Freedom in Christ


Stephen Terry


Commentary for the September 9, 2017 Sabbath School Lesson



“You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ…” Galatians 5:4. NIV


Remember Christian from the book by John Bunyan, “Pilgrim’s Progress?” With the burden of all his sins on his back, he meets Mr. Worldly Wiseman. The well-dressed, dapper gentleman blithely sends him on his way to Mount Sinai where he assures Christian that Legality will help him with his burden. However, the burden grows heavier rather than lighter and his realization that he has strayed from the good counsel of Evangelist fills him with despair.

At this timely moment Evangelist arrives and sets Christian’s path aright. Marveling that Christian had so quickly turned aside, he points out that Legality from Mount Sinai is himself enslaved. (See Galatians 4:24) He asks Christian why he would think that someone who cannot set himself free could give him freedom from his burdens? At this point Christian realizes his alienation from the way Evangelist had previously shown him and begs to be set back upon the right path.

It is this slavery that Paul speaks of when he writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1, NIV  This yoke or burden is all the law is able to give us. The further we progress into legality, the heavier the burden becomes until, like Christian, we can scarce carry it further. In this way, the law becomes our “schoolmaster” showing us its complete inability to deliver us from the weight of the sins that have enslaved us by means of the law. (See Romans 7:7-10) With that burden on our shoulders, we feel the death dew on our brow and become fixated on anything that may promise to relieve the crushing weight. Whether we try to distract ourselves with a flurry of activity, riches, social events, or the accumulation of honors, in the end, it is little more than plugging our ears with our fingers and going “Na, na, na!” The burden remains and does not lighten even a little.

The only recourse is the same as John Bunyan wrote of. We must enter the straight gate and lay our burdens at the foot of the cross. In fact when we come to Jesus the burdens will fall away on their own. Jesus promised it. He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30, NIV  In effect, we exchange the burden fastened upon us by the law for the light weight of the yoke of Christ. Yet, that yoke is not a yoke of bondage as we had received from the law and the covenant of Hagar. (See Galatians 4:24) Instead it is freedom. Jesus said, “…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36, NIV

Is the freedom complete? It cannot be. While the Spirit comes into our hearts to guide us, while the righteousness of Christ is counted as our own, we still live with our corrupt bodies. That will not change until Jesus returns in the clouds. (See 1 Corinthians 15:51-53) Until then, in our bodies we will continue to desire to be under the law, bound to it by sin. But Jesus has given us the possibility of something better by removing the condemnation that will allow us to receive the promised transformation at His return. It is that condemnation that has burdened us and that the cross removes. (See Colossians 2:13-15)

The Spirit within will not desire to be enslaved to the law and will lead us aright. However, if we turn from the Spirit’s leading we continue to have an advocate as Christ died on the cross for all sins, not just the sins of our past. John put it like this, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” 1 John 2:1, NIV  God will not abandon us. If we make the mistake of turning back to our burdens under the law, He stands ready to welcome us back to freedom.

This is not good news to some. This is illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. (See Luke 15:11-32) The older brother had a great anger that his father could so easily forgive and reinstate his younger brother after all he had done wrong. It caused the older brother to feel that all he had done to stay in his father’s will was without value. Instead of rejoicing that his brother had returned and that his father was so kind and compassionate, he was filled with jealousy over the grace that was so freely extended to his younger brother. His father pointed out to him that he had been living in his grace the whole time but chose to live enslaved to obedience to what he imagined to be his father’s will.

Many in Christendom are like the older brother, feeling the full burden of the obedience that they feel assures them of God’s favor, they are jealous of the free grace extended to those who do not have any works of obedience to offer. The older brother would probably have felt better if some great work of penance had been fastened onto his sibling. Those who are enslaved to the law often feel this way. They want proof that the sinner is really repentant.

These individuals feel uncomfortable with Philip’s hasty baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch. (See Acts 8:26-39) They are those who feel that evangelists do not prepare people enough before baptism and are quick to say “I told you so!” when one of the little ones recently baptized falls away. Not delivered from the burdens themselves, they are eager to burden others as well. People with hearts like these have always existed to trouble those who are seeking deliverance. Jesus said of them in His day, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” Matthew 23:15, NIV

Strong words but Jesus is not pleased by those who would take those who seek freedom in Him and drag them into bondage. Even Paul says of these people, “…some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” Galatians 2:4, NIV  The problem is that just like the older brother in the parable, those who have lived their lives in obedience to what they believe God’s will to be are heavily invested in the merit that they believe they have accumulated through their obedience. They cannot easily lay aside such a commitment. They forget that Jesus gave His life in love as a balm for their disobedience, not their obedience. This continues for as long as they will live if they continue to come to Him. His sacrifice continues to be a balm for their disobedience. As long as they continue to come to Him, His grace will apply. Jesus said, “…whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” John 6:37, NIV

We cannot see the future course of each person. We cannot see into their hearts. We can only see the past things they have done. With this incomplete knowledge we err in setting ourselves up as judges and disciplinarians. We also are imperfectly walking in God’s will and rely moment by moment on God’s unbounded grace for our own salvation. How then can we so easily exclude others from the fellowship of grace based on our accusations concerning their past behavior? If Jesus would never drive these away, why would we?

The conundrum here is that we ourselves can never be free while we deny freedom to others. If anything, the Bible reveals that we are forgiven as we extend forgiveness. We receive compassion as we show compassion to others. We receive love as we show love to others. As Paul said, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Galatians 6:7, NIV  If we want to sow a crop of judgment, discipline and exclusion that is exactly what we will reap in our relationship with God. As we enslave others under the law so we will be enslaved.

God has promised us freedom and salvation for no other reason than that He loves us. (See John 3:16-17) This is the hope and the joy of the Christian. The world rejoices in our enslavement, but God rejoices in setting us free. I can only love a God like that.




If you enjoyed this commentary, you might also enjoy this companion book on Galatians by the author of this commentary.

To learn more click on this link.
Galatians: Walking by Faith




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