“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1, New American Standard Bible (NASB)*
When the Apostle Paul first wrote these words, he was writing to a church. These people had already experienced freedom, and he was urging them to hang onto that freedom and not let anything re-shackle them.
But it’s important, first, to know how they were free in the first place.
The freedom Paul spoke of wasn’t spurned from positive attitudes or mere hard work. And it wasn’t the Galatians’ ability to ignore their chains until they fell off, or meditate until they reached a higher plane. The freedom they had obtained came from a relationship.
Paul hinted at it in the letter’s opening:
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to deliver us” (Galatians 1:3-4).
Jesus Himself talked about it when He stood in Synagogue and read from the book of the Jewish prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18-19, emphasis mine).
And then as He went about that ministry, Jesus would also say things like:
“If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31).
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8: 36).
So this is the freedom that the Galatians had realized. Let me break it down:
It was a freedom from their past offenses against God
“For all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23a)
I know, ‘sin’ is such a churchy word. But it’s really pretty simple. The Greek word Paul used means ‘missing the mark’. He’s referring to failing, slipping up, making mistakes. You see, to a holy perfect God even the simplest mistake, most unintentional neglect, or minor slight is offensive. Not because He is a ruthless taskmaster, but because He is holy.
Imagine if you woke up and a slug was making its way across your face, leaving a slimy trail on your cheek as it went. How would you react? Most of us would react with disgust and sweep that thing away before we even took time to think. Was the slug malicious in taking a shortcut across your face? Of course not, it was just trying to get from point A to point B and somehow thought your cheek was a good route. Are you cruel and hateful because of your reaction? Not necessarily, you are just repulsed by the cold slimy creature. That is us and God. The fact of our sin – whether intentional or unintentional – is about as repulsive to Him as the feel of that slime trail on your cheek.
Now don’t read too much into this. God does not see us as slugs, repulsive creatures that He would prefer to avoid. Just the opposite, He cherishes us so much that He sacrificed a lot so He could have a relationship with us (more on this later). This also is not to imply that God is slave to His emotions and can’t help His reactions. If that were the case – if His repulsion toward our faults and failures controlled Him - He would have scrapped this whole project called Humanity long ago and would not have spent thousands of years executing His plan to make it possible for us to have a relationship with Him. So this is kind of where my illustration really breaks down – I am not about to become a slug in order that slugs can have a relationship with me…but that is exactly what God did for us!
It was freedom from the failure to become good enough
“…and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23b)
Because of our offenses, we are incapable of being acceptable to a holy God. There are no number of good things we can do to make up for the offenses we have caused. Again, not because He is trying to be impossible, but because His nature and our nature make it impossible. Without help, we are incompatible.
Elsewhere James summed it up like this:
“For whoever keeps the whole law” [follows all the rules] “but fails in one point” [breaks a single one of those rules, even the smallest one] “has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10)
In other words, break one rule and you may as well have broken them all. The consequences are severe either way.
It was freedom from the debt they owed God for those shortcomings
“For the wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a)
Seems pretty harsh, right? It’s important to understand that this isn’t physical death, but spiritual death. And spiritual death means being separated from God. God gave us life in creation. Jesus came so that we may have life abundantly. True life only comes from God, and it only comes by being connected to Him. Apart from God there is only spiritual darkness and death.
If our failures keep us from having a relationship with God, we will spend eternity separated from Him – in other words, in spiritual death.
It was freedom that came completely from God, and not from their own efforts
This is the most crucial point. We have all offended God somehow – no matter how hard we may have tried not to. We all deserve eternal separation from God because of it. We cannot do anything to reverse that. But God can! And He did.
“…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
God came in the form of Jesus Christ, lived a perfect life, and then went to a criminal’s death – all so we could be free!
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-18).
At least part of that probably sounds familiar to you. But I want you to see something here…that the only action in these verses that involves anyone not named “God” or “Jesus” is to believe. Nothing else is required of us. Our freedom is merely a matter of believing that Jesus is who He said He was and trusting that He can make us free! Read that sentence again – it’s important.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says: “For by grace you have been saved by faith [believing]. And this Is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works.”
You see – they didn’t have to do anything to gain this freedom. It wasn’t about church or religion or performance or checklists. It wasn’t about “finding themselves” or “doing good works.” All of those things have their place, but not one of them gains us freedom!
So what about you?
What chains are holding you down today? Addictions – alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling? Abuse (victim or perpetrator)? Guilt and shame over how badly you’ve screwed up your life or the lives of others? Is it perfectionism, trying to be a good person? Is it emotions like pride, anger, hate? Is it narcissism (making yourself your god) or emotional dependency (making another person your god)? Is it religion – trying to work and strive to please God by attending church, helping with events, teaching, sitting on committees, or memorizing your bible?
We’re all different, and so are the chains that hold us – so what are yours?
And next question – what have you done to try to free yourself? Have you tried to use brute force to break the chains by pulling and striving against them? Have you tried gimmicks and techniques as a hacksaw to saw through? Maybe you’ve sought that perfect ‘thing’ that you could use to pick the lock?
Or, as many of us do – have you given up on breaking free and just piled dirt and debris on top of the chains so others won’t notice them?
Whatever holds you down and whatever you’ve tried to get free, know this: There is one Name that can set you free completely, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved [or set free]” (Acts 4:12)
Talk to Him today. There is no magical prayer or secret sequence of words that make it happen (because that would be just another thing we have to do right to ‘get Him to free us’). Once you realize you need Him, there are only two elements according to Romans 10:9 – (1) confess that He is Lord and He paid for your sins, and (2) believe in your heart that He rose from the dead and claimed your freedom. That’s it. Whatever way you want to say that or what words you choose is between you and Him. Using your own words makes it more genuine. Too many people base their freedom on whether they said the right prayer or used the right words. If you do that, you are putting your trust in what you have done and not in what He has done. So just be genuine.
That’s it. It’s done. God says “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Everyone!
And here's the best part - don't miss this - accepting Jesus today isn't merely an insurance policy to secure a place in the next life. It is the beginning of a relationship with Him today!
Jesus said "whoever hears My word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life" (John 5:24). Not will have, but has eternal life! When it comes to our relationship with Him, eternity doesn't start when this earthly life ends...eternity starts today!
If you have done this, please let me know. I would love to help put you in touch with a church in your local area where you can learn and grow in the Christian life, where you can grasp hold of that freedom that you just claimed as your own.
There are no strings attached to the gift you just accepted (if there were it wouldn’t be a free gift). But there are acts of obedience and growth that help us build our relationship with Him once we are Christians (You don’t put any other relationship in your life on auto-pilot and expect it to flourish, and your relationship with God is no different).
If you haven’t come to the place where you prayed this prayer yet, that’s okay. We all come from different places in life, with different backgrounds and reservations concerning faith.
This is an act of coming into relationship with the living God of the universe, and so it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
So if you need to think through things, ask questions, weigh the truths, please do so. I just ask that you don’t put it aside and forget about it. Give it the attention it deserves. It’s an important decision.
I would be glad to help with any questions you have. Or I can put you in touch with someone in your local area who can sit down with you and answer questions face to face. Just send me an email.
Either way, thanks for reading this. It is the most important thing you will ever read – your freedom and eternal life hinge on it.
*All Bible references are from the English Standard Version, © 2001, Crossway Bibles