For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
When I was about four or five years old, at bedtime I would run into my room, slam my closet door shut, leap several feet into bed, and throw the covers over my head before I tried to fall asleep. This went on for many weeks, until my older brother came in and said, “What the heck are you doing? Why are you slamming the door and jumping into your bed?” I told him, “Because I didn’t want the ‘thing’ in the closet to grab my arm or his ‘buddy’ under the bed to grab my feet.” Now, obviously there was no such thing as a monster in the closet or under the bed, but when it comes to the Christian life we face fears everyday that are very real. In Galatians 5:1, Paul wants to drive out those fears, “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm therefore, and do not allow yourself to submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
This passage is all about living in the certainty that Christ has set us free. For those who have lived their whole life in slavery however, Paul knows that this is the hardest thing for us to do. That is why Paul gives us this two-fold command to “Stand and not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Paul knows how easy it is for us to live in fear, and when we live in fear we immediately fall back into the slavish thinking that God’s acceptance of us is based on our performance. It isn’t on the “good” days when we live in fear, but rather on the “bad” days. Most of us have no problem believing that Jesus saves us from our past sins, or that our past sins have been forgiven. It is the present and continual struggle with sin that leads us to fall back into the slavery of personal performance and live in fear.
The days when we consciously choose to sin, even when we know it is wrong. The days when we are so weak that we can’t resist. The days we don’t want to resist. The days when nothing goes right, and one bad thing after another keeps happening, and we feel like God is punishing us. The days when we feel numb, and our hearts are cold and distant from God. The days when we plead with God to change our desires, to give us the strength to stop, and He doesn’t, and we are left wondering if He’s had enough of us, and His silence only fuels our doubts.
The goal of the Gospel is that we might live freely, but unfortunately, we live in fear. Instead of standing and resting on “It is finished,” we hop on the performance treadmill and run, believing that we must finish. Notice, this is a statement of fact–Christ has objectively set you free! He does it! He did it! We don’t set ourselves free. It is not our obedience, purity, and holiness that sets us free. It is Christ’s obedience, purity, and holiness that frees us. Jesus lived a perfect life of obedience, not primarily, as our example to follow in His footsteps but as our substitute, in our place, on our behalf–so He could give us the righteousness we don’t have!
Then “The One who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) willingly, voluntarily went to the cross, knowing that while on the cross He would become all of our sin. By becoming our sin, He became the object of God’s wrath for our sin! Every sin we have ever committed, are committing, or ever will commit is paid for by His blood! So now, our sin isn’t the issue with God anymore, our freedom is!
God wants this accomplished, objective fact, that Christ has set you free, to be subjectively felt and experienced by us! “For Freedom–Christ has set you free.” God wants you and me to live in the reality of that freedom. He did not set us free so that we would go back under the yoke of slavery! Paul’s “Emancipation Proclamation” is that we have been set free from more than just having to face sin’s penalty. We’ve been set free from our greatest fears. Set free from the fear that my sin will cause God to abandon me. Free from the fear that He will love me less. Free from the fear that He will be angry with me, punish me, and reject me. Set free from my believing that I have to perform for God. Free from my fearing whether I have done enough, or whether I am doing too little. Free from my fear of condemnation, judgment, and wrath. Free from my fear of facing God’s displeasure. Free from the enslaving fear to be perfect, and free to know that God is not angry with me, and that I am are deeply loved.
Because in Jesus, God’s love for us will never increase or decrease, we are free to confess and return to Him whenever we sin. He will always welcome us back. He will always put us back together. He will always cleanse us, embrace us, and take us in. Because Christ has set us free, we can step off the running treadmill of “do,” and stand and rest securely on “It has all been done.”