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Galatians 5:1-6: Standing Firm on Our Freedom

In any form, freedom has to be guarded; it must be protected. Christian freedom is no different.

Galatians 5:1-6: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.  (ESV)

Have you ever been tormented by sin, guilt, shame, and the fear of hell? When I was a young boy, the thought of not being good enough tormented me all the time. I thought that once I accepted Jesus, somehow, magically, my inclination to sin would cease to exist instantly. When that did not happen, I thought that something must be broken inside of me.

I believed the problem was my confession. So, I confessed, repeatedly. I accepted Jesus in my heart repeatedly. To stop the torment, I read the Bible more, fasted more, and prayed more. Doing all those things made me feel good, but when I fell short, it was terrible.

When I encountered the gospel of grace, I discovered that my problem was not my confession. I was saved the day I accepted Jesus as my savior. My problem was my guilty conscience. I was tormented by my guilty conscience over doing what I was not supposed to do and not doing what I was supposed to do.

If you are a professing believer and if you are tormented by sin, guilt, shame, and fear of condemnation, perhaps the problem is not your confession or what you do or how much you do or do not do. The problem is your guilty conscience that condemns you. Therefore, anytime you slip a little, you feel terrible, and consequently, you cling to doing things that make you feel good. Perhaps out of fear that you may slip again without realizing gradually you are slipping into legalism from which Christ has set you free.

Like us, the Galatians were dealing with a guilty conscience, too, and resorting to legalism to quiet their guilty conscience by doing good to be good. In this passage, Galatians 5:1-6, Paul explained this would result in cutting themselves off from Christ and the justification by faith in Christ, that is, the only way anyone can be declared righteous before God and not of any human efforts. So, rather than giving into a guilty conscience by doing, Paul instructed the Galatians, to stand firm on your freedom.

In any form, freedom has to be guarded; it must be protected. Christian freedom is no different. Therefore, as Christians, we all must stand firm on our freedom, or else be slaves to our guilty conscience and condemnation by doing good to be good. How are you guarding your freedom in Christ? What are you doing practically to stand firm on your freedom?

Let’s look at three consequences that Paul shows come from not standing firm on our freedom.

No Benefit from Christ

When we do not stand firm on our freedom, Christ is no benefit to us. Verse 1 says, For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” This verse functions as a bridge to connect the allegorical argument in Galatians 4:21-31 that we looked at last Sunday with our text today, and the text we will study next Sunday.

When you look at the first half of verse 1 in the Greek text, it has four words: “freedom,” “you,” “Christ,” and “set free” in that order. In Greek grammar, you put the emphasis on either the first or the last places of a Greek sentence. Here the emphasis is on “Freedom.”  Paul’s main concern, at least in this verse, is not on who achieved the freedom and how, but rather on their freedom.

The “for” before “freedom” indicates that freedom is the goal and objective for which Christ has set us free. Is Paul minimizing Christ and the cross here? No, Paul would never do that. Back in Galatians 2:20 he already said this, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Like a movie that uses many scenes and characters to tell a story, this scene is about freedom, and without understanding their freedom, the Galatians will never understand by whom or how it was achieved. My point is, Paul does not want his readers to get distracted by any other thing in the Christian life. What is this freedom? Romans 8:1–2: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

So, Paul says, this freedom, from which Christ has set us free, is, the freedom from the law of sin and death, and the law of the Spirit is the gospel, the good news of Jesus. This freedom becomes the determining factor for the Galatians’ present and future relationship with God through Christ.

However, Paul’s focus on freedom made him a target for opponents who called him antinomian. Anti means against, and nomas means the law. We will look at that in more detail in the coming weeks. For now, it is sufficient to say that legalism always leads to antinomianism, and antinomianism always leads to legalism. Legalism is adding anything to the gospel that is the finished redemptive work of Christ on the cross for our justification before God.

Antinomianism is to deny or set aside God’s law in our lives in the name of grace, in other words abusing grace. When Paul instructs the readers to stand firm and “do not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” Paul means do not submit to the yoke of the torah as their justification.

It always comes down to what is the reason for doing what you do. In Judaism, Rabbis would invite people to the “yoke of the Torah” a call to righteousness, that is, legalism. Jesus in Matthew 11:29-30 used this concept to offer grace, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart: and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

In verses 2-3, Paul says, “Look: I, Paul, say to you, that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.”

Here circumcision represents legalism, moralism, and the yoke of the Torah and the law to attain salvation. By accepting circumcision as the basis of being right with God, they would immediately lose their claim of justification in Christ. In order to be justified by the law, they had to keep the whole law which they would never be able to do.

Paul is neither a legalist nor an antinomian; he has no problem with circumcision. We will see that in verse 6. His problem is with the reason behind circumcision and what it stands for.

Here is the application. Ask yourself why you do what you do and why do you not do what you don’t do. Is it to satisfy your guilty conscience?

If you do good for a selfless reason, that good is good, but if the good you do is only to be good, that good is no good because that does not do good for anyone and that good is of the flesh and not of the Spirit. The Bible teaches the only way one can be good before God is through the righteousness of Christ.

Cut off from Christ

When we do not stand firm on our freedom, Christ is cut off from us. Many have misused verse 4 to say that Christians can lose salvation. Not here, nor anywhere else does the Bible teach that. Let me assure you once you are saved, you are saved.

The point of verses 1-3 was that you cannot put your trust in Christ and also trust the works of the law. They are two different ways of living, thinking, and seeking God. One is based on fear which leads to condemnation and the wrath of God that produces a guilty conscience; the other is based on freedom which leads to the grace of God that produces salvation.

Verse 4 is the result of not standing on our freedom: “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law, you have fallen away from grace.”

In the Greek text, you are severed is “katargeo,” meaning you have cut yourself off. So, it is not Christ, it’s us. When we do not stand firm on our freedom and attempt to be justified by any action other than Christ, we cut Christ off from us. The phrase “fallen away from grace” here enforces that truth because it literally means “to fall off” or “to fall out of.” The grammar here indicates that the moment a person enters legalism by doing good to be good, he falls from grace.

It is like moving from one sovereign territory to another. As an American Pakistani, I have dual citizenship. The moment I step foot into Pakistan, I am governed by their laws, and my identity as an American no longer benefits me. The moment we put trust in our efforts and legalism by doing good to be good, we are no longer under grace.

So, what is the application? Watch out and check your desires and actions. Always remember that grace is what God does for our salvation, and the “works of the law” is what we do for salvation. Only one gives life, and that is grace, so don’t cut off the bloodstream that is necessary for our eternal hope and life.

No Longer Our Righteousness

When we do not stand firm on our freedom, Christ is no longer our righteousness. Verses 5-6 say, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

First, notice, the use of “for” here again. This shows that Paul is presenting a contrast between those who live through the Spirit and by faith in Christ alone and those who do not. Second, the Greek word for righteousness here is from dikaiosuné. This is how one is considered just in the eyes of God.

Paul says when we stand firm on our freedom, we have the hope of righteousness, that is being made right or just in the eyes of God by faith through the Spirit. Paul says we eagerly wait for the hope of being declared right, good, and just before God.

Hope is an interesting concept in the scriptures, but it is completely different from how we use hope. The other day my wife, Sarah, smelled a gas leak in our kitchen, and she took out a detector we bought to check the gas. It did not indicate a gas leak, so I asked her if she thought it would be ok. She is a firefighter and knows these things, but she just said, “I hope so.”

My response was, well, that does not give me any confidence.

Christian hope is absolutely the opposite; it is assurance and confidence in the promises of God. So, the application here is, you can confidently count on being justified before God in Christ if you stand on your freedom.

Parallel Trajectories

Justification through the law and justification through grace are two parallel lines that never meet. It is like being on two flights simultaneously that will never interject. They are heading to two different destinations: one to freedom and the other to slavery, one to heaven, the other to hell.

Now, grace is not salvation in and of itself, it is the method by which God chooses to offer salvation to undeserving people through faith in Christ alone.

When we do not stand firm on our freedom, Christ is no benefit to us. We have cut Christ off from us, and Christ is no longer our righteousness. So, do not allow your guilty conscience to rule your life to torment you to do good and to be good. Do not focus on improving your morals and ethics to be good and to do good. Improved people cannot redeem themselves, but redeemed people can improve because of God’s grace which not only pardons the sinner of all past, present, and future sins but empowers them through the Spirit to overcome sin.

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