It is for Freedom that Christ has set us free; continue to stand firm, therefore, and do not be loaded down again w/ a yoke of slavery.
In the previous section of Galatians that we looked at together we saw the Holy Spirit’s insistence that as Children of the promise we are born of the Free woman (30, 31) — born of the Spirit and we stand in contradistinction to those who belong to the bondwoman and who are enslaved to the law.
In this next section the Apostle emphasizes that difference again by explicitly stating that the consequence of being released is Freedom accompanied with the injunction to not go back to those things that scream bondage and will, if returned to, deliver one back to that former bondage.
Now as the issue of Freedom has come front and center here we would do well to ask just exactly what kind of ‘Freedom’ is spoken of here. What does the Holy Spirit mean here when He speaks of Freedom?
To answer that perhaps we would do well to explore what it is we are Freed (delivered) from and what it is we we are delivered to.
In the context of this letter to the Galatians clearly Freedom means first to be delivered from the vain attempt to use a law system, that is absent of proclaiming Christ, as a means of salvation. The Judaizers were insisting that the ceremonial law that had been fulfilled with the coming and faithfulness of Christ remained in effect. They insisted on circumcision and many other of the Jewish accouterments that the death of Christ had made obsolete and retrograde.
The Galatians have peace and access (Romans 5:1-2) with God only because of their union with the Christ and His finished work (Romans 6). They are free from the wrong use of the Law that the Judaizers are seeking to foist upon them.
We have said repeatedly that the problem here in Galatians is with the desire to embrace a obviated ceremonial law. But we should hasten to add that we move back to bondage anytime we try to use God’s law in any of its senses as a means to catapult into God’s presence and favor apart from relying on His introduction on our behalf (forensic righteousness) and without our union with our ascended Lord.
In this Freedom that comes from the deliverance from the law we have a freedom from the nagging fear and accusing conscience that our performance is not what the law requires. As the Galatians were delivered from a salvation that was connected with their personal adherence to the ceremonial law so when we consider the implications of that truth we realize that, being completely and irrevocably saved, we are free from seeking to acquire a salvation based upon a performance that isn’t exclusively based upon Christ’s performance for us.
As Freemen we are not awake with night sweats that our performance is inadequate to what is required. Correspondingly, as freemen we no longer try to deceive ourselves that our lack performance really provides an obedience that measures up to God’s standard apart from Christ’s righteousness. We have been set free from both the despair that comes with the realization that our performance is not adequate (There is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus) and the self-righteous delusion that our performance is adequate.
However not only is it the case that we have been freed from, but it is also the case that we have been freed to. The freedom is not only negative but it is also positive.
As the Apostle will go into a bit later in the letter we have been freed to walk and live in the Spirit, and so produce the fruit of the Spirit. Having been covered with Christ and united to Christ we are free from the compulsory service that comes from being a slave and delivered to the delight that comes from cheerful service that issues from a son. We have been set free from trying to use obedience to attain an uncertain salvation and set free to serve in gratitude from a salvation that is already present and can’t be recalled.
We might also say here that because of this deliverance that has issued in freedom that Christians should be people who do not carry the kind of psychological baggage that comes with being in bondage. Having been set free we are free from guilt and having been set free from guilt we no longer live our lives trying to alleviate ourselves by self-atonement that expresses itself in a host of different ways, nor do we allow ourselves to be manipulated by guilt that we no longer have. Having been set free by Christ we no longer do shame, or alienation or despair or fear, or any number of the other psychological consequences that come with not yet being freed from our sin and united to Christ. These things no longer should master us. All of these things belong to the children of the bondwoman. It is for Freedom that Christ has set us free.
From what we see from the Galatians though we understand that retaining this unbridled freedom is work. We must be constantly reminded that ‘we are not to be loaded down again with a yoke of slavery’ (5:1b). We must persevere in the fight against spiritual re-enslavement.
As Calvin said, the heart is an idol factory and each one of those manufactured Idols seek to enslave again the person who creates them. There is something about the fallen human creature that he fears the kind of freedom that Christ offers. Perhaps it is the fear that comes with the realization that this master cannot be manipulated. The spiritual slavery that comes with other false gods can be alluring if only because in all of these bondages there is a false sense that the Idol that is holding the keys to the slaves bondage can be manipulated by certain behaviors, incantations, or ritual. In the Christian faith we are spiritually free but that brings with it the reality of a God that cannot be manipulated. In our Christian freedom we must be satisfied with a free God who cannot be manipulated and who is free to do with us as He desires.
We still find that kind of thinking today in Evangelicalism. There is still a sense that by pursuing certain behaviors, incantations, or rituals we can manipulate God into doing what we want. As freemen we are not satisfied with a free God.