I’m sure you’ve seen those TV ads for cookware, tools, cleaning products or some other product that always ends with, “but wait there’s more…” Well, today we are going to look again at Galatians 5:1 (plus verses 2-3) because…THERE’S MORE! So here is the verse again, this time in the King James Version and English Standard Version. Each brings unique twist to the text.
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. (Gal 5:1-3 KJV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. (Gal 5:1-3 ESV)
Remember from my last post that freedom refers to being “free from the dictates of the law, from the curse of the law and from servitude to the law, which means we are also free from the guilt, shame and condemnation that comes from failing to keep the law as a means to earn our righteousness before God.” But here Paul encourages us to “stand firm” in that freedom and not revert back to a state of slavery or bondage to the law. I love the way the King James says, “entangled again.” It reminds me of being caught up in a bunch of vines that are wrapped around legs and arms restricting my movements. This is what being subject to law does.
Verses 2 and 3 clarify Paul’s point. Paul is concerned that if the Galatians accept circumcision (as a symbol of their submission to Jewish law) then grace and faith in Christ’s work alone is nullified. They lose all the benefit of Christ’s work and are once again subject to ALL of requirements of the Jewish Law and the idea of salvation by self-effort. For us, the slavery we are talking about here is slavery to earning our own righteousness, to the burden of maintaining our own salvation through keeping rules and regulations. It is a slavery to self that only leads to self-condemnation, guilt, shame, isolation from others and, ultimately, isolation from God. We fall into this slavish life when we turn our focus from Jesus to ourselves. It doesn’t matter what form it takes it is all essentially the same thing – Law.
The lure of “doing something” to merit salvation or to earn God’s favor is strong in us. It is tempting to believe that if we keep certain rules or try to be “good” people we can achieve salvation for ourselves. We want to be independent of God. That’s what sin does. We don’t see the law as slavery but as a means to save ourselves. It satisfies the sin nature. So we place ourselves in subjection to rules, traditions, practices, values that we can do ourselves. Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians, and us, is to say “no”. We must depend on Christ alone and not fall for the “Christ and…” fallacy. The danger is that once we start down that road there is no end. We have to keep striving and working and wondering if it is enough. We know that we need to “keep the whole law” but we don’t really know what the whole law is. Thus Paul’s warning to stand firm. The gospel of freedom is too important to let slip away. If we go back to the law then there is no redemption, there is no hope for our salvation and there is no way to build an effective Church.
So let me paraphrase this verse this way, “Don’t give in to the tyranny of the shoulds.” When we start thinking, “I should read my Bible more, I should be a better Christian, I should pray more, I should…” and all those “shoulds” come at us like a hammer that beats us down – that is slavery; that is self-effort and self-righteousness; that is legalism; that is “law” talking to you. There is nothing wrong with wanting to grow and mature, but to what end? Is it to earn God’s favor or is it to learn to love Him back.
Stand firm therefore. Say to the devil or to your own condemning thoughts, “Jesus loves me and because He died to the Law so did I. Go away!”
It is for freedom that Christ set you free.