For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
How would you describe the purpose of Christ’s coming? Why did Jesus come to die and rise again? We can answer in a number of sound biblical ways. The Savior came that we might be forgiven of our sins and right with God, that we might be reconciled to God, and that we might have a relationship with God (1 Pt 3:18). He came that we might serve the living God (1 Th 1:9). Jesus came to destroy the devil’s work (1 Jn 3:8), that we might have life in its fullness (Jn 10:10), and that we might live godly and do good (Ti 2:11-14). The answer of our text is unlikely to be suggested out of a context like our text. Our minds, including our evangelical minds, tend to run in other directions. Yet a clear understanding of the answer provided by this text will help us arrive at a better understanding of God’s saving call of grace to us. This is a “bridge verse”, like a land bridge between two continents. It summarizes what has come before and introduces the rest of the letter about true godliness. Now please do not simply nod your heads at this point! What he says here forms the basis of all that will follow. The context of freedom is necessary to avoid turning the pursuit of holiness into legalism.
I. The purpose of Christ’s saving work was to set us free, in order that we might live as free people.
The worldly person, held fast in the chains of sin, cannot believe that there is liberty in Jesus, the Risen Lord. Every Christian must lay hold of and apply this truth.
A. The nature of this freedom
1. It is certainly correct that the Lord Christ has freed his people from sin and Satan. We should all know this, and we certainly rejoice in that reality. However, that is not the freedom that the apostle is talking about in this context.
2. Instead, it is freedom from the law or old covenant. “What Christ has done in liberating us, according to Paul’s emphasis here, is not so much to set our will from the bondage of sin as to set our conscience free from the guilt of sin. The Christian freedom he describes is freedom of conscience, freedom from the tyranny of the law, the dreadful struggle to keep the law, with a view to winning the favor of God. It is the freedom of acceptance with God and of access to God through Christ” (Stott). We can add that it is the freedom of joyful, holy friendship with the Holy Lord of all. Peace and a confident awareness of God’s welcoming love are part of this freedom in the presence of the Holy God.
B. The Lord Jesus intends that we live in a state of freedom. We are not to live as burdened slaves, but as free adult sons and daughters of God.
1. Freedom from condemnation (Rm 8:1) – This is a basis of assurance of salvation. People set free by the Judge of all need not fear!
2. Freedom of access to the throne of grace (Heb 4:16) – The Spirit encourages us to find all we need through the power of the Ascended Lord and Savior.
3. Freedom to love and worship God without intensely searching out one’s motives (cf. Job 1:8-11) – We come with consciences cleansed by the blood of Christ.
4. Freedom to love one another with a sacrificial love (Eph 5:25; Rm 15:7)
5. Freedom to rejoice, be glad, and sing! (1 Pt 1:8)
Apply: We must clearly comprehend that our freedom in Christ is not some side issue. It is an integral part of true Christianity.
Transition: The way that the New Testament Scriptures teach us how to live is to present the indicative (here is what is true in Christ) and to follow up with the imperative (therefore, this is how you must live). The indicative is that Christ has set us free; the imperative is that we must stand firm in that freedom. We must resist any and every attempt to bring us into bondage.
II. The spiritual condition they would come to if they followed the false teachers. They would be burdened and enslaved.
A. They would be burdened with many obsolete regulations.
1. It is one thing to do what God has commanded. But it is very useless and a dreary waste of time and effort to struggle to do what God hasn’t commanded, especially in following the false assumption that you are pleasing God in doing such things. Instead, consider and experience what the Lord has for you (Rm 14:17-18; 2 Cor 1:24; 2:3; 3:17; 5:15; 13:14).
2. Christ’s ministers do not urge you to keep a list of manmade regulations. Instead, do what pleases the Lord (2 Cor 5:9). Love your neighbors; evangelize; do good; serve one another in love; rejoice in the Lord; pray constantly; in everything give thanks!
B. They would be burdened in their consciences with guilt.
1. You do not have to win God’s acceptance by your works. You can never earn it, because it is a gift of grace for those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You are accepted; you are welcomed! You are part of God the Father’s family.
2. Yet this is a great battleground for the immature or weak Christian.
Quote: Romaine, The Life of Faith, p. 39
C. They would have a yoke of slavery on them.
1. The false teachers were insisting that their system was the way to please God. “If you want to receive God’s blessing, you must do this (or have this experience).”
2. But in truth, it was simply a yoke of slavery, cf. Ac 15:10. “To receive their principle, and to act on it, was plainly to renounce Christ’s authority, and to submit to the authority of men; and the whole of their system of seeking justification by their own doings was utterly subversive of the filial confidence, that generous spirit, which the faith of the gospel generates, and was necessarily productive of a servile temper” (Brown).
Apply: Learn the consequences of accepting false teaching. Some Christians act toward truth like they’re shopping for flip-flops in a discount store—way too casual. But truth matters!
III. A calling for Christ’s free people to pursue
A. Some observations
1. Only Jesus Christ can set us free. The truth of sovereign grace must always be protected! Yet once Christ has set us free, we are responsible to maintain that liberty. For a similar idea see Eph 4:3.
2. We must gain stability in a life of freedom (cf. 1 Cor 16:13; Ph 1:27; 4:1; 1 Th 3:8).
3. “Moreover, Christ won this liberty for us on the cross; the fruit and possession of it are bestowed on us through the Gospel… For if men lay an unjust burden on our shoulders, it can be borne; but if they want to bring our consciences into bondage, we must resist valiantly, even to the death. If we let men bind our consciences, we shall be despoiled of an invaluable blessing and at the same time an insult will be offered to Christ, the Author of freedom” (Calvin).
B. What should we know about our freedom?
1. It is an essential part of our relationship with God.
2. It is the result of Christ’s redeeming death.
3. It is life in the Spirit.
4. It is part of our identity as God’s people.
5. It is the nature of new covenant life.
Apply: Let every Christian assert their freedom and guard against any teaching opposing it. Let us live in the liberty that Christ has purchased for us.