“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (NKJV).
“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you” (MSG).
Many people ask the question, “What does the Bible say I have to do to become a Christian?” The answer is:“nothing, absolutely nothing!” You cannot make yourself a Christian. You can’t do enough good works to become a Christian. You don’t just obey the commandments to become Christian. You can’t make it by cleaning up your act. You do not become a true believer by keeping the Law. That’s what makes Christianity different from all other religions. They say, “Clean up your act.” “Straighten up your life.” “Get it all together.” “Live a good, clean life, then you can come to God. Then you will be pleasing to God and He will love you.” Only the Gospel of Christ is “good news.” God is the one who makes us believers! He has already done everything He could do for us to have eternal life, to have a promise of heaven. In Galatians Paul reminds us that Christ has set us free. He cautions about going back into slavery after our liberation.
Why would anyone trade freedom for bondage? “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8:36 NLT).
I have been accused of being a “liberal,” to which I always reply, “I’m not a liberal, I’m liberated. I am free from the bondage of legalism, Christ has set me free! Romans 8:2, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”
As believers we are free to live our lives according to the leading of the Holy Spirit who lives in every believer. We live with a mind made pure by the blood of Christ. (Philippians 2:5) I am free to live my life according to the dictates of God’s word, always remembering my weaker brother (Romans 14:1-8).
In today’s church there are two extreme positions that have existed since apostolic times. Each is critical of the other, and neither is biblically correct. And both are devastating to the cause of Christ. At one extreme is legalism, “do not touch, do not taste, do not
handle, which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men” (Colossians 2:21,22). This shows a general ignorance of the grace of God. On the opposite extreme is liberalism, the belief that since I am saved, I can do anything I want to do.
Legalism is a term used to describe a belief system to which we must adhere in order to be a “good” Christian. What is of vital importance, however, is that most of these “legalisms” are not found in the Bible. Some well-meaning people create codes and laws beyond the clear teaching of the Scriptures for others to follow. Many legalists would go as far as to say that if a person does not adhere to their own legalistic beliefs, they are not really true believers, even if they have placed their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They simply say that any action going against what they believe regarding right or wrong is evidence that they are not believers at all.
“Liberty is commonly defined as, ‘freedom or release from slavery, imprisonment, captivity, or any other form of arbitrary control.’ ‘Christian liberty’ refers to a Christian's release and separation from sin, death (ultimately), hell, Satan, and the curse of the law by the redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has freed us from the things that previously bound use, not in them so we can continue to sin. Freedom from sin should not be twisted to mean freedom TO sin. Though with his liberty a believer can choose what he will do, unless he chooses within the realm of truth and righteousness, he places himself back into a form of bondage. True freedom is only found when one willingly places himself in subjection to God.” –Timothy S. Morton, biblebelievers.com
Liberty does not mean the absence of law! The U.S. Constitution promises liberty to its citizens, but it does not give license to break its laws. We can never enjoy true freedom without some restrictions on our activities. If every person “does that which is right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25) the result would be anarchy. As believers we are to maintain proper standards of conduct because God’s Word admonishes us, “You must be holy because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16 NLT).
You must cherish, treasure, and defend liberty, but liberty always comes with conditions. An Irish immigrant punched a New York city policeman in the nose, and said, “I have the freedom to hit you, I’m an American,” to which the policeman replied, “yes, but your freedom ends where my nose begins.” License always comes with responsibility, we cannot we put our selfish desires before God’s Word.
Peter Marshall prayed before the United States Senate, “Lord Jesus, Thou who art ‘the Way, the Truth and the Life,’ hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make us all free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved, but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Help us to see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right.”
Liberty comes from a knowledge of the truth. Galatians 5:1, “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the Law” (NLT). “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you” (MSG).
The Galatian Error Was Legalism. In the church at Galatia there were those who were guilty of mingling grace and works. They were teaching that in order to be a Christian, they had to believe in Christ by faith, but also had to observe rituals, of circumcision and Levitical law.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
Verse 1a: “Stand fast,” means to maintain a firm and unwavering stance. Paul in addressing the Galatian error, speaks to all Christians, telling us to maintain a firm and unyielding stance for Christian liberty. We have been freed from the bondage of legalism, and must never be placed in bondage again.
“Be steadfast, not careless. Lie not down and sleep, but stand up. Be watchful. Hold fast the liberty wherewith Christ hath made you free.” Those who loll cannot keep this liberty. Satan hates the light of the Gospel. When it begins to shine a little he fights against it with might and main.” –Martin Luther
Verse 1b: “…in the liberty by which Christ has made us free.”
John 8:32, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
John 8:36, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”
2 Corinthians 3:17, “ Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”
Galatians 4:3-5, “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born[a] of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.”
Our liberty was purchased at a great cost. Christ left His Father in heaven to become flesh (John 1:14), and to suffer indescribable torture at the hands of His own creation. He was scourged, (John 19:1) and finally, He was nailed to a cross to die in agony. And for what? For our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3).
Two songs come to mind:
Out of the ivory palaces, into a world of woe,
Only His great eternal love made my Savior go.
–Henry Barraclough, 1915–
He left the splendor of heaven knowing His destiny
Was the lonely hill of Golgotha there to lay down His life for me.
(“If that isn’t love”) –Dottie Rambo–
Verse 1c: “…and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”
“Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you” (MSG).
Galatians 1:6, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel.”
Galatians 2:4, “And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage).”
“And wrap not yourselves again.” –Tyndale. The sense is, do not again allow such a yoke to be put on you; do not again become slaves to any rites, and customs, and habits.
These Judaizer’s are not the only ones to misunderstand the grace of God. They wrongly conclude that to allow people to live in grace without all of their rules will ruin the church. This legalism can take different forms. The first is where a person attempts to keep the Law in order to gain salvation (this was the problem in Galatia). The second is where a person tries to keep the law in order to maintain his salvation, or to be pleasing to God.
Some of these legalists say that any and all consumption of alcoholic beverages is wrong. This is a legalistic belief because nowhere in the Bible is drinking alcoholic beverages forbidden. However, many believe this is wrong, and any attempt at convincing otherwise most often proves futile. Now the Bible does forbid drunkenness, but even Jesus did not denounce the consumption of wine (cf. John 2).
Other examples of this legalism include the restriction from attending movies, eating certain foods, women wearing slacks, or cutting their hair and men with long hair or facial hair on. I actually had a preacher say to me one time, “The very minute your hair touches the top of your ear, your fellowship with God is cut off.” I listened to an old-time evangelist preach about women having their hair cut short. He literally condemned to hell any woman who would wear short hair. After the meeting several of us went to lunch together, including this evangelist and his wife. His wife had her hair cut very short. It didn’t say much for his authority in his home.
Some even believe it to be a sin for mothers to breastfeed, but use formula instead! Also abstaining from heavier forms of music (the contemporary music wars). Many churches believe that only the old traditional hymns of yesteryear are appropriate and any other music sung in the church is sinful. One pastor says, he does not allow music that is less than one-hundred-fifty years old to be used in his services.
In a church in Texas, where I had been the pastor for just a few weeks, our Worship Leader (BTW: they had a real problem with calling him a “worship leader”) grew a beard, many in the church complained. One man even said to me, “Jesus didn’t have a beard so I don’t think it’s right for David to have one.” I said to this man, actually one of the leaders in our church, “If Jesus didn’t have a beard, how did they pluck it out by the roots?” He said, “I never thought of that.”
I was on my way to preach in Florida many years ago. As a joke, I found a baseball cap with a built in pony tail that perfectly matched my hair. Then I added a clip-on earring. Well, when I got off the plane with my pony tail and earring, I met the pastor and his wife who were picking me up. Well, the pastor got the joke immediately, but his wife didn’t! So on the way back to the church she kept looking at me out of the corner of her eye. Finally, the pastor said to her, “It’s not real, honey.” She replied, “Oh thank God, I didn’t know how we were going to let this man with a pony tail and an earring preach in our church.”
I once saw a sign on the front of a church that read: “Women in slacks stay out.” Another church lined up their young girls and measured their skirts, if they were not below their knees they were given paper skirts to wear. In that same church the young men were given haircuts if their hair touched their ears. Gospel background music tracks are a no-no in many churches, and some of these churches were segregated, hence the old saying, “No tracks, no slacks, no blacks.”
There are countless examples of legalism, but the point is this: People must not be held to a standard of conformity that is outside of the teachings of scripture. If this takes place then legalism begins to take root. If the scriptures teach, “You shall not commit adultery” then of course this must be adhered to. But when the scriptures are silent regarding a certain issue it should never be preached to anyone as the law. Such preaching is legalistic, and legalistic preaching and teaching is at the heart of the non-believer’s rejection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Robert Roberts, in an article in Christianity Today, wrote: “There’s something comfortable about reducing Christianity to a list of do’s and don'ts, whether your list comes from mindless fundamentalism or mindless liberalism, you always know where you stand, and this helps reduce anxiety. Do’s and don’ts-ism has the advantage. You don’t need wisdom, you don’t have to think or make hard choices.”
Legalism leaves the Holy Spirit out of our decision making. A good friend was speaking at a youth camp. As the pastors and youth leaders were sitting around talking between services, a young girl came up to her youth pastor asking, “Is my skirt long enough?” He looked at it and assured her that it was fine. After the girl walked away, my friend turned to the youth pastor asking, “Who made you the Holy Spirit for that girl?”
Eugene Peterson wrote, “We all know pastors and Christian people who do not want us to be free. To be accepted just as we are by His grace. They don’t want us to be free to express our faith creatively in the world. They insist that we all look alike, talk alike and act alike, thus validating one another’s worth. Without being aware of it we become anxious about what others will say about us, obsessively concerned about what others think we should do. We no longer live the good news, but anxiously try to memorize and recite the script that someone else has assigned to us. We may be secure, but we will not be free.”
Chuck Swindoll said, “Rigidity is the trademark of legalism, the archenemy of any church on the move. Let legalism have enough rope, and there will be a lynching of all new ideas, fresh thinking and innovative programs.” He also said, “ The bite of legalism spreads paralyzing venom into the body of Christ. Its poison blinds our eyes, dulls our edge and arouses pride in our hearts. Soon our love in eclipsed as it turns into a mental clipboard with along checklist.”
Billy Sunday said, “Some persons think they have to look like a hedgehog to be pious.”
Jesus in the raising of Lazarus, “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:43,44).
Many believers are bound by Grave clothes, even though Christ as raised them from the dead. “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Isaiah 58:6 AMP, “To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every [enslaving] yoke?”
Grave Clothes of:
•Guilt: Thinking that God is holding something against you from your past. Remember these verses, “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “For You have cast all my sins behind Your back” (Isaiah 38:17). “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; and I will not remember your sins” (Hebrews 8:12). God forgets! Too bad we have such difficulty forgetting!
•Fear: We do not need to fear that God’s going to get us! I knew a man once who believed that God had a truck ready to hit and kill him at every intersection.2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
•Doubt: Is there really a God? Does He care about me? Am I really a believer? James 1:5,6, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
•Anxiety: The Spirit of God is guarding our lives, there is no need for anxiety. Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 5:1 MSG, “Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.”
Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB). Contemporary English Version (CEV).
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