Paul Urges Galatians: ‘Stand Fast in Christian Freedom’
THE Creator, the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, is a God of freedom. He created all his intelligent creatures free and purposed that they continue free. That is why we read: “Jehovah is the Spirit; and where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.”—2 Cor. 3:17.
When Jesus, the Son of God, came to earth, he found God’s people in a threefold bondage. They were in bondage to inherited sin. This, in turn, held them in bondage to the Law, because they were unable to keep it fully. Further, their religious leaders put them in bondage by their traditions and arbitrary interpretations of the Law. Thus, included in the good news that Jesus preached was ‘release to the captives.’ As he told his followers: “If you remain in my word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”—John 8:31-36; Matt. 23:4; Luke 4:17, 18.
As a fine imitator of Christ, the apostle Paul also preached the good news of freedom. He pointed out that, on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, Christians “were set free from sin” and that in God’s due time all creation “will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom. 6:18; 8:21) Among those to whom Paul had preached the good news of freedom were the congregations in the Roman province of Galatia, which congregations he himself established on his first missionary tour. Because certain Judaizers were bringing his spiritual “children” into bondage again by insisting that they must get circumcised, Paul wrote them a powerful letter sometime between 50 and 52 C.E.—Gal. 4:19.
At the time, Paul quite likely was residing either in Corinth or in Antioch of Syria. That he did indeed write this letter is most certain. Not only does the letter itself mention Paul as the writer, but also the choice of words and the emotions expressed are distinctly his. It is one of the first of the Bible books he wrote, either shortly before or shortly after the two letters to the Christians in Thessalonica. Paul’s strong feelings on the subject of Christian freedom pervade this letter throughout.
Paul begins his letter to the Galatians by stressing that he is an apostle, “neither from men nor through a man, but through Jesus Christ and God.” At once he comes to the point: He marvels that they have so soon been turned away from the good news he preached to them. Then he declares that “if we or an angel out of heaven,” or “whoever” it may be, brought to them a good news beyond what he had brought, “let him be accursed.” The good news he brought them he did not get from any man, but “through revelation by Jesus Christ.”—Gal. 1:1-12.
Lest they should think that Paul was a stranger to Judaism, he tells them, in a brief autobiographical sketch, of his great zeal for Jewish tradition and his progress therein, “to the point of excess . . . persecuting the congregation of God and devastating it.” When God called him to declare the good news to the Gentiles, he “did not go at once into conference with flesh and blood,” that is, he did not at once consult other disciples of Jesus, but went off into Arabia. After three years he did go to Jerusalem for a brief visit but saw only Peter and Jesus’ half brother James. (Gal. 1:13-19) Years later he went there again but only on the basis of a revelation. (Acts 15:2-21) At that time the “pillars” of the congregation saw how God was using Paul in preaching to the Gentiles and so agreed that he should continue to do so, whereas they would continue to preach to those circumcised, the Jews. But after that, when the apostle Peter compromised as to Christian freedom because of fear of man, Paul “resisted him face to face,” and reproved him before them all.—Gal. 2:1-14.
Continuing, Paul reminds the Galatian Christians that they had been declared righteous, not because of their keeping the Law, but because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Now if works of the Law were required, Christ died in vain. Paul then becomes indignant with their having taken this backward step: “O senseless Galatians, . . . did you receive the spirit due to works of law or due to a hearing by faith?” Were they now able to do powerful works due to trying to keep the law of Moses or because they had received God’s holy spirit by reason of their faith in Jesus Christ? He then appeals to the Hebrew Scriptures to make his point: ‘Abraham put faith in God and it was counted to him as righteousness.’ Yes, “the righteous one will live by reason of faith.” On the other hand, those trying to keep the Law are under a curse, since they cannot completely avoid violations of it.—Gal. 3:1-14.
Jesus Christ brought freedom from the curse of the Law by dying on the execution stake, making it possible for those of the nations to receive the blessing promised through Abraham’s seed. Still, Paul goes on to show, the Law was not an evil. For one thing, it served “to make transgressions manifest,” and it also served as a tutor leading the Jews to Christ. In Christ there is freedom, for ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor freeman, male nor female.’—Gal. 3:16-29.
Continuing his theme of freedom, Paul notes that before they became Christians they were as babes. They “continued enslaved by the elementary things belonging to the world.” But now that Christ has come he has released those under the Law so that instead of being slaves they may be free. Why did they now want to go back into slavery and scrupulously observe days, months, seasons and years? And has he, Paul, become their enemy because he is telling them the truth?—Gal. 4:1-16.
To illustrate his point, Paul turns to Abraham and his two sons by Sarah and Hagar. The Law covenant entered into at Mount Sinai compares to Hagar, who was a servant girl and who “corresponds with the Jerusalem today, for she is in slavery with her children.” On the other hand, the Abrahamic covenant compares to Sarah, and she corresponds to “the Jerusalem above [which] is free, and she is our mother,” that is, the mother of anointed Christians.—Gal. 4:21-31.
After making this point Paul reaches what may be said to be the climax of his letter: “For such freedom Christ set us free. Therefore stand fast, and do not let yourselves be confined again in a yoke of slavery.” If they get circumcised they not only become separated from Christ and fall from his undeserved kindness but are obligated to perform the whole Law. “You were running well,” he tells them, and adds: “Who hindered you from keeping on obeying the truth?” The one guilty of that will bear his judgment, no matter who he may be. In fact, Paul feels so strongly about such perverters of the good news that he says: “I wish the men who are trying to overturn you would even get themselves emasculated.”—Gal. 5:1-12.
FREEDOM NOT TO BE ABUSED
Paul was fully aware of the implications and the risk that went with the good news of freedom, for he knew how fallen human nature would be prone to take selfish advantage of Christian freedom. He therefore at once warns: “You were, of course, called for freedom, brothers; only do not use this freedom as an inducement for the flesh, but through love slave for one another. For the entire Law stands fulfilled in one saying, namely: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’”—Gal. 5:13, 14.
CONDUCT BEFITTING FREE CHRISTIANS
Paul shows Christians that they have an aid to help them not to abuse their freedom: “Keep walking by spirit and you will carry out no fleshly desire at all.” What are those fleshly desires? Paul calls them the “works of the flesh” and enumerates sixteen of them, including fornication, uncleanness and loose conduct, adding also “and things like these.” “Those who practice such things,” he warns, “will not inherit God’s kingdom.” In contrast to all such is the fruitage of the spirit, which includes “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” Obviously, “against such things there is no law”; there is no limit to the amount of the Christian fruitage of the spirit we are permitted to bear!—Gal. 5:16-23.
Another thing that seems to weigh heavily on Paul’s mind is the need for Christians to watch their relations with one another. So, not content to remind them that they should love their neighbor as themselves, he warns: “If, though, you keep on biting and devouring one another, look out that you do not get annihilated by one another.” And further on he adds: “Let us not become egotistical, stirring up competition with one another, envying one another.”—Gal. 5:14, 15, 26.
It is in this vein that Paul continues in the sixth chapter of Ga his letter. If one makes a false step before he is aware of it, let those qualified to do so help him to get readjusted. Christians are to carry the burdens of one another and thus fulfill the law of Christ. Again and again he gives practical warning: “Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap . . . So let us not give up in doing what is fine, for in due season we shall reap if we do not tire out. Really, then, as long as we have time favorable for it, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.”—Gal. 6:7-10.
Before concluding his letter Paul once more feels compelled to return to the matter of bondage to the Law. He exposes the motives of those who would again bring the Galatian Christians into bondage to keeping its requirement of circumcision. They do it so as to have cause for boasting, to make a good appearance according to the flesh and to avoid persecution. But really, ‘neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation is.’ “And all those who will walk orderly by this rule of conduct, upon them be peace and mercy, even upon the [spiritual] Israel of God.”—Gal. 6:12-16.
Truly, in the letter to the Galatians we see Paul’s great concern for his spiritual “children,” his strong righteous indignation against those who would rob them of their freedom. To recover them he appeals to his own credentials, to reason and to the Scriptures and then gives them fine counsel as to their conduct so that they may inherit God’s kingdom. All of this is fine exposition of Bible truths and principles and powerful exhortation for Christians today.