About four years ago as we were going through the 501c3 process to register our ministry as a non-profit, we needed to come up with a name. We ultimately chose Galatians 5:1 Ministries. I remember I was studying Galatians at the time and was struck how Paul clearly lays out a Gospel of grace alone through faith alone in chapters 2-4 then exhorts the church in Galatia not to forget that they are not only saved by grace, but that we also now live in grace as sons of God through Christ Jesus. Galatians 5:1 seems to be the crux of the argument Paul is making. It’s the “so what” that Paul uses to transition from the theological to the practical.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Then, as a Christian living in ultra progressive Portland, Oregon the significance of this verse seemed a bit more ethereal. Sure, I have known those who put unbiblical rules on what it means to be a believer, rules that are not found anywhere on the pages of Holy Scripture, I even would have admitted to having some religious legalism in my past–I remember being dumbfounded as a high school student that my pastor called a friend of his “one of the most generous Christians he knows” even though the friend smoked cigarettes. That example of my legalism notwithstanding, I hadn’t ever seen anything that was so blatantly similar to the Scribes or Pharisees of Jesus’ time.
In our current context, the wonderful island that we are so lucky to call home is also home to more religious sects, cults, false teachers, and diabolic Pied Pipers than can be counted or retold by Wikipedia. One group of wolves in sheep’s clothing was in our neighborhood just yesterday, proclaiming their wretched gospel to anyone who would listen, actually everyone within half a mile was listening as only those whom God has blessed with deafness couldn’t hear the speakers stacked in the back of the screaming “prophet’s” pickup truck. Emilie just so happen to be at her friend’s house who she has been faithfully sharing Jesus with for the past year or so, when two women approached them warning them to cry out to God for repentance. Emilie humbly told them that she was a Christian and began to share with them what we do here in the neighborhood, when the supposed leader of the group told my precious wife that she has a demon inside of here and could not possibly be a Christian wearing what she was (see picture). What more, Emilie’s friend was told that she will never be allowed into God’s holy heaven until she rids herself of the red hair dye in her hair.
It’s either really good luck on the part of the women or God’s providence that had me at home working on a lesson for my next English class (I’m betting the later rather than the former), because had I been there, there’s not a rebuke or damnation strong enough that I wouldn’t have used on these two blind guides. But Emilie, be it due to humility or that she was shell shocked, began to quietly tell these two whitewashed tombs what the Bible says about works based religion and how we are saved by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone, but her words fell on ears that are ever hearing and never understanding. As they symbolically stomped the dust off their hypocritical feet (are you getting an sense of what I think about them?), Emilie began to share all the more with her friends that these people neither know the scriptures nor the God of said holy writ.
Through all this, both my personal progression in the depth of freedoms in Christ and being smack dab in the middle of a repeat of 16th century Catholic politics/religion that needs ‘a reforming, I think about Paul’s words to the church in Galatia in Galatians chapter 4:8-11
“Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.”
We are saved from absolute slavery to sin, that’s true but that doesn’t tell the whole tale. Even worse, we created the gods in which we then gave ourselves over to as slaves. But now that we are known by God we are no longer enslaved, neither to those so called gods, nor to sin–What a good Gospel we have the privilege to preach!–This slavery language can be a bit harsh, but the Bible pulls no punches and goes even further. While it is true that we have been freed from our former master of sin, we have been freed only to become slaves to righteousness and to God. This does not mean we are free to do what we please without concern, absolutely the opposite. This freedom means we have a new master. Our loving Heavenly Father (Romans 6).
This then brings me full circle back to Galatians 5:1 and how this verse shatters the idols I make for myself.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
How can Paul, who wrote both Romans and Galatians, say that we are saved to freedom and saved to slavery albeit with a new master, doesn’t that seem to be contradictory? This, the heart of the Gospel, is what is most veiled to those who have yet to believe. That is, if we want to be truly free we need to submit to being slaves to God. The world cannot understand this. In their search for self-fulfillment they go from one vice to another, bowing down to the god of their own imagination. But Paul’s point in Galatians 5 is not made to non-believers but to believers who, much like Israel in the wilderness, have been set free to follow our God and yet still desire the cakes and figs of slavery in Egypt. No, he says. NO! We must stand firm. Not submitting to a yoke of slavery, but submitting nonetheless.
The practical application of scripture is always less painful when you’re doing it to someone else; It’s so easy for me to denounce those false teachers from yesterday, and while that is needed, I am called to kill my flesh though the help of the Holy Spirit and to follow Jesus. I must search my eyes for logs, specks, dust, or even nanoparticles of sin by asking these hard questions first to myself and continuously of myself until He comes to save me from this world. How am I not standing firm? Am I really living in the freedom Christ has for me? Am I living in the works of the flesh as Paul goes on to describe in Galatians 5, or am I living according to the fruit of the Spirit listed in the same chapter? Am I crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires like those do who belong to Jesus (vs 24), or am simply becoming conceited (vs 25) in my own piety?
Where else can I end this but in the conclusion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians in chapter 6:15-16:
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
We are new creations. The old has gone the new has come. We must stand firm, fighting to put of the old man. When we live by this rule, peace and mercy will be upon us and we can and will be truly free!
Come Lord Jesus, come!