When we think of the word “freedom”, we often think of autonomy; basically the freedom to do whatever we want without constraint. When the New Testament speaks about freedom, it relates to our new opportunity and ability to be all that God created and redeemed us to be. Free to serve, free to love, free to worship, and free to embrace and live out all that became new at our new birth.
In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul addresses the freedom challenge. Rule-makers had infiltrated the church seeking to limit the believers’ freedom. “But it was because of the false believers who had sneaked in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into slavery. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you” (Gal 2:4-5).
The “truth of the gospel” Paul is referring to is our freedom in Christ. And Paul later identifies these “false believers” as the Judaizers; a group who have come from the Jerusalem church and stressed the need for the new Gentile believers to keep the Law, including the act of circumcision. The Law still carried some weight in their eyes both for full acceptance by God as well as a guide for living the Christian life. Paul sees this form of legalism as so far from the truth that he did not listen to them “for even one hour.”
Paul then goes on to write a treatise on our freedom in Christ. Paul concludes his defense with, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). So what does standing firm in our freedom look like?
First, it is defending our freedom along the lines of the argument Paul lays out in his letter. But it is also putting that freedom into action. As Paul continues in chapter 5, he addresses the application part of our freedom with, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).
The purpose of our freedom is not to indulge the flesh – a danger Paul recognizes and spends the rest of chapter 5 exploring. (As an aside, we have spent several posts in the past explaining the relationship between defeating the flesh and walking in the Spirit in light of Galatians chapter 5. See here and here.) No, the purpose of our freedom is to live into all that God redeemed us to be. Particular to verse 13, it is the freedom to serve – motivated by love – our brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, use your freedom to serve each other; motivated and empowered by love.
Let your freedom from selfishness, freedom from anger, freedom from bitterness, freedom from envy, freedom from always having to win, freedom from always having to have the last word…set you free to serve one another. It is a freedom from what is essentially our last enemy: ourselves and our selfish ambition. And it only comes through Jesus Christ. May you walk in that freedom today.