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. (Galatians 5:1)
Many Christians I know have a bad habit – the habit of giving into those around them, doing whatever they demand, and agreeing with whatever they insist is true. And the funny thing is that people think that, somehow or another, this is the Christian thing to do. After all, they reason, we are supposed to be kind and nice and servant-hearted, aren’t we?
We are commanded to be kind: “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Tim. 2:24). And forgiving: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). And willing to serve others: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44). And avoid putting stumbling blocks before our Christian brother: “Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (Rom. 14:13). And this is true even toward our enemies: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:44-45).
Yet we are also called to take a stand on the gospel and boldly insist on the teachings of the Scripture. And one of those is that we must stand in the freedom that Christ has given us. Apparently, the believers in Galatia gave into the false legalistic teachers and let them bully and pressure them into submitting again to the Old Testament Mosaic Law. This “giving in” went beyond just being sensitive not to put a stumbling block before them, and went so far as to accept and even promote the false teachings – that we are accepted by God by obeying the Law.
We are only accepted by God on the basis of what Christ has done and what we have received through faith. We now stand in the freedom of grace. Because we are accepted by God through faith we should live holy lives, but we should not be enslaved again to the yoke of the Law. The problem in Galatian churches focused on the rite of circumcision, which was a command under the Law for the Jews. Yet these false teachers insisted that Gentiles becoming Christians must not just be baptized but also be circumcised.
A few verses down in Ephesians Paul wrote: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6). By grace we are drawn to Christ, to live in Him and to follow Him. He should be our focus and He frees us through changing our hearts. The Christian life is to be a positive experience of growth in following Christ, but the false teacher had changed it into a negative experience of keeping the Law. And, of course, keeping the Law meant that there were those around them that considered themselves enforcers of the Law, keeping everyone in check.
We are free in our hearts to the degree that we love Christ and seek to please Him. We are enslaved to the degree that we make it our main goal to please the legalists in the church. We should be kind, forgiving, gracious, and sensitive, but we should not let them enslave us to a false teaching. We must stand in our freedom, for this is what Christ came to give us.