Yes, it’s Independence Day in the United States of America. But, I’m not writing about our political independence from Great Britain. Instead, like many Christians, I’m writing about our freedom in Christ.
But, my take on this freedom we have in Christ may be a little different. You see, according to Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, Jesus has set us free from our slavery to sin and the law so that we now have the freedom to make ourselves slaves to one another.
That’s right… we are now free for ourselves; we are now free to become slaves.
There are two key verses in the last chapter of Galatians:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 ESV)
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:14 ESV)
Between these two verses, Paul explains that those who are in Christ are no longer slaves to the law and sin. Christ has freed them. And, just as they trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, he exhorts them to continue to live by “faith working through love” – not through any kind of law-keeping. Paul is concerned that someone is telling the Galatian believers that they must continue to keep the law to remain in God’s good graces, and he reminds them that this teaching does not come from him.
But, on each side of verses 2-13, there seems to be contradictory statement.
First, in Galatians 5:1, Paul tells his readers that since they are free in Christ, they should never again submit to a yoke of slavery. Then, just a few sentences later in Galatians 5:14, he tells them to use their freedom to serve one another through love. Interestingly, the verb “serve” in Galatians 5:14 is the verb form of the noun slave (which Paul condemned in Galatians 5:1).
So, which is it Paul? Do we never submit to a yoke of slavery? Or do we make ourselves slaves to others? The answer is, “Yes.”
When Paul wrote, “Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” context tells us that he was talking specifically about the law and the false hope that is found in trying to keep the law in order to be right with God. He goes on to say that the real hope of righteousness in found in the Holy Spirit by faith. (Galatians 5:5)
However, while we are free – and should never again make ourselves slaves to the law or sin – we are not freed for ourselves or to fulfill our own desires. We are free to make ourselves slaves of other people. And, again, the context tells us exactly what Paul means by “serve one another” (i.e., make ourselves slaves of one another):
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13-14 ESV)
When we serve one another, we are demonstrating God’s love to one another, and thus keeping the Great Commandment (as Jesus might say) or fulfilling the Royal Law (as James might say).
So, yes, yes, yes, we are free indeed… For freedom Christ has set us free. What kind of freedom is it? Freedom to make ourselves slaves to others so that we can demonstrate that we love others more than we love ourselves… which is the best demonstration of our love for God. (For a parallel to this freedom and slavery analogy, see Romans 6:15-23.)