(Please read GALATIANS 5:1-12 in your preferred version of the Bible. I have cited the NIV in the article below.)
Jesus surrendered His life on the cross to secure our freedom from slavery to sin and from the Law.
There’s a part of our culture that’s just crazy about inventing new names for things. To beat them at their own game I call this movement the “irreligious orthodoxy,” aka “political correctness.”
No matter how you feel about the issues, you’ve got to wonder about what folks hope to accomplish with this nimble nomenclature. For example, in my youth, people had to go to Sweden to get a “sex change.” A couple years ago, people started talking about “gender reassignment” and I just learned last week that the title du jour is “gender confirmation.”
One of the places where this jargon-swapping seems inappropriate is when “slavery” is referred to as “human trafficking.” I’m not at all sure what we gain by softening the impact of the practice of slavery by calling it “human trafficking.”
I recently received a mailing from our denominational headquarters about the practice of slavery as it exists in the world today. So that you understand how really precious your freedom is, I want to share some of these statistics with you.
- The average cost of a human being is just $90.
- It is estimated there are 35.9 million slaves in the world today.
- 750,000 slaves are taken across international borders every year. As many as 17,500 are brought into the U.S. annually.
- In the U.S., the average age of persons forced into sexual slavery is 12 to 14 years old. Over all kind of forced labor, it is estimated that 26% of them are children.
- Slavery is the third biggest form of international crime (behind drugs and guns), with annual profits reportedly at $32 billion. (Almost half those profits come from supposedly civilized industrialized nations.)
Clearly, whatever name you slap on it, the buying and selling of human beings is not something that ended with the American Civil War. It is a world-wide industry that exploits people, treating them as if they were just another natural resource to be torn from the earth.
(Statistics from ijm.org/casework/forced-labor-slavery and do something.org/facts/11-facts-about-human-trafficking.)
The condition of slavery is real and appalling. We more awareness of the problem and more active opposition to it. For centuries, the Christian Church has lead the world in respect for human life and loving treatment of slaves. Persons of our faith have lead the charge against this form of inhumanity.
What is more widespread and even more serious (as it has eternal consequences) is spiritual slavery. This is a self-inflicted bondage to sin and/or legalism. Today we learn that Jesus Christ gave up His life as a sacrifice to save us from spiritual slavery. The spiritual freedom we enjoy because of Him is what we gather to proclaim and celebrate today
- The principle (1).
The principle is this: Jesus set us free in order to enjoy freedom. Do not surrender your freedom! Verse one is the key verse to the entire book of Galatians. It shows us that holiness does not come with meticulous rule-keeping, but by grace through faith. It is God’s gift. By means of his reference to the CROSS in verse eleven, Paul sets this freedom in Jesus’ sacrificial death.
Paul expressed the principle in two contrasting statements.
– IT IS FOR FREEDOM CHRIST HAS SET YOU FREE. This sounds like one of those obvious statements, doesn’t it? Or it might be said to be a fine example of circular reasoning. To put it another way; “Jesus Christ paid for your freedom so you would live as free people.” Jesus willingly laid down His life so that we can be FREE people.
– DO NOT LET YOURSELVES BE BURDENED AGAIN BY A YOKE OF SLAVERY. The Jews of Paul’s time referred to their faith as “taking the yoke of the law upon yourself.” This must be why Paul referred to the YOKE OF SLAVERY; revealing the nature of legalism. Jesus turned this image around & invited people to take His YOKE, which, by contrast, was EASY, a LIGHT BURDEN (see Matthew 11:29-30).
In his letters, Paul identified 2 kinds of slavery:
– Slavery to sin. This is our sin nature, manifest in our rebellion and appetites for things we know are toxic to our health and maturity.
– Slavery to the letter of the Law of Moses, or any kind of legalism. This is the issue addressed in Galatians.
- Abandonment of the principle: legalism (2-6).
The general issue was the demand by false teachers that non-Jewish converts to Christianity submit to the Law of Moses as part of their conversion. One aspect of this general issue was the specific requirement of the Law of Moses that men be circumcised. Circumcision was originally intended as a physical symbol of the spiritual relationship between the men of Israel and God.
Using blunt language, Paul disputes the teaching with three warnings.
First, Christ will be of NO VALUE to you (2). As Paul will point out in v. 6, it is not circumcision that’s at issue; it is surrendering one’s freedom in Christ and submitting to legalism instead. Whenever someone wants to put a plus sign after Jesus, saying you need “Jesus and something” to be saved, it really amounts to a minus sign in front of Jesus: it no longer amounts to a saving faith. I can’t imagine a worse consequence than this one; it is a dire warning of being eternally lost. In 1 Corinthians 7:17-20, Paul advised the Corinthian men to not be circumcised. It was not necessary to follow Jesus.
Second, every man who submits to this one part of the Law will be required to keep all of it (3). Logically, an honest person can’t pick and choose which parts of the Law they want to keep or ignore. EVEN THOUGH that is the very error we see in some people and churches today. Instead, it’s all or nothing.
Third, the legalists urging this “judaizing” are not in Christ. Paul states this in two different ways.
– ALIENATED FROM CHRIST refers to the fact that they tried to earn their salvation through “Jesus plus the Law.” That plus sign is false and is actually a minus sign, as Christ is not present in them.
– FALLEN AWAY FROM GRACE does not mean losing one’s salvation. Instead, it means that the person is self-condemned because they have rejected grace and chosen legalism instead. They “fell away from” grace before they ever took hold of it.
Why do we do it? Why do we surrender our freedom to legalism? I can think of three reasons.
One, the law is easier to understand and apply than grace. Our human nature tends to be lazy and prefer the easy path. But grace is about granting exceptions, forgiveness, and favors to people that may not, in our opinion, deserve it. That’s hard work.
Two, it gives us a false sense of control and a false sense that we can earn God’s love. Pass or fail, heaven or hell, some of us desire control so strongly we embrace the law as something we can manage. Grace surrenders control to God and resists management.
Three, we’ve been lied to. Legalism can be a burden transferred from one generation to another. Traditions are meant to be guidelines not straightjackets, but they can bind us to legalistic, religion-centered approaches to faith rather that receive grace by faith.
What is the truth? The truth is that FAITH sets our HOPE on the RIGHTEOUSNESS that comes through the HOLY SPIRIT, not the Law (5). It is BY FAITH, not by works. In fact, we EAGERLY AWAIT it! It is made available to us THROUGH THE SPIRIT who is our DEPOSIT that GUARANTEES our faith is reliably placed in God and is trustworthy (see 2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5 and Ephesians 1:14). Our HOPE is to be judged righteous, but not by means of our own good works, but by means of the gift of RIGHTEOUSNESS through the cross. In the Bible, HOPE refers to things that are certain but have not yet come to completion.
One aspect of the FREEDOM Jesus gives us is that circumcision is rendered meaningless (6). All attempts to keep the Law are equally valueless. No matter how good the deed, if God is not in it, it has no value regarding salvation.
To followers of Jesus, THE ONLY THING THAT COUNTS IS FAITH EXPRESSING ITSELF THROUGH LOVE (6). This statement counters the false teaching that, because of grace, works don’t matter at all. Godly actions continue to be essential, but they are essential expressions of a life of faith that truly exists, not the means to attain a life of faith. Faith is the first gift of God we accept. Having truly accepted it, then we live out our days making decisions to accept the LOVE that motivates us to do good deeds.
- Advisers against the principle: legalists (7-12).
Paul warns them that this false teaching…
…will keep them from OBEYING THE TRUTH (7). Using an athletic metaphor (a RACE), Paul is saying that legalists – ironically – disqualify themselves from staying in the race because they don’t obey the simple truth of the Gospel: saved by faith.
…does not come from God, who called them (8). God’s revelation does not contradict itself. The Old Covenant of works has been revoked in favor of the New Covenant of grace.
…will corrupt the entire church if not checked (9). Paul was fond of this yeast analogy: he also used it in 1 Corinthians 5:6. It is a word-picture of how false teaching – even something that is mostly true – can work its way into an entire congregation. This ought to raise their level of alarm and motivate their diligence.
…can be seen in no other light (10). Paul was confident that he was teaching them God’s truth and never wants to be a party in diluting the truth to be a people-pleaser.
…will result in God’s wrath on the false teachers (10). THE ONE means Paul believed that one person had thrown them all into this confusion. Like Paul, we need to trust God that He is not confused about any of it and will one day dispense justice and vindicate our faith.
…is not what he teaches (11). One thing that distinguishes the false teaching is that it is different from the teaching they received from Paul. In this case, Paul never taught them that it was necessary for Gentile converts to Christianity be circumcised.
…reduces Jesus’ death to a needless act (11). Theologically speaking, if it were possible for a person to earn standing with God by means of obeying the Law, then there is no purpose in Jesus’ death. He died to create a New Agreement between God and humanity to eliminate any need for the Law; to give us freedom from its binding rules and all other forms of legalism too.
Paul concludes this section with a strong ridicule of the legalists’ logic: if they followed their own reasoning to its conclusion, they wouldn’t stop at circumcision, but would go all the way and emasculate themselves (12). This is a startling statement. It is an exaggeration that is designed to make a point, like some of the things Donald Trump says. Emasculation was practiced in the ancient world at about the same rate that gelding in practiced in the horse world of our modern times. So Paul isn’t just pulling this out of the air, it is part of the context of civilized life in his time.
Paul did not write this to be funny or malicious, but to underscore how ridiculous this whole false teaching is. It is based on bad theology and flawed logic; it should be rejected by people of faith and opposed when encountered in the church.
Legalism is not limited to churches or religions. Earlier I alluded to the legalism found in our secular culture today. As we conclude, let me share with you an example of how legalistic worldly people can be.
Whole Foods pulls pre-peeled oranges off shelves after Twitter backlash
BY Nicholas Parco NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Friday, March 4, 2016, 5:40 PM
“Whole Foods listened to the numerous furious Internet users Thursday by removing pre-peeled oranges packed in plastic containers from stores.
“The backlash began after Nathalie Gordon shared a photo of the fruit in a California Whole Foods on her Twitter page with the caption ‘If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn’t need to waste so much plastic on them.’
Just three hours later, Whole Foods responded: ’Definitely our mistake,’ @WholeFoods tweeted. ‘These have been pulled. We hear you, and we will leave them in their natural packaging: the peel.’
“Gordon’s complaint has nearly 70,000 retweets and likes each.
“This is not the first time Whole Foods has been criticized for and caved to consumer complaints over a product.
“Last year, the store came under fire when they sold asparagus water, H20 with a stick of the vegetable in a bottle, for $6.”
<Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/foods-pulls-pre-peeled-oranges-shelves-article-1.2553475 on 3/5/16.>
It’s amazing, isn’t it? The American culture most likely to cry “don’t judge me” is so quick to condemn and on such a grand scale, aided by all the social media access they carry in their pockets. I get razzed about something wrong in the bulletin, but that’s nothing on this scale! Maybe now that we’re putting sermons on YouTube…?
The Apostle Paul was lead by the Holy Spirit to address the problem of legalism in the church in Galatia. False teachers were trying to bind non-Jewish Christians to the Law of Moses, or at least part of it. As Paul refuted that notion, he revealed one of the reasons Jesus went to the cross: to set us free.
When He surrendered His life, Jesus set us free from slavery to sin. We are no longer bound to our bodily desires – to satisfy their instinctive urges – but are free to pursue spiritual maturity instead.
Jesus went to the cross to set us free from slavery to legalism. We are not bound by bullies who wield the letter of the law, but are free to live our life of faith as led by the Holy Spirit.
As Jesus said of Himself, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) In Christ, you ARE free. Live a life of freedom!