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Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians
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Meditation No. 22


Meditation Title: A Yoke of Slavery


Gal 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.


Gal 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.


Paul, as we saw in the previous meditation, has just used a somewhat convoluted rabbinical argument about freedom and slavery, referring back to Ishmael and Isaac and Hagar and Sarah. Almost by way of conclusion to that argument, he makes this simple and straight forward declaration: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” It is almost so simple that we might miss the significance of it. Point 1: Christ HAS set us free. The implication is that previously we were not free. This might almost seem too simple but it does need saying because very often Christians don't appreciate what their state had been before their came to Christ, and unbelievers would like to challenge the truth anyway. The truth is that before we came to Christ we were slaves to sin. We couldn't break free from sin. Wrong doing whether it was simply thoughts, or perhaps words, was still sin and our life was stuck with it. We may have tried to be good but the more we tried the more we recognised our failures. It was a life of hard endeavour and we couldn't break free from it. Point 2: having made us free, Christ doesn't want us to go back into slavery. That is what this letter is all about.

So what is Paul's counsel? “Stand firm then.” It is the same sort of language that he uses in Ephesians chapter 6. It conveys a picture, if you like, of us being given a piece of ground, which is the truth of the Gospel, which is our freedom, and we have to defend it and not allow the enemy to push us off that ground. We have got to hold on to the truth and hold on to our freedom and not let him take it from us.

How will our enemy try to do that? By seeking to impose on us “a yoke of slavery.” Now that is a very powerful picture. We normally think of the yoke put upon an oxen ploughing in the field when we think about yokes, but slaves in a slave galley also had a yoke around their neck linked to a chain; a most horrible form of limitation!

Peter had used the same sort of language when Paul and Barnabas had gone to Jerusalem to discuss the question covered now by this letter: “Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses." (Acts 15:5) Peter, as the leader in Jerusalem addressed this: “Peter got up and addressed them…. “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:10,11). There is it, the same picture. The Jewish believers said that it was necessary for new believers to be circumcised and to follow the Law. Hold on, said Peter, neither we nor previous generations could live by that and Christ has set us free from this slavery to the Law. It's by grace that we have been saved, which means it is free and not something that we have to work at.

Paul now, in this letter, upholds the same position that Peter had declared. He continues, “Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.” (5:2) Look at the opening words of that verse: “Mark my words!” Listen carefully to what I am saying, is what that says. He emphasizes it even more: “I Paul.” This is apostolic declaration. Listen to it! Look, if you let yourself be circumcised you are reinstating a form of religion that is based on human effort and so Christ's work will mean nothing. That is the strength of what is here! If you try to DO anything to justify yourself before God, you are in effect saying that the work of Christ on the Cross was inadequate or insufficient. As we've said previously in an earlier meditation in this series, circumcision may not be an issue for us, but if we do ANYTHING to try to justify ourselves before God, then we ARE in this position that Paul is speaking about here. This really does go to the root of the insecurity of many of us. If we feel we have to do something to please God, to get Him on our side, or to make Him feel good about us, we do not understand the work of Christ on the Cross and we negate it by our actions. This is most crucial.

Listen to how Paul reinforces this: “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.” (5:3). If you are going to try to be good in one direction by your activities, then you are obliged to follow ALL of God's laws. If you want to make one rule the basis of your salvation, you'll have to take on board every law you can find in the whole Bible! And then, “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” It's a simple but possibly painful truth, but if you are trying to justify yourself by following rules and regulations (even if self-made and self-imposed) then you have separated yourself from the wonderful work of Christ and you have moved away from the place of grace that true salvation is. If you are working for it, then it is not grace! Grace is a free gift from God; that is part of the definition of it. If you reject that free gift and try to work for your own approval before God, you've missed the whole thing! Let these words of this powerful little letter really take hold of you and bring you into a place of true security in Christ. He has done absolutely everything on the Cross to win your total approval and love by God. Don't add to it, just receive it and rejoice in it!