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Oct 14

Freedom in Christ

WHAT DOES IT EVEN MEAN? It is with relative frequency that people quote to us Old Testament law and it isn’t too hard to form the impression that to be a Christian you must obey the law. At the same time we hear of this phrase being tossed around: ‘freedom in Christ’. Personally I wasn’t really sure what to make of it all until getting a bit of solid teaching on the book of Galatians. As we will see, the concept of Christian freedom is central to the gospel message and absolutely critical to understand in order for us to live by faith in Christ.

In the book of Galatians, Paul writes to the church in Galatia with the primary concern of addressing what he believes is a topic of utmost importance, dividing those who are saved by grace through faith and those that are still dead in their sin. The situation was that there were a number of Jews within the Christian community preaching that in order to be justified Gentile Christians must be circumcised, adhering to the Old Testament laws and Jewish customs. Paul referred to them as the ‘circumcision group’ and even accused the Apostle Peter of hypocrisy in being afraid and listening to this outspoken group. Paul is quick to point this group’s message was contrary to the true gospel of Christ.

The ‘circumcision group’ were insistent on sticking to the system that had been in place for hundreds of years, which claimed that you could be justified (= made righteous) by your good works, sticking to the law. Paul explains the mistake of the ‘circumcision group’ by showing that the law was never intended to be a means by which someone could be justified. The law actually curses anyone under it, condemning people who do not keep every letter of it (which means everyone). Therefore it sorely highlights our inability to save ourselves and points us to Christ. Paul then demonstrates that it has always been God’s intention that by faith we can be justified. He makes note that it was first by faith, not works, that the promise of God in the Old Testament could be received and come to fruition (e.g. Abraham received God’s promise by faith). And in the same way the gospel and all the promises it entails is received through faith.

The gospel of Christ is the message of God’s grace. Jesus Christ, the son of God, loved us and gave his life for us. We are all sinners, therefore no one is righteous and no one can be justified by observing the law. In His love God made a way for us to be reconciled to him, by faith in Jesus Christ. By faith we share in Christ’s death, dying to sin and the condemnation under the law and now have shared in Christ’s resurrection obtaining new life in Christ. We become children of God, co-heirs with Christ who God raised from the dead to be ruler of all.

The gospel clearly shows that by faith in Christ we are no longer under the law. As Paul says, it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Previously we were condemned in our sin, concerned with doing right and ultimately serving ourselves. Now that we are already justified through the work of Christ on the cross we are truly free to love others and to love God. He warns that people attempting to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ. They are preaching a false gospel and have fallen away from grace.

Paul is adamant that we need to stand firm in this freedom, rejecting those who would try to convince us of a false gospel. And really, these preachers of the false gospel of works have a pretty easy job. The line of thinking of the ‘circumcision group’ permeates the world. Almost all world religions teach of salvation through works in one way or another (e.g. Islam, Catholicism, Mormonism, Buddhism, Hinduism). Another commonly expressed view may sound like the following, “If you’re a good person, abiding by the law (most of the time), giving to charity, being kind to people, then God should be okay with you and you’ll go to heaven”. And perhaps you will catch it within yourself, when you start thinking that maybe your relationship is not right with God, you will feel the need to pray more. Our sinful nature desires to be our own saviour through our efforts and good works, thinking that we can make things right with God on our own accord. All this is contrary and an insult to the truth which is God’s gospel of grace.

From this brief discussion we can draw away two main thoughts as it relates to the gospel which we profess. First, that through faith in Christ we are no longer slaves to the law, we no longer need to strive to justify ourselves by works. Secondly, now we are free from the law we have the freedom to choose to love God and people just as Christ did. In Galatians 5:13 Paul says “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love”. So I hope that what has been made clear encourages you who have been saved by God’s grace to preach the gospel, standing firm in the freedom you have in Christ and growing in love for one another and God.

Amen,

-Benjamin Tay

 

PS. Further reading or fact checking is encouraged, so read Galatians and check out Genesis 12:1-5 and Genesis 15:4-6 to see God’s promises to Abraham received by faith. Also shoot me feedback and questions, it would be very much welcome!