In Galatians 5:1, the apostle Paul counsels his readers, and us, saying, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” A few verses later, the apostle adds, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13; ESV)
When many people think about freedom, they think about it in selfish terms. Freedom is defined by many as not having others tell them what to do, or not to do. Whether it is religious freedom, or political freedom, quite a few people only talk about freedom in terms of their ability to live unrestrained by responsibility. They see freedom as the ability to indulge in self-gratification. But the Scriptures are trying to give us an understanding that such thinking is immature, and, in truth, enslaving.
To truly understand the point the Scriptures are making in relation to both Freedom and Christianity, “For freedom Christ has set us free,” it helps to back up a chapter or two in Galatians and understand what it is that “enslaves.”
Firstly, Paul talks about the slavery of immaturity, such as is commonly suffered by children. When we are children, our parents keep us confined, largely for our own safety’s sake. Thus we read, “The heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.” (Galatians 4:1-2; ESV) Under Christ, we have been freed from the guardianship of Moses, and now have the privileges of sons. (cf. Galatians 3:23-26)
Secondly, there is the slavery of sin and idolatry: serving those things that are not God. “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. (Galatians 4:8; ESV)” Before we give ourselves to Christ in faith, our lives are consumed with worldly pursuits: money, pleasure, addictions and the like. “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world (Galatians 4:3; ESV) The slavery of sin is one that was addressed to us first by the Lord, who taught us that everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. (John 8:34) More than once, God, in His word, repeats this idea, telling us that if we give ourselves to sin, we are slaves of sin (cf. Romans 6:15-22)
In Christ, God is giving us a chance to move past the slavery and bondage of spiritual immaturity and to throw off the shackles of sin. One might liken it to parents who have allowed their children to leave the nest and head off to college or the like. There is the hope, and the expectation, that children, having been given this freedom will prove themselves mature enough to handle it, and will make solid life choices which will enable them to be productive, upstanding adults.
It is a sad fact that many, given such freedom decide that it is an opportunity for vice and reckless immaturity. Our heavenly Father, however, hopes for better things from His children.
The point Paul is trying to make to his Galatian readers, and thus to us, is that we should not squander the opportunity God has given us in Christ. We have been freed from the shackles of sin; it would be extremely foolish to rush right back to the chains of such slavery. We have been freed from the restraints normally placed on children, we should stand firm, therefore, and act like responsible adults. Rather than immaturely looking upon the opportunity as an occasion to act foolishly and selfishly, we should prove ourselves to God by using our free-will to serve others instead of self.
It is interesting that Paul is essentially telling us that God is wanting to treat us like adults, allowing us to show to Him that we can make good choices with our lives. When we think about freedom, is this how we think – asking ourselves how we can use our opportunities and choices to help others? Or do we often think of freedom in terms of what we can do for ourselves? How we think in this regard says a lot about our actual spiritual maturity.
For the mature, freedom is not an opportunity for indulgence, but is rather an occasion to demonstrate wisdom and love. Given free-will, we show our true potential through self-sacrifice, service and giving. It is for this freedom that Christ, through His own act of service, has set us free and it is in understanding the truth of this that we will find the true meaning of freedom. (cf. John 8:31-32)
The church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any question you would like answered or addressed, please share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.