It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
The lyrics of a popular worship song are rooted in Galatians 5:1: “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free, / No longer to be subject to a yoke of slavery. / So we’re rejoicing in God’s victory, / Our hearts responding to his love. / Jesus, we celebrate your victory. Jesus, we revel in your love. Jesus, we rejoice you’ve set us free. Jesus, your death has brought us life.”
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” This means that freedom is at the heart of the gospel. This is not “freedom” in the contemporary North American sense of self-fulfillment or self-determination, but rather freedom from sin and freedom to obey God. This kind of freedom is the gospel’s purpose! The worst response people can make, then, is to allow themselves to “be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,” be it slavery to sin, legalism, works, false religion, or anything else.
Such teaching is irrational. Why would anyone choose to return to a state of bondage or powerlessness? The idea spits in the face of the gospel.
This verse is the summary and climax to this section of Paul’s argument in Galatians. The gospel must be maintained and defended. To add works or anything else is heretical, because that would mean we’re putting our faith in something other than the person and work of Christ. To do so is to regress from freedom to bondage, from truth to falsehood, from adulthood to childhood, from grace to works, and from salvation to sin.
We have every reason and all power in the Spirit to “stand firm”! This is a key biblical phrase, used throughout Scripture to indicate active faith (see, for example, Ex. 14:13; Isa. 7:9; Matt. 10:22; and 1 Cor. 15:58).
Apply the Word
Paul saw true freedom as being slaves to Christ (Rom. 6:22; 1 Cor. 7:22). An interesting book on this topic is A Better Freedom: Finding Life as Slaves of Christ, by musician and writer Michael Card. He explores biblical passages on this topic and reflects on them in light of the history of slavery in America and contemporary race relations.