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What does “For freedom Christ has set us free” mean (Galatians 5:1)?

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Galatians 5:1
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

When we read this passage in Galatians 5:1, do we fully understand the meaning of being “set free”? Does it mean that we are free to do anything we like since Christ has died for our sins and because He paid the price, meaning we are free to do anything without consequence? What does being set free actually mean? To understand this passage correctly, we need to look at the context and surrounding passages.

Galatians 5:1 stands as a key verse that transitions to the next section of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. At the same time, it summarises everything Paul explained earlier in the letter. In Galatians 1:11 to 2:21, Paul starts by defending his apostleship then goes on to defend the gospel, explaining that we are saved by grace alone, not by works, and we are saved and freed from the curse of the law and are now in a right relationship with God (Galatians 3:1-4:31). 

Throughout the previous chapters, Paul argues that the people of God were slaves to sin and death under the old covenant (Galatians 3:21-29; 4:1-7, 21-31). Now that we are in the new covenant, we are “set free”. The work of Jesus Christ achieves this freedom through His life, death, and resurrection; He was the sacrifice for sin and fulfilled all righteousness. (Galatians 3:10-14).

When Paul wrote this letter, the Jews frequently spoke about the “yoke of the law” (Acts 15:7-11, Galatians 5:1). The yoke of the law was a burden no one could withstand. It was impossible to fulfil because of its requirement. Even Jesus speaks about taking on the yoke of Christ instead. Jesus says in Matthew 11:29-30 saying, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

In other words, the Law cannot grant salvation and free us from sin and death. But what the Law does is to point the way to Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:19-24). Through His sacrifice, Christ fulfilled all the Law and achieved salvation for all who are appointed to believe in Him. So, Paul says in Galatians 5:2-4, “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.”

Paul is not just condemning the act of circumcision itself; instead, he criticises its “theology “. In other words, he is condemning “works” as a necessary attribute for salvation where the focus is on the external acts rather than a spiritual transformation. So what Paul was explaining to the Galatian church is that if they choose circumcision, they are choosing legalism. If you do that, you are returning to take on the full weight of the law and not just circumcision itself. The root of the issue is “works versus grace” or, in other words, “flesh versus Spirit.” Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

It does not mean that God expects any less of us in terms of the law, and that His Law is done away with, no longer applying to our life. What it does mean is that we can never achieve salvation through the Law or by our works. Galatians 1:14 says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The “freedom of Christ” means that we are free from the Law condemning us from the penalty of sin and likewise that we are also free from the power of sin (Romans 6:14). Amen! This is why John 8:36 says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

So what does this freedom look like? Does it mean that you can do any sinful activity and there are no consequences to it? No, Galatians 5:13 says, “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.” True Christian freedom means that you are willing to become a slave of Christ because of your relationship and love for Him. Romans 6:17-18 says, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

So, freedom in Christ is “not a licence to sin,” and do not use it as an opportunity for the flesh, instead through love, serve one another. You can only do this by keeping in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:16-17 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”

The critical fact here is that if your flesh is leading you to indulge in the things of the flesh, then you are not being led by the Spirit, and you are under the law. The works of the flesh are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. The flesh rather than the Spirit is leading those who do such things. They are still under the law and will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:18-21).

In contrast, if the Spirit leads you, then you are not under the law, and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and against such things, there is no law. If you belong to Christ, you are free from the desires of the flesh because you have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. So if we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25).

In conclusion, the meaning of “for freedom Christ has set us free” is freedom from the law of sin and death. Instead, we are led by the Holy Spirit, producing the fruit of the Spirit through a love relationship with Jesus Christ for His glory. The Old Testament Law served as a moral compass to guide and point to Jesus Christ. It had no power to grant salvation. (Galatians 3:19-24). But Christ set us free from the law of sin and death through His sacrificial death. He fulfilled all the requirements of the Law. We are now free to serve Christ and fulfil all His good purposes for the glory of God (Romans 8:2-8). Amen!

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