“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 ESV)
I love July 4th. It was a hugely important holiday in my family growing up, as both my grandfather and his brother, my great uncle, risked their lives protecting our freedoms during World War Two. These men made sure my brothers and I understood the high cost of freedom so that we would never take it for granted. As thankful as I am for the freedoms we enjoy in this great country, after I became a Christian, I learned about a much more amazing freedom. I learned about the freedom we have in Jesus.
In the letter to the Galatians, Paul passionately defends the gospel of free grace in Jesus. Simply put, Paul wanted this church and wants us to know that the gospel is Jesus plus nothing. Jesus alone saves us; the only thing we contribute to our salvation, according to the apostle, is the sin we bring that needs to be forgiven. Towards the end of the letter to the Galatians, Paul writes our text for this morning, Galatians 5:1. Let’s look at two aspects of Christian freedom together, briefly.
First, Paul tells us that Christ has set us free from the condemnation of the law of God. God’s law is his prescription for holy living for all people, in all places, at all times. Apart from Jesus, God’s law is a terror to us. It shows us our sin (Rom 7:7). None of us keeps us his law perfectly (Ps 143:2; James 2:10). Yet God requires perfect law-keeping in order for us to enter heaven (Ps 24:4). Thus, we are in a terrible predicament. We cannot provide what God requires. We are enslaved to sin (John 8:34).
Here’s where the gospel is mind-blowing. Jesus not only died for us, but lived the perfect life we owe God (Rom 5:12-21) so that there is no longer any condemnation for us who trust in Jesus by faith alone (Rom 8:1). Therefore, as Paul wrote to the Galatians, we have been set free from the condemnation of God’s law. Though we were guilty in God’s sight, we go free because Jesus takes our punishment—our condemnation— in our place. It’s astonishing: the one who never, ever broke God’s law in thought, word, or deed, is punished as a lawbreaker because of his love for us. There is nothing else like this anywhere else!
Practically speaking, this means that once we trust in Christ, we do not live in fear of God’s punishment any more. Therefore, when we sin, we come to God as our Father who loves us, has forgiven all our sin—past, present, and future—in Jesus, and who welcomes us with open arms. Knowing that Jesus has set us free from the law’s condemnation prevents us from falling into despair when we are overwhelmed with our sinfulness.
Second, since Jesus has set us free from the condemnation of God’s law, it means we are set free from the power of sin. Sin can feel like a cruel oppressor. We commit the same sin, over and over. We promise God we’ll do better next time, only to fall for the same temptation, again and again. Whether it’s pornography, alcohol, pills, anger, or the host of other sins with which men often struggle, the power of sin can seem overwhelming at times.
It’s at these moments—during our failures and fallings—when we need to stand on the promise of Galatians 5:1. Since we are free, we can stand against temptation, as Paul tells us. We are no longer slaves to sin, but slaves of God’s amazing, overpowering, sin-casting-out grace. Our Father has accepted us in his beloved Son, Jesus! We can begin to fight back against sin with the freedom we have in Jesus.
So this July 4th, give thanks to God for the freedoms we enjoy here in America. But also remember the greatest freedom that came at the greatest price: the freedom Jesus purchased for us on the cross. He willingly sacrificed the freedom he had as God in the flesh to die for slaves of sin like us, to set us free to serve him with everything we have. In other words, we are still slaves, but now we are slaves to the only King who dies for his subjects, Jesus. And there is nothing so freeing as being a slave of the King of Grace!
Wishing you and your family a safe and happy Independence Day!
© First Presbyterian Church