The More Important Freedom

Freedom in Christ

Happy Independence Day, everyone. As you enjoy a day of celebration with family and friends, it can be easy to neglect the more important freedom we have as Christians—freedom established in Jesus Christ. To help spark your mind and imagination on that freedom, I offer you some commentary from the past. Both quotations below are reflections on Paul’s discussion of Christian freedom in Galatians 5:1.

In Galatians 5:1, Paul exclaims, “For freedom Christ has set us free,” but Paul continues with a command, “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1). We see that the good news of freedom is followed by a responsibility—“stand firm” and “do not submit”. Christian freedom is not something to be flippant about. Christians celebrate this precious freedom, and we remember the responsibility attached to it.

Freedom Is Precious

Here is John Calvin on the precious nature of that freedom:

“After having told them that they are the children of the free woman (Gal 4:31), [Paul] now reminds them that they ought not lightly to despise a freedom so precious. And certainly it is an invaluable blessing, in defense of which it is our duty to fight, even to death; since not only the highest temporal considerations, but our eternal interests also, animate us to the contest. Many persons, having never viewed the subject in this light, charge us with excessive zeal, when they see us so warmly and earnestly contending for freedom of faith as to outward matters, in opposition to the tyranny of the Pope. Under this cloak, our adversaries raise a prejudice against us among ignorant people, as if the whole object of our pursuit were licentiousness, which is the relaxation of all discipline. But wise and skillful persons are aware that this is one of the most important doctrines connected with salvation.”[1]

Stand Firm

Rudolf Gwalther—leader in the Zurich church (1519–1586)—offers reflections on Paul’s commands in Galatians 5:1.

“Paul uses a metaphor borrowed from military terminology to encourage us to vigilance combined with constancy and fortitude. Just as soldiers in formation or in watchtowers are expected to hold their position without flinching and not to desert it treacherously or out of cowardice, so it is with Christians, who are expected to defend the noble rank to which we have been raised by Christ with undaunted faith and strong dedication. Just as in military life, Christians need to remember that they cannot do without constant strength of mind and unflagging vigilance if we are not going to allow ourselves to be dislodged from the position assigned to us. For although Christ has set us free, the remains of our evil nature still cling to us and remain present in our flesh. Because of that, our common enemy, Satan, seizes the opportunity to invade us, and if he sees some people more attracted to the flesh than others, he tries to take them away from the pathway of godliness by showing them the example and enticements of the world, in order to transform their Christian freedom into an unbridled license capable of anything. Others, though, whom he realizes have not yet abandoned the feeling of godliness and who are still influenced by the terrors of conscience, he tempts with newfangled superstitions under the guise of religion, by which he traps the unwary and takes them away from Christ, in whom alone salvation is found. After all, what would that wicked creature not attempt, when he was not afraid to attack our first parents in paradise? Did he not wage war against Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, and attempt to overturn his faith and take him away from the obedience that he owed to the Father of our redemption? The apostle is right therefore to warn us that we must stand fearless and unmoved in that freedom that he has won for us.”[2]

Christians, as you celebrate your freedom as American citizens, do not neglect to celebrate and reflect on the more important freedom you have in Christ.

[1] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 146.

[2] (Quoting Rudolf Gwalther) Gerald L. Bray, Timothy F. George, and Scott M. Manetsch, eds., Galatians, Ephesians: New Testament, Vol. 10. Reformation Commentary on Scripture, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 169–170.