12 October 2010

Galatians 5:1-6

"For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." (v.1)


In this letter to the Christians in Galatia, in modern-day Turkey, Paul picks up on the complex argument we looked at yesterday, and now he makes it quite clear what he is talking about. Those who are 'in Christ' have been set free from the demands (or, at least, some of the demands) of the Jewish Law. In particular, the defining feature of (male) Jewishness - circumcision - which was regarded by Jews as a non-negotiable mark of belonging to the people of God. Many of the first-generation Christians were, like Jesus, Jews and they (quite understandably) assumed that Jewishness was integral to Christianity. So any Gentile (non-Jew) who wanted to join the Church should first adopt Jewish identity.

But Paul was convinced that they were wrong. The new people of God were defined by faith in Christ alone. To embrace Jewish identity was to put the Jewish Law before Christ and to "submit again to a yoke of slavery". And that, for Paul, meant a rejection of the free gift of new life in Christ (which Paul here calls "grace").

For Paul, the new people of God - those who share this new life in Christ - are bound together by God's Spirit at work in them, giving them hope and enabling them to live the kind of lives that were pleasing to God. This is probably what Paul means here by "righteousness", although it might also have the sense of God accepting them as God's own at the final judgement - the righteous shall live, the unrighteous shall die.

Either way, the important thing for Paul was that their faith was shown to be real by the love that they showed one another. Outward religious symbolism counts for nothing. That is true freedom.

To Ponder

Paul was opposed to outward religious symbols as signs of belonging to the people of God. What do you think he would make of those who claim that their religious freedom is being compromised if they can't wear a cross to work?

"The only thing that counts is faith working through love." Why, then, has the Church always tended to add various other requirements to those who want to belong?

What do you understand as true Christian freedom?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.