouldn’t be like this or that…” based upon our own insecurities.
The Greek word used by Paul that we interpret as freedom means:
ἐλευθερία – Liberty. Not to be in bondage to a superior force that opposes us. To a slave freedom meant liberty to live a life that they gave value too, and not one that brings value to another by their captivity. To a slave it meant the freedom not to do nothing, but the choice to work hard at what gave them a sense of value, significance and self-direction.
To the saint in Christ it is to live as we should not as we please driven by sin that leads to separation from God, and enslavement to evil. It is to live fully engages in every good thing God has given us – and to honour God in all we do.
What the Judaizers were bringing to the table was an enslavement to a system of rules and law that would bind the Christian to a master that is never satisfied – the master of ritual, rule, law and rite. But, in Christ we are brought to liberty from pleasing an insatiable master who has no love or care for us. In the cross, we find the God who would forgive, the Lord who would offer of himself and the Spirit who inspires a new way to think and live. We find not a ruthless master who whips satisfaction from our spiritual hides, but rather a kind God who covers our shame and seeks only our forgiveness and life abundant.
Only when we discover such a God does liberty in faith make sense. And only when the church promotes such a gospel of love and grace will the world stop calling us hypocrites and deceivers.
Paul's obsession with freedom.
Paul was gripped by the idea of freedom – it was central to all he taught. It doesn’t take much to evidence this in his writings.
Romans 5:1 “Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
Romans 6:14 (NIV) “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.”
2 Corinthians 3:17(NIV) “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
It is said that Galatians is the letter that defines Christian liberty – the crown of freedom in Christ. And I agree.
To Paul Christ is not merely a savoir from sin, but the one who liberates us from the unnecessary and binds us to the real issue that makes life worth living. In verse 6 he says “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Love is the supreme expression of our faith, and faith is the only way we can please God. Put it in another way “What makes a real difference and is the supreme ideal of Christian living is a confidence and trust in God that is reflected to the world around us by care, concern and goodness.”
The Judaizers had made both love and faith buckle to performance and ritual – and such is a rejection of the cross.
Point 2: Our modern understanding of the word.
Today, though, in modern culture we think of freedom as that which allows me to do whatever I want. Those who are pro-abortion talk of the woman’s freedom to do what she wills with her body. Now, I am happy with all that, but when they forget that they are carrying another person inside themselves that has the right to decide what happens with their body I think this is not freedom but rather permission giving for evil behavior.
What is the difference of a slave master who kills a slave for being too difficult to manage? After all isn’t the slave just a piece of property? – we always find reasons to justify our own behaviorism.
Freedom today looks like this:
Freedom from consequences.
Freedom to do what I want.
Freedom from responsibilities that intrude on my happiness.
Freedom in our modern definition seems to always imply “freedom from” something. But this is a very small understanding of what freedom truly is.
In theology, it is as much “freedom towards” as it is “freedom from”.
Failure to understand that freedom is a soul condition first:
True freedom is first and foremost internal – freedom within. Freedom is the state of being at peace with God, others and our place in the world. Expressed differently, but having the same meaning Paul said this:
1 Timothy 6:6-7 (NIV) 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain.
Living well, in the way of God – pursuing wholeness and right living – with a sense knowing God loves and accepts you in Christ, brings great value for us. This is freedom – living well, enjoying all God has for us and knowing we are fully accepted by Him - liberates us.
And what does this liberty look like:
Freedom from sins effect leads to freedom towards:
Fellowship with God.
Freedom to choose differently, with the word of God bringing light to our path.
Freedom to become what God intended us to be.
Freedom from materialisms lure leads to freedom towards:
Being children of eternity – we live with an eternal perspective.
We are defined by God’s opinion not others – I don’t have to keep up with the Jones’, what I have in Christ is superior to them.
We are free to enjoy all the good things God has given us. This captured in the lesson Paul made regarding food for idols (1 Corinthians 8:1 – 13) especially verse 8 where Paul teaches the church that:
1 Corinthians 8:8 (NIV) “…food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.”
Freedom from our own foolishness allows freedom towards:
Repentance, which allows us to choose differently, living towards a better potential than past sin.
We have the privilege in Christ to know the mind of God.
A healthy fellowship empowers us to grow differently. A healthy fellowship should not be consumed with enforcing behaviourism on people, but rather challenging and encouraging people to become all they were designed to be in God.
This does not mean there is no moral gauge – but often we dump or insecurities on people, not what is best for them but what makes us feel comfortable.
Our freedom allows us to forgive those who repent and seek real reconciliation.
Freedom towards is more important than freedom from. I seek a freedom not based upon the don’ts, but rather empowering the do’s in Christ.
Point 3: An example of freedom – Understanding the Sabbath in Christ.
Institution of the Sabbath in Genesis 2:2-3.
Works for 6 days:
Chaos to order.
Lifelessness to life.
Void to abundance.
7th Day all completed:
In Christ, the work of salvation is completed.
In Christ, merit is laid aside.
In Christ, every day is the Sabbath – therefore we rest in Him.
The first century church established the first day as worship as celebrated the first day of the new creation – the resurrection of Christ.
Not as a law, but a celebration of the new creation.
Not as a ritual, but worship.
Not as a sacrificial system, but a meeting of souls feasting on God’s word.
Christ is our Sabbath as understood by Hebrews 4:1 – 11. In him chaos is brought into order, death become life and works is laid aside by resting in all he has achieved for us.
In Christ, the law is fulfilled – not eliminated, but made useless and worthless as it has completed its task. The Old Testament rituals and laws bow before the law declaring “it is finished”, the shadow bows before the reality, and the sun falls upon all those in Christ liberated from the shadows that existed to prepare the world for Jesus who is “the light of the world”. It is not that we have thrown away the sabbath, it is that we are now resting in the “perfect day”, Jesus is the seventh day – the rest from works, ritual, merit and toil.
That is freedom – not from the sabbath, but rather freedom towards the real sabbath – Christ completed what the law failed to do. The job of the Law was to show our sinful state in preparation for the Lamb of God who would take our sins from us.
Conclusion: Liberty is our inheritance.
Christ frees us to become, not to restrain us as a moralist, but to empower us as a liberator from enslaving legalism, ritual and sin.
To allow any form of superficial Christianity, performance based approval and ritualism to authenticate a person is to step out of grace, or more accurately as Paul said in verse 4 that such things cause us “to fall from grace”, and land on all that brings shame to the cross of the Lord.
Christian freedom is a from and a towards – free from sin and condemnation and freedom towards life in Christ and wholeness. But do we reflect this form of Christianity, or is it performance, approval based and merit aimed?