Dear Christian, yours is a freedom that is under attack. I am not talking about the religious freedoms you may experience in the political realm as a citizen of a free country (though, this seems like an increasingly necessary discussion). Nor am I talking about the freedom from political bondage or slavery. I am talking about the freedom you have before God on account of Jesus Christ. The freedom from fear of judgment, the freedom from guilt and shame, the freedom to call upon God in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. Spend some time in the book of Galatians, and you will see in no uncertain terms that Christ came with the express purpose to set you free from a slavery that would condemn you eternally. Christ has liberated you from the powers of sin, and the condemnation God’s law imposes on sinners. This is a spiritual freedom you have been granted despite your social standing or political situation. You are free!
And that freedom is under attack.
In Galatians 5:1, St. Paul cries in victory, “For freedom Christ has set us free!” and you would think that was it! We have freedom! No more struggles or trials, right? Not so fast. Paul’s cry of victory is followed by the speech of a general readying his troops for battle: “…stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” In other words, you have the victory! So be ready to stand against those who would take that from you. You are liberated to live in the Kingdom of God. So do not let anyone move you from that Promised Land. You are free! So fight to stay that way.
You must stand, for the enemy is not happy to see you free. The devil is not free. He is bound (Rev 20:.2-3). Yet he still prowls on his leash looking to devour those who have been rescued from his tyranny (1 Peter 5:8-11). Which means he has his eyes set on you. The exorcism that took place at your baptism freed you from Satan’s grasp. Christ bound the strong man and rescued that which was his own (Mark 3:22-27). Satan hates the new freedom Christ has given you, for he hates Christ. Now there is a demonic bounty on your head. So, be ready to fight!
These assaults are not all that obvious. They require constant vigilance at having God’s law and gospel preached into your ears to give you the eyes of discernment. Satan will misuse and twist that which is God’s against you. Think of Eve in the Garden. Satan warped that beautiful altar of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that tree that stood to remind Adam and Eve of how God created them to live, love, eat, and work in freedom. Instead, Satan deceived Eve into believing in the potential for something better: an autonomy in which she could now be no mere image of God, but like God himself. Becoming this self-sufficient deity was the temptation; eating the fruit from the tree imposed death.
Autonomy (literally, being a law unto yourself) is the way we moderns think of freedom. We do not need anyone telling us what to do, how to feel, who to be, or even what to be. We decide for ourselves. The old definitions, we say, are too binding and limiting. We must get beyond God’s law and his words and create our own way of thinking and speaking. Nietzsche said, “I fear we will never be rid of God so long as we believe in grammar.” We simply need to make up our own grammar, our own definitions. Once we’ve done that, our words can undo the bondage of the flesh and we can dwell happily according to our own rules.
You who would be a law unto yourself, Christ is the gospel unto you, proclaiming you forgiven.
But such demonic impulses cannot shake bondage. Whether you are under the condemnation of God’s law or seeking to establish your own laws, you are still a slave to sin and under the law. Being a law unto yourself still leaves you a slave to the law, just a far less impressive one.
Paul is putting the Galatians on their guard from such slavery. Satan had employed the Judaizers to come in and tell this legally-minded society of Gentiles that Jesus was the sort of God who offered them a better law than any offered by their current gods. In his commentary on Galatians, Andrew Das points out that the idols throughout the Galatian regions would typically be found holding scales. One god was even named “Diakios,” which is the Greek word for justice. These were a people whose gods had taught them to live in fear of divine retribution. The shed blood and preaching of Christ Jesus liberated these saints from the bondage of such demonic deities. But now, Satan had employed the Judaizers to move in and proclaim the true God as - not only the savior from these gods - but one who gives a higher calling, a better law. And, if you want to prove you are willing to follow him, that you are one of his and not theirs, then you need to take the first step of being circumcised. To quote The Who, “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”
In response, Paul comes in guns blazing! He will not have the freedom of Christ’s dear saints so wickedly attacked. Breaking the second commandment is the primary way to break the first. So Paul must shout down the false teachers and, once again, rescue these Galatians from bondage. The work of the gospel always does this. After all, Satan is always looking for ways to re-enslave you: whether through the lie of autonomy, the fear of gods who only accuse, or the command to get to work for God because Christ’s substitutionary work is insufficient.
But, forget not, you belong to Christ Jesus. He has set you free. There is no law you must fulfill to please God. You are pleasing to God because Christ fulfilled the law in your place. He fulfilled it by keeping it perfectly, and he fulfilled it by paying the debt you owed it with his own blood. There is no higher platform of living, no greater freedom, than what you have in Christ. Being a law unto yourself will only enslave you unto death. But Christ has conquered the grave and called you his own. You who would be a law unto yourself, Christ is the gospel unto you, proclaiming you forgiven. Forgiven, and eternally and totally free. That is a freedom worth fighting for.