IT WAS FOR FREEDOM
"It was for freedom that Christ set us free, therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1
Before we can understand what Paul was talking about here, we need to understand why he wrote the letter to the Galatians. Did you know that this was probably the first piece of Christian literature ever penned? This letter is unlike any of the other letters in the New Testament. If we are going to understand the message within the letter, then we need to understand the circumstances surrounding the writing of this unique letter.
The Controversy in the Galatian Churches
As you may know, Paul and Barnabas left Antioch around 47 AD to preach the gospel and plant churches in the region then referred to as South Galatia. They planted four churches in the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. In Galatians 1, Paul tells the churches that the gospel he preached to them came to him by direct revelation from God. He makes it very clear that he did not confer with flesh and blood to receive this revelation. He preached something to them that had not been preached to anyone before. He preached to them freedom in Christ! He told them that they were "in Christ" and that Christ was totally free from all religion, law and man-made traditions. Christ did not go through a ritual or method or system when He fellowshipped with His Father. Their flow of fellowship was based upon life and freedom. Paul preached Christ to these Gentiles, and the Truth (Christ) set them free! Paul and Barnabas preached this radical message to the Gentiles in these four cities. Then they retraced their steps to revisit the new churches.
The two workers then returned to Antioch of Syria to the church that sent them out.
Peter visited the church in Syrian Antioch and ate several meals with the Gentile believers. When the church in Jerusalem got wind of this news, some of the Judaizers (legalists) went to Antioch to check out the situation. They persuaded Peter to no longer eat with the Gentiles. Barnabas joined Peter in this hypocrisy and Paul rebuked them for this in front of everyone.
Peter returned to Jerusalem and reported what happened in Antioch and about the new Gentile churches in Galatia. When some of the legalists heard about this, they went to Galatia to visit the four churches that Paul and Barnabas planted. They announced themselves as having been sent by the Jerusalem church, cast doubt about the authenticity of Paul's apostleship, and told them that his gospel was deficient. They told the saints in these churches that they needed to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses to be completely Christian. Obviously, Paul was not a true apostle; he even rebuked the great Peter!
After the Judaizers left Galatia, the new churches wrote a letter to Paul asking him why he failed to tell them the whole gospel. It is also very possible that some of the Galatians had already been circumcised.
While this was happening in Galatia, there was a major controversy going on in Antioch. The Judaizers insisted that the Gentiles must be circumcised and Paul and Barnabas refuted them. The church in Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to see if they agreed with the Judaizers.
Letter to the Galatians
It is during this time of controversy, upheaval and debate that Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians. The year was 49 AD and he wrote the letter before he left to go to Jerusalem. In this letter he refutes every point being made by the Judaizers against him and his gospel. His main point is that the Galatian churches had been set free by Christ, why would they ever want to go back into slavery?
Adding Something to Christ
Paul told the Galatians that if they were circumcised Christ would be of no benefit to them. (Gal. 5:2) Isn't that an amazing statement? He was saying that if they looked to something else to complete their relationship to God besides Christ, then it would be just as if they did not have Christ at all. If you add something to Christ, then you nullify Christ. In other words, Christ plus something equals nothing! He will not share His place with anyone or anything else. He wants to be the All! Yet how many times do we try to add something to Christ? When will we learn that Christ enough? We are free because we have Christ, not when we add some religious system or method to achieve God's goal. God's goal is Christ!
Why Were We Set Free?
Paul tells us that it was for freedom that Christ set us free. Doesn't that sound a bit redundant? Not when you understand whose freedom he is talking about here. Christ set us free for His freedom! In other words, Christ set us free so that He could be free. But isn't Christ already free? Yes, He is in most aspects. However, in one particular aspect He is not fully free yet. He is not fully free to express Himself! God's purpose is that the fullness of Christ would be expressed through the church. You see, He set us free so that He would be free to fully express Himself through us! It was for His freedom that we were set free.
Yet how can He be free to express Himself through us if we are still in religious bondage? How can He fully express Himself if the body is told to sit in a pew, shut up, and listen? How can He fully express Himself if in His assembly there is only one or two saints who are functioning? How can He express Himself if only brothers share and not sisters? How can His freedom reign if we are constantly adding our system, methods, and programs to Christ?
Dear Saints, it was for His freedom that we were set free. Let us abandon all so that He might become our All and let freedom reign!