Standing Firm in Freedom
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.
We think of a lot about freedom especially this time of year. This 4th of July marks 241 years since the “Declaration of Independence” document was signed and accepted by the 13 colonies. What we often overlook is that not even one year after the declaration of independence was drafted the “War for Independence” the “Revolutionary War” began. After eight years, at least fifteen large battles, and somewhere between 6-7,000 men, women, both black, white, and native American fought and gave their lives, and the American colonies could begin their lives in total independence from Great Britain.
This Tuesday social media outlets will be filled with the slogan “Freedom isn’t Free”, Americans will pull out their favorite patriotic t-shirts and flags will proudly wave on thousands of homes. And all for good reason, we live in a free country!
America is a free country, not simply because Thomas Jefferson wrote a document. And America isn’t a free country only because of the Revolutionary War. America is a free country today because of thousands through the years who have done their part to preserve that freedom.
There is something deep inside of the American people that knows that we all play a part in that preservation. So we stay aware of bills and laws that are going through the house and the senate. We vote, even if the candidate that best fits out political preferences isn’t on the ballot.
Many of us do not know what life is like outside of political freedom only the stories we’ve been told and therefore we are going to do everything in our power that is not a contradiction to God’s word to preserve those freedoms.
The Apostle is not writing the Galatian Christians about their political freedoms. The Galatians primarily only knew the Roman Empire and (not to sound too simplistic) but as long as they complied with the Roman regime, they were okay. Even still Paul is not necessarily concerned with traveling through unchartered waters to find a land where they could enjoy political and religious freedom.
The Apostle is mainly concerned with the fact that the freedom that they had in Christ was in jeopardy. And what I mean by saying their freedom was in jeopardy is that they were literally in danger of (I’ll use Paul’s words) being severed from Christ and of falling away from grace.
This kind of talking makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It’s strange that we would accept the slogan, “Freedom isn’t free” as a plausible slogan to motivate us for living our temporal lives here on earth, but we bristle and prune up when we begin to consider that all freedom (including our spiritual freedom) comes at a price and there must be a perseverance and preservation in order for that freedom to flourish.
The question then is,
What must we do in order to preserve the freedoms we have in Christ?
The Apostle doesn’t cut to the chase when answering this question for us. Because it’s an anxious thing for us to think about. Immediately we want to do one of two things when we’re given an ultimatum and our culture knows this, we either “fight or flight.” We either see the aggressor and it emboldens us to match that aggression or we see the aggressor and go, “I’m out of here. All I have to do is run faster than this guy.”
But what if we’re thinking about this all wrong? What if Jesus wants an entirely different response from us?
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
What if what Christ wants from us is not our charging hell with a squirt gun? What if what Christ wants for us is what a good soldier who goes off to war wants for the children of that country? What does he or she want? They want them to be free. They want them to feel secure. They want them to enjoy being alive, and laughing, and flourishing.
See Christ was hurled to the earth in the form of a vulnerable baby, lived a life as a social outcast—being looked at as an illegitimate child, at times homeless, almost always misunderstood, accused falsely, charged illegally, beaten brutally, and crucified inconceivably, all so that he could rise again and bring unfathomable freedom to people who were enemies of God, separated from God, in bondage to sin and condemned by the law.
That’s why Jesus came, to set slaves free.
These Galatians heard that good news many times, but they were afraid that they weren’t doing enough to prove to God that he made a good choice in saving them. And Paul has fought hard to remind them, “Your past is not what saves you, your present, your future is not what saves you, it’s only by His mercy that He saved us.”
So what is our part in preserving the freedom we have in Christ?
Someone should underline, circle, draw arrows, highlight, do whatever you need to do to get this drilled deep in your head and heart, Jesus wants you to stand firm in the freedom that He bought you with His blood.
Interestingly enough, to stand firm is a military term. It mixes the ideas of not only being awake, and being strong but also partnering together to fortify that strength. For instance:
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,
Galatian Christians, stand firm together, remind each other of what is true. Lift each other up when one is getting weak, join arms if you have to, but stand firm in your freedom.
And, do NOT submit (AGAIN) to a yoke of slavery.
Paul is mixing metaphors here, but you can see the picture of an ox that has had a yoke around it’s neck day after day that has finally been set free from that yoke.
And his point is that the idolatry and paganism that they were up to their eyeballs in is bondage in that they were enslaved to it. They were addicted to the lifestyle of self-love, self-preservation, and self-salvation and by considering getting circumcised they were submitting to a yoke. Yes it was an outwardly better looking yoke, it was a yoke nonetheless.
How could Paul say that becoming a cultural Jew was bondage?
That was required for all Jews for thousands of years before that. Why would this all of the sudden be such a big deal?
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.
This is an “If-Then” proposition. IF you accept circumcision, THEN you are simultaneously rejecting Christ.
And if Christ is “no advantage” to you than by course of the argument Paul has already offered there is no deliverance for you (1:4) for Christ is our deliverer, you are cursed (3:13) for Christ became a curse for us, and you are no true child of Abraham (3:6-4:7) for the true children of Abraham are the ones who belong to Christ.
It is no different than hitting the rewind button back to when you first received the gospel. You are living the life that you lived pre-Christ only now you’re vulgarity and debauchery stays on the inside.
Now, why would Paul say Christ is “no advantage to you?”
I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
He said that because Paul knew that circumcision was the starting point to becoming a Jew. God commanded the Jews to circumcise their sons on the eighth day. Paul had nothing against the Jews being culturally who they were. Paul was a Jew himself and Paul (from the best we can tell) kept on observing the Jewish rites even after his conversion. Paul’s point is most understood when you figure out what he means by using the phrase “if you accept circumcision.”
What does he mean “every man who accepts circumcision?”
Paul’s point is most understood when you figure out what he means by accept. What does he mean “every man who accepts circumcision?”
We need to look into the next verse to find the answer:
You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Ahhh… do you see it? What does he mean by “accept circumcision?” The middle proposition tells us that Paul knew what accepting circumcision meant for the Judaizers, it meant being “justified by the law.”
And we’ve discussed this theological word in previous weeks, but the basic idea of being “justified” is being declared right before God. So by accepting circumcision they would therefore be claiming that it is the law of Moses that they are really leaning on to declare them right before God.
And if you are relying on the law to justify you then by process of elimination you are NOT relying on Christ. So he says, if you are relying on the law to declare you right with God, you are SEVERED from Christ, you have fallen away from grace!
Now, one thing that gets very often misunderstood is that the Jews did not believe they had to follow all of the Mosaic Laws perfectly in order to obtain right standing with God. They knew there were provisions when (NOT IF, BUT WHEN) they failed to follow all of the 613 Jewish laws. So they weren’t actually relying on their own ability to perfectly follow a system. The problem was, they were following a system that was not designed to do what they were asking it to do.
They were asking the law to speak on their behalf. They were trusting in the fact that they had the right formula, the right recipe. Everyone else had the wrong recipe, but they were the enlightened ones, the ones who knew that Jehovah-God has spoken to Moses to give them the laws to live by.
The point Paul is making that is still very much applicable to us today is that relying on anything in addition to Christ, whether it’s our “work hard and keep your nose clean” mentality, or our “humanitarian efforts” and “social awareness” and “above board morality” or whether it’s our justification of doing more good than bad, or “in the end it will all work out” it really doesn’t matter what we’re relying on IF it’s anything in addition to or besides Jesus, it puts us in a place where we’re cut off from Christ and fallen from grace.
Now this brings up a question about what theologians call, “Eternal Security.” The cliche that the church has most readily accepted is, “Once saved, always saved.” So the question is,
How do we know if we’re eternally secure?
If they (as I said in the beginning) were in danger of losing their freedom in Christ, is that different than being in jeopardy of losing their salvation?
I want to put this on the very bottom shelf because we have children in here today and I want you to understand this as much as I want the person who made a profession of faith 25 years ago:
Saying a prayer or even agreeing that certain things about God are true is not what is meant by Biblical faith. Living in a so-called “Christian nation” attending a “Christian school” and growing up in a “Christian home” is not what faith means. Being baptized, following the ten commandments, taking communion and knowing all of the answers to Bible trivia is not faith.
Our eternal security doesn’t ride on our spiritual activity. The way some religions see their standing with God is the way that an employee who has been written up two times sees their employer. They know they have the job as long as they don’t mess up. But they come to work dreading the job. There is no joy in that, there is no freedom in that.
So what is it like?
Paul doesn’t just show us how it works theologically, he follows it up with a picture:
For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.
The Holy Spirit works in the hearts of people who are far from God (and by far from God I don’t mean criminal) by far from God I mean lives a life for self. The only person you’re really concerned about is you, your image, your career, your family, your body, your stuff, you love you some you. You’re far from God.
God’s Spirit awakens the hearts of individuals some are seeking for truth, but most are confronted with their brokenness. And when that spiritual awakening takes places you’re given the boldness to say “this is worth trusting in.”
And you know that that spiritual work has been done in you because from that experience, you are no longer only concerned with yourself in the here and now. Now, you’re living in anticipation that one day, God is going to affirm that you are His true child and until that day, you are going to live in submission to Him.
The picture is of a chid who is eagerly awaiting the time when his mom or dad comes home. They’re eagerly awaiting that moment all the while they’re life is lived in anticipation of that moment. It’s funny because as grown-ups, we have a hard time waiting while not becoming anxious. We pace, we send constant text messages, we worry. But kids? Kids can know that mom or dad is in the military, but they’re coming home. So until then, I’m going to do what I normally do. I’m going to play and laugh and live believing that they’re coming home soon.
Perfectly? Of course not. Consistently? Absolutely.
If you can’t say with some confidence that “Because of what Jesus did, I’m right with God” than even though you might be here singing the songs, Bible in hand, money in the plate, you’re relying on something other than Jesus to affirm that you’re right with God.
And that’s exactly what Paul says,
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Neither Circumcision nor uncircumcision doesn’t even show up in the books. What that means is that on judgement day, there is only one possible currency and it’s not whether you were circumcised or whether you were uncircumcised. It’s not whether you were religiously pious or whether you were a wild partier. Those things won’t go for or against you. You get it? Jesus isn’t collecting gold stars on judgement day - and Jesus isn’t going to be playing a video projection of all the sin you ever did either. That video projection happened on the cross when Jesus was filet wide open and gutted like a fish, naked hanging on a criminal’s cross absorbing jolt after jolt after jolt of wrath for YOUR SIN.
No, on that last day, the only currency that is worth anything is “faith working through love.”
The question: what must we do in order to preserve our freedom in Christ?
One word - faith.
Not just any version of faith, or whatever fits your theological definition, but faith working through love.
So what does that look like? What does the actual currency look like? We’re going to dive in to that next week, but just so you’re not left hanging… It’s not words on a sheet, it’s a life under control of the Spirit to do what God calls you to do.
Easter is the Christian Independence Day. It’s the day we remember when God Declared our Independence from the tyranny of the law. So we remember that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! He declared our independence from sin, so “You must also consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
In other words, “For freedom Christ has set you free; now stand firm in that freedom.”