Freedom in Christ: Part 1 – The Law
“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” ~Galatians 2:21
If you’ve been a Christian for very long, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Freedom in Christ” used often. But what does it really mean? In this two-part series we’ll look at what the Bible has to say about it and how we can fully live out our freedom in Christ.
Freedom from The Law
In the early days of the expansion of Christianity, the apostle Paul made missionary trips to spread the gospel in different regions of the ancient world. One of those regions was Galatia, an area where Gentiles lived (non-Jewish people). Whenever Paul returned to his homeland of Israel, he would give testimony to the believers back home about his journeys. When he shared about these new believers in Galatia, some people in the new, Christ-following churches in Israel began suggesting that believers in Galatia should be restricted by the old laws of Judaism—even though they were Gentiles.
Take My Yoke Upon You
If you know the life of Christ well, then you know He was not very fond of the hypocritical and overly-pious Pharisees. Jesus’ message was in opposition to the difficult religion being offered by these zealous Jewish leaders. As he famously said in Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV):
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (emphasis mine)
What Does He Mean by Yoke?
Literally speaking, a yoke is a heavy wooden harness that was used to bind two oxen together so they could walk in step with one another while working in the fields. As an Eastern people group, the Hebrew people loved a good metaphor. And at the time of Jesus, different rabbis who taught varying schools of religious thought would call their teachings a yoke. Those who came to listen and follow them would be encouraged to “take their rabbi’s yoke upon them” and be directed by those teachings.
As Jesus walked around and observed these teachings, which were in the tradition of Mosaic Law, he was astonished by the heavy burden the leaders in the synagogues were putting on the average layperson who wished simply to be a good Jew and follow Yahweh.
The Law and New Testament Believers
Fast forward a few decades to the time when the book of Galatians was written. If you read the beginning of Galatians 5, you will see Paul reference this idea of a yoke directly.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” ~Galatians 5:1 (NIV)
Paul, like Jesus, saw that the unnecessary trappings of the law and religion would literally enslave people. To put this verse in a historical, biblical context, Paul won a disagreement with other leaders in the early church in Jerusalem—who had all grown up in the Jewish tradition and later come to faith in Christ—about whether or not Gentile believers would need to be circumcised and follow specific Jewish traditions in order to be saved. He was passionate about passing on the simple gospel message he had received.
In the book of Galatians, we see Paul rebuking the Gentile Galatian believers for practicing Mosaic law and tradition, a tradition was not even theirs to begin with.
“…does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?” ~Galatians 3:5
Why is This Good News for You?
This whole affair may seem inconsequential to you if you’ve never practiced Judaism or another religion. But have you ever struggled with legalism or a need to be a “Good Christian?” If so, the message here, which Paul reiterates throughout his epistles, is that our salvation and the working out of our salvation is by faith and does not rely on works or traditions. Works and traditions are empty and even harmful if we miss the essence of the true gospel story, which is all about freedom in Christ.
In our next post, we’ll take a look at another area of freedom that we can experience when we fully walk liberated in Christ—freedom from sin.
If you are struggling to believe that you are truly free or if you feel that depression, anxiety, fear, or perfectionism are hindering you from the abundant life God intends for all his children, give us a call at Agave Sozo. We’re a prayer ministry in Chandler AZ that, like the apostle Paul, is passionate about seeing people set free.