“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”…Galatians 6:1 (ESV)
“Give me liberty, or give me death!” What comes to mind when you read or hear this declaration? Is it not the rallying cry of the American Revolution, expressed famously by Patrick Henry in response to the tyranny of the British crown? 200+ years after the winds of revolution blew through the thirteen colonies to bring about the birth of a nation, there is still something about freedom– not just as a political theory, but as a lived experience- that stirs the spirit, doesn’t it?
As tremendous a thing as it is to celebrate the blessing of American independence today, though, what we find when we read the Bible’s New Testament is that liberty is an idea that far transcends- and long pre-dates- the story of a single nation-state, American or otherwise. The Apostle Paul’s letters, in particular, contend with stubborn intensity for the primacy of the unique, unmatched freedom that is found only in a right relationship with Jesus Christ. And nowhere is this argument advanced more forcefully than in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.
To provide a bit of backstory, Paul had launched the church at Galatia on one of his missionary journeys across Asia Minor, or what we now know as the Mediterranean rim stretching from the northern Middle East into far eastern Europe. In the time that lapsed between the church’s birth and the time of Paul’s writing, a group of false teachers known as the “Judaizers” had risen to prominence and began to lead the new Jesus followers astray.
Specifically, they argued that repentance from sin and faith in Jesus weren’t sufficient to make someone right with God, but that instead there must be additional works performed to complete one’s salvation. These works found their roots in the Old Testament Jewish law, and included ritualistic cleansing laws, strict dietary restrictions, and circumcision (!). There began to be an “insider/outsider” division in the church between those who submitted to such laws and those who did not. As you might expect, this led to two major problems- deep seated disunity between supposed Jesus followers along ethnic lines, and doctrinal doubts that threatened to undermine the Galatians’ confidence in the Gospel message itself.
In light of this, Paul goes to great lengths to fight for this church’s freedom in Jesus Christ. Recognizing that works-based religion is the “default mode” of the human heart (a thought that reformer Martin Luther would revisit over 1500 years later), Paul takes his readers back time and again to the Gospel reality that our standing before God is not- and can never be– based on any work of our own, but solely on the perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus. As Paul explains, this isn’t just an empty theory, but something meant to be a lived experience each and every day. So what are some of the practical ways that we experience Gospel freedom in the “ins and outs” of life in this world…
- Gospel freedom means hope in the face of your struggles. Because Jesus has set us free from the power of sin, we no longer have to resign ourselves to a life void of deep level transformation. Whatever your unique sin struggle, the power of Jesus Christ within you affords you the ability to overcome it and walk in righteousness.
- Gospel freedom means grace in the face of your failures. Because of the finished work of Jesus, your failures no longer define you; His victory does! This means that even when you fall short of God’s standard (and don’t we all?), His grace is available and sufficient to restore you into right fellowship with Him to keep you moving forward. To experience this, of course, requires honesty, humility, and repentance.
- Gospel freedom means humility in the face of your successes. We often don’t think of this as much, but it is no less powerful- and no less important. Pride is such a vicious prison; it requires you to constantly “keep up appearances” to manage the image you want to project to the world around you. Christ-centered humility frees us from such compulsive impression management and enables to serve God and others without obsessing over what they think of us.
- Gospel freedom means courage in the face of uncertainty, and even danger. There are times when God will call you, as a part of His family, to say and do things that are well outside your proverbial “comfort zone.” So how can you muster the courage to trust and obey in these moments? By recognizing that your calling is not based on your qualifications, but on His; that your obedience is not made possible by your ability, but by His; and that your success is not defined by your visible results, but by your faithfulness to His
So what’s the alternative to Gospel freedom? As Paul puts it, a “yoke of slavery.” “Slavery” trades in the hope of the Gospel for a “try harder, do better” message that put all the focus not on Jesus, but on self. The net effect of this is not a growing love for God and delight in righteousness, but a begrudging spirit that never can seem to measure up. God quickly becomes a cruel taskmaster to appease, rather than a kind, compassionate Father to love.
On this Independence Day, my hope and prayer for you is that you’ll live in the freedom that Jesus has made possible for you through the Gospel- and that the result will be ever increasing joy for you, and ever increasing glory for God in and through your life!