1 July 2016

Galatians 5:1-6

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

Psalm: Psalm 107:17-32


This passage is part of Paul's long discourse regarding the Judaisers in Galatia who were insisting that Gentiles be circumcised. In chapter 3 he used the example of Abraham and explained that God's promise to Abraham was fulfilled in the coming of Christ. In chapter 4 he takes this argument further. Those who insisted on circumcision were taking a step backwards. The last verses of chapter 4 deal with the example of Sarah and Hagar, two women by whom Abraham had sons. Isaac was the son of Sarah, born to her after she had passed childbearing age and in fulfilment of God's promise to Abraham that he would have descendants. Ishmael, Hagar's son, was born of the flesh because Sarah was barren and never imagined that she would bear a son. Hagar was a slave and was driven from Abraham's house.

Now Paul once again refers to circumcision and slavery. His readers would have understood the concept of slavery. The Israelites had been freed from the bondage of Pharaoh when they had left Egypt (Exodus 13-14) and journeyed to the Promised Land where they were freed from bondage. Circumcision was an outward sign which identified people as Jews, that is, people of the law. And people of the law were obliged to obey the whole law, something which was almost impossible.

Yet, if someone comes to Christ, circumcision no longer counted. Circumcision and obedience to law depended on human beings. Freedom in Christ, depended only on faith working through love. When someone joins the armed forces, they wear a uniform which tells others that they are soldiers along with a badge which would indicate their rank; an outward sign which identifies a particular group of people. But when a person chooses to follow Christ, there is no need for an outward ritual, no need for a uniform or badge. All that is needed is faith working through love and an acceptance of Christ's grace, which is unconditional and not dependent on circumcision or obedience to law.

As this letter progresses, Paul has changed his tone somewhat. In chapter 3 he called his readers "foolish" (Galatians 3:1). Later, he calls them "friends" (Galatians 4:12) and even "little children"(Galatians 4:19). Now in verse 2 he says "Listen!", as if he is desperately trying to make his point: don't go back to where you were; move forward and accept Christ's free grace, no strings attached. Paul's readers then, as his readers now, might have found it difficult to accept that there was no catch, no extra requirements, simply accept this free offer.

To Ponder

  • What are the things that enslave you?
  • How would you explain freedom in Christ to someone who does not know Christ?

Bible notes author

The Revd Lynita Conradie

Lynita Conradie is a Methodist presbyter in the Nottingham North Circuit. Originally from South Africa, she was a human rights' lawyer before entering the ministry and being ordained by the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.