You know how when you go to the movies they always show previews for movies yet to be released – coming attractions; little snippets of the movie that are designed to give you a glimpse of the full movie enough to whet your appetite? Here as we get into chapter 2 of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches he gives just such a glimpse into a theme he will develop more fully later. It’s a teaser into the possibilities of the Christian life and the purpose for Christ’s death and resurrection. Intrigued aren’t you?
Let me first remind you of Paul’s purpose in writing this letter and put his comment into context. Paul was concerned that the Galatian disciples had abandoned the truth of the gospel he had preached because certain false teachers had told them that to be “really” saved the Galatians had to practice all the Jewish Law also. Paul writes this letter to re-emphasize the gospel and assure the churches in Galatia that the gospel he preached to them was true. He also gives them a timeline of his interactions with Peter, John and the other apostles to show that he did not just parrot their message but received the gospel from Jesus Himself. In the middle of this explanation Paul gives a “coming attraction.”
Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (Gal 2:4, 5 ESV)
The key phrase – the coming attraction – is this: “our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus.” According to Paul, inherent in the gospel is a freedom that Christians enjoy, a freedom that these false teachers were trying to rob, a freedom that Paul felt was important enough to fight for, a freedom that Christ won on the cross.
We usually think of Jesus’ death as gaining us salvation for eternal life in heaven “someday”. But here Paul hints at something available to us right now, today – freedom. But what does this mean? Let me define the kind of freedom I think Paul is referring to here. It is not the ability to do whatever we want or live however we want, but freedom, true Christian freedom, is “the unobstructed pursuit of God.”
Life, satan, sin, the world throw up all kinds of obstacles to our ability to pursue the kind of relationship with God that we long for. It sometimes seems we have to slog through life just to get by, just to get a moment to pray or worship. That is not how God intended our life to be. When Jesus walked out of that tomb, He cleared the way of all the obstacles that impeded our ability to know and connect with God. Here are Scriptures references that describe ways in which Jesus removed the obstacles to our pursuit of God.
Romans 8:31-35 describes the kind of life we can experience with Jesus. A life free of accusation, want, aloneness and condemnation. Instead we can experience a life of support and encouragement, supply and resources, connection with the Father who loves us, knowing that we will never experience any kind of emotional, spiritual, relational or physical abandonment.
In Romans 6:6-7 Paul talks about being free from being mastered by sin – having to do what it says. By ourselves, we have no power or authority to say no to the demands of sin operating in our life. We can’t escape and we can’t rebel and we can’t fight. But Christ literally and actually took bolt cutters to those chains so that we could escape and no longer be under sin’s thumb. Think of the story in Acts where an angel releases the imprisoned Peter from the chains that held him and opened the prison doors to allow Peter to walk free. This is what Jesus has done. We are able to walk free through our life.
Romans 8:2-3 refers to the “law” of sin and death – this would imply that sin and death have (or had) the power to dictate how you live, what you can and cannot do. This “law” constrains the kind of life God meant us to live. Jesus freed us from that law. It’s like no longer being subject to the repressive laws of a dictatorial nation. Instead we now live in a country ruled by the Spirit with His life-giving laws – not repression but liberation.
Hebrews 2:14-15 refers to the “fear of death.” I have always thought that this referred to fear of physical death, and that may be true, but I think it can also refer to the emotional and relational death that the devil tries to impose upon people. Are we not freed from the devastation of fear of loneliness, anger, shame, guilt, depression, worthlessness, hopelessness, worry? Jesus came to destroy those very works of the devil and allow us live free of the effects of fear.
There is more to learn about freedom in Christ later in Galatians. For now if we accept the definition of freedom I gave earlier – unobstructed pursuit of God – then these verses tell me that to live unobstructed means being set free from:
- The overbearing domination of sin – I don’t have to do it. I can choose a different way.
- The repressive laws of sin and death – I don’t have to live with my head down fearful that I stepped over the line one too many times or that I just need to work harder.
- The fear of being stuck in this death spiral. There are literally no chains, no nets holding me down. I walk away a free man.
- The hopelessness that my life can be different or better.
- The fear that I will always live broken and will die broken
This fear, death and sin is replaced with an assurance of the Father’s positive favor towards me. In all things and in all circumstance and in all my blunders, I still experience His smile. This is what Christ’s sacrifice– the true gospel – has made possible.