Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
The last time we were in Galatians we defined the concepts of freedom and slavery, in the way Scripture talks about them here. Living in freedom means living the lives we were made to live. It means living with the one we were made for: God. Just like fish were made to live in water and without water they can't survive, so was the human soul made for God. In knowing God – not just knowing of Him, but knowing Him – we find true life, joy, and freedom. Slavery, however, is living without knowing God. Our sin separates us from God, and we are unwilling to turn away from it. So we are estranged from God. And because we are estranged from God, we cannot be who we were made to be. We are creatures with no purpose – aimless, restless, and living in slavery.
Throughout the history of mankind, the vast majority of slavery – not spiritual slavery, but physical slavery – has been entirely involuntary. People have been forced into slavery against their will, and they have little hope of obtaining freedom. The kind of spiritual slavery Paul's talking about is not like that. Yes there are some similarities. Scripture says we are born into slavery, so it is involuntary in that sense. But the difference is we have been given a way out. We've been given a choice. And that choice has to do with our faith.
In our slavery, there is a man who comes to us and says, "Take my hand, follow me, I'll lead you out of slavery and into freedom." And we have to choose: Will we trust this man? Will we trust this Jesus? Or, will we instead trust our own way of pursuing freedom? There are just two options before us in life: Faith in Christ, or faith in self. By which of these two faiths will our lives be driven?
I say two faiths. There are a lot of different faiths in the world, different belief systems. But they all ultimately fall into one of these two categories: Either they believe that Jesus is who He says He is, or they don't. They instead trust their own view of Jesus, their own view of life. One of these faiths leads to freedom, while the other faith leads to slavery.
Paul begins chapter 5 with a call to freedom, and he explains why what the Galatians thought was freedom was not actually freedom at all. He says:
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
Why did the Galatians believe they were living in freedom when they were actually living in slavery? It was because they were forgetting the rules. They had deceived themselves into thinking that the rules that govern life and death, freedom and slavery, could be determined by them.
We can understand this. We all often judge things, evaluate things in life, based on our own rules and standards rather than God's. One example is, if you've ever tried sharing the gospel with someone and you ask them, "If you were to die today, do you think you'd go to heaven?" And they say, "Yes, I think so." And you ask, "Why?" And they say, "Well, I'm a good person."
What's wrong with that argument? Well, they're using their own definition of good. They may be a kind person or they may be a loving, sacrificial person. And those are good traits! Kindness and love are reflections of our kind, loving Creator. But those things cannot atone for sin. They can't reconcile us to God. We are fallen creatures, in need of grace.
We don't get to set the standard for life and death, heaven and hell, and, whether we want to admit it or not, that's actually a good thing. It's a good thing, because our judgment of things is faulty, corrupted by sin. God's judgment, however, is perfect. His rules, His standards, they all come from a heart of love, justice, and goodness.
Imagine you have the responsibility of appointing a judge to the Supreme Court, and there are two choices before you. Let's say that one prospective judge has all knowledge and all wisdom. So he or she knows the full facts of every case, and they know how to best take those facts into consideration in rendering judgment. In our fallen world, obviously no such person exists, but just go with me on this. They have all knowledge and wisdom, and they're pure in heart too. Some would say they embody the perfect blend of justice and mercy. That's one of your options.
The other option is a judge who, by comparison, is very ignorant and close-minded. They have a track record of knowing very, very little about each case and making foolish judgments. They have a corrupt heart. And while they may occasionally show signs of practicing mercy or justice, in general they appear largely self-serving.
Which of these two judges would want on the Supreme Court? There's a court that's much more Supreme, much more important than this, and we are constantly trying to replace the perfect Judge of that court with ourselves, in all our imperfections. God sets the rules of the universe, not us. And that is a very good thing.
Now, I said the Galatians were forgetting the rules. The main way that was true is that they were forgetting that in order to be justified by the law, in order to earn God's favor by the law, they needed to be perfectly obedient to the law. Paul says that if they accept circumcision, they're obligated to keep the whole law. Now, the Galatians would not have claimed to be perfect. I'm pretty sure they were smarter than that. But they did seem to think that they could rewrite the rules for themselves. They thought circumcision could save them. They were just like the person who thinks they'll go to heaven because they're generally a kind person, that they're generally a loving person. Again, those are good things, for sure, but they are not perfect obedience to the whole law, not by a long shot. So the Galatians were falling short. And Paul says in verse 4:
Galatians 5:4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Imagine a world where Christ is of no advantage to you (verse 2), you are obligated to keep the whole law (verse 3), you are severed from Christ (first part of verse 4), and you have fallen away from grace (latter part of verse 4). That's a terrifying, nightmare scenario. And the Galatians didn't realize that this is what they were getting into. Just like many today, whose faith is in self rather than Christ, don't know what they're getting into.
I mean, just think about this situation: The Galatians were doing something that God had once said was a good thing to do. What's wrong with that? Well, if we look a little further down, we learn that circumcision itself wasn't the main issue. In verse 6 Paul says, "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything." So, whether they were circumcised, or they weren't, didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. The main issue, the main problem, is that they thought it mattered. The problem is that in an effort to be justified, they were pointing to their accomplishments, rather than Christ's accomplishments.
They were doing this through circumcision, but they could have very well done it through uncircumcision. They could have said, "Look at how good, how godly we are – we're not circumcised. Paul didn't want us to be circumcised, so we're not circumcised. Look at us!" In this particular case, however, it happened to be, "Look at how good, how godly we are – because we're circumcised." In either scenario, the message is: "Look at me." Whereas the gospel cries out, "Look at Christ!"
And lots of us, we struggle with this. Even those who may not think you struggle with this, because you'd rather just people not look at you. You don't want their attention. Even if "look at me" doesn't describe the way you approach others, it could very well still describe the way you approach yourself. What I mean is, instead of "look at Christ" your life may be dominated by looking at yourself, being hyper-aware of yourself. And as a result, you spend so little time looking at Christ.
Now, let me say that it is true that the gospel involves a "look at me" part to it. But rather than, "Look and see how great I am," or just being overly focused on self, instead it's, "Look at what a sinner I am. Look how weak I am. Yet, while I was still in love with my sin, Jesus Christ loved me, and He died for me. Look at Christ, the friend of sinners! Look at Christ, the one who loves me and has made a way of freedom for me!" The message of the Christian life is "Look at Jesus Christ! Delight in Christ!" It's a life of faith in Jesus Christ.
Galatians 5:5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
It's not about us. It's about Him, faith in Him. We just have to get our eyes off of ourselves and put them on Him. And we need to do this every day, don't we?
Ray Ortlund said: "As in any healthy marriage, we are to give ourselves to [Christ] over and over again. We gave ourselves to him once, and we give ourselves to him constantly, in trust and surrender, moment by moment."
As we trust Him, then we find life that only exists in Him. We find peace, and hope, and joy that only exist in Him. But here's the catch (if you want to call it that): As long as we believe that we can get these things elsewhere – outside of God – then we will never get them in God. In order to gain real freedom in God, we have to give up thinking that we can find that freedom elsewhere. We have to give up thinking that we can find true happiness, true soul satisfaction elsewhere. Because when we give that up, then we also stop spending all our time chasing after the latest thing we think will satisfy. Instead, we do as the psalmist instructs in Psalm 34 and we spend our time, spend our energy, tasting and seeing that the Lord is good. Do we believe He is good?
If you've lived long enough and you've pursued pleasure in enough people, places, and things, then you know that the attractions of the world are bankrupt, and they cannot satisfy. Sin cannot satisfy. Why do we choose to sin? Because sin promises us a better life! But it can't deliver on the promises it makes. It will keep making those promises. And if we trust ourselves we'll keep on believing those promises, only to end up disappointed, only to end up hurt.
There's a famous quote that says insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results." And isn't that what our faith in self is like? We keep on trusting ourselves to find soul satisfaction, even though we keep failing ourselves time and time again.
It's kind of like in the Peanuts cartoon. If you're familiar with Peanuts then you probably know about Charlie Brown's unfortunate failed attempts at kicking a football. His friend, Lucy (if you can call her a friend), is holding the football, and she convinces Charlie Brown to try kicking it. He gets a running start, and just as he's beginning his kick, Lucy pulls the football away and Charlie Brown ends up flat on his back. What's so funny about this cartoon is that every time Lucy asks Charlie Brown to kick the football, at first he always refuses because he knows better. He says things like, "How dumb do you think I am? You're just going to pull it away like always." Yet every time, Lucy is able to convince him that this time will be different. She gives him reason to believe that this time will be different. And he believes the lie – every single time.
It's pretty funny when it's Charlie Brown and a cartoon. It's not so funny when you're dealing with sin that's out to destroy you. It's not so funny when our buying into sin's promises. Our buying into our own way leads to misery and death rather than the joy and life we were seeking.
How many times have you trusted your own way, trusted your own judgment, only to end up flat on your back, only to end up empty and hurting again? How many more times will you try that before surrendering to Jesus? I'm not just talking to non-Christians, I'm talking to all of us, Christian or not. How many more days will you trust your own way before surrendering to His? How long until you lay your all before Him, and confess that you can't find freedom on your own, so you're committed to finding it in Him?
This is how we become our true selves. This is how we live the lives we were made for. It all comes down to faith. Will we have faith in Jesus, knowing Him, and being known by Him? Or will our faith be in self?
Faith in self, as we've already seen, leads to four things our passage mentions:
- It leads to a life where Christ is of no advantage to us
- Where we are obligated to keep the whole law
- Where we are severed from Christ
- And where we have fallen away from grace
But Christ came to change these four things for us because He came to be our substitute in these things. How is that? Let me show you, quickly, before we close.
Take number one: Paul mentions that we can get in a position where Christ is of no advantage to us. But think of Jesus as our substitute. He came to earth, and He entered into a position of disadvantage. Even though He was the Son of God, He came in the disadvantage of being born as a helpless baby, the disadvantage of being hated by the world, and betrayed by His close friends. He faced the disadvantage of suffering unjustly, being murdered on the cross. Christ forsook all the advantages that He was entitled to as the Christ, as the Son of God. He embraced disadvantage for Himself so that He could be of advantage to us.
What about number two? Well, Christ kept the whole law so that we wouldn't have to. We may write that off and think, "Well He's the Son of God, that was easy for Him," yet Scripture tells us that He was tempted "in every way" as we are. Have you ever had a temptation that felt so strong, it's almost like it was irresistible? Christ faced temptation like that, and He resisted. He kept the whole Law, and He gives His righteous record to us.
Number three: What about this idea of being severed from Christ? Obviously, Christ can't be severed from Himself. But even in this, He became our substitute. On the cross He was forsaken by His Father. He said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The perfect bond of unity that He had with God the Father was severed in a way that it never had been before. I can't imagine what that must have been like. But that was their plan. That was what they both wanted. Christ was severed from God, so that you and I could be united with God. He was severed from God so that we can have the assurance that we'll never, ever be severed from Him again.
Finally, number four: On the cross Jesus took on Himself the very opposite of grace. Without Christ, Paul says, we have fallen away from grace. Grace is often defined as being unmerited favor. But Jesus went to Calvary, He hung on a cross, and He received not unmerited favor, but unmerited punishment. He received the wrath that we deserved. And He did this, so that we could be offered grace. "Father, forgive them," He said, "for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus fell away from grace, so that you and I could have grace and have it abundantly.
He came to be our substitute. He came to be our Savior. And the question we have to ask ourselves is this: Will we trust Him? Will we trust Him? Will we take His hand each day and let Him lead us out of slavery, and into freedom? Or will we go our own way?
Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.