Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled [wrap not yourselves – Tyndale] again with the yoke of bondage.
Chapter divisions, especially in the epistles, are at times a nuisance, they hinder the flow of truth. Here we have one such example. To stop at the end of Ch.4, or just start at Ch.5 is to miss the wider picture of Paul’s teaching. Previously we have seen that when under the law, which was only a temporary arrangement, is to be no better than a slave, and that when we are born anew we become children of the freewoman ( Jerusalem above) and are no longer of the bondwoman ( Sinai, and Jerusalem below).
Now moving into this fifth chapter we see Paul immediately stating that because of this we are to stand in that liberty: that is remain on the ground that Christ has put us, we are not to go back to that we have left. To put it in the words of Ch.2:18 if we do build up those things which are destroyed, we become transgressors. So this verse is the natural conclusion of all of what has preceded it. We are to remain in that liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. The injunction is clear: we are to stay on the ground we have been put, if we find ourselves having moved off that ground of liberty it is our fault and no one else’s.
Some translations render the first part of the verse thus: “With (or for) freedom did Christ set us free”. When Jesus set us free it was a complete, once and for all act, He freed us for freedom, that is God never freed us in order to bring us into another form of bondage. This emancipation from the law and sin was so that we could enter into the life of God, LIFE and not law! We have two aspects to this liberty relevant to our studies:
F1.1 Freedom of access
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you? Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. And such trust have we through Christ to God-ward: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech: And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
II Cor 3:1-18
In a chapter that is similar to the message of Galatians, Paul here in II Cor. 3 lays out some differences between the Old and New Covenants. Firstly he notes that the NC is of the Spirit, whereas the OC is of the letter. The latter kills but the former gives life. The OC was a ministration to condemnation (remember this means to pronounce guilty), whereas the new was a ministration unto righteousness.
Then Paul states at the end of the passage: now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Now many believers take this to mean that in praise and worship we are free to express our love for God in any way, clapping, shouting or whatever. Now whilst it is true that believers are at liberty to express their love for God in praise and worship in such ways, that is not the actual meaning of this portion of scripture. As an aside let it be said that true worship is an expression of heart love and as such can be expressed in whatever way the person wishes, providing as always, it doesn’t bring dishonour to the Lord.
The actual meaning of liberty here has to do with the relationship to the Old Covenant. Paul alludes to the fact that when Moses came down from God, Ex. 34:29-36, the children of Israel could not look on his face, and so had to vail himself. This showing that such was the OC that Israel could not even have face to face conversation with their earthly leader, let alone directly with God! Thus whilst under the OC they are blinded, there is a vail on their heart. But when they come to Christ that vail is removed, and they have direct access to God, that is the meaning of liberty here: freedom of access to God. There is no longer a barrier between God and man, on being justified we have direct access to God.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin. Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
In light of this truth alone, we need to ask again: why move away from the liberty and return to a veiled state, not being able to have direct access to God?
F1.2 The son sets free
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.
Whilst a lot of our discussion has been to do with the Mosaic Law, and the folly of going back to living by a legalistic code, we need to remember that Christ’s work was not primarily for that purpose. It included it but that wasn’t the main thing. The main work was to free us from sin. The law was only ever meant to be temporary, until Christ came to fulfil the promise of God to bruise the serpent’s head. His work was to free us from the inward law of the old nature.
Adam by his disobedience had placed the whole human race under the dominion of sin and we all inherited the disposition to sin – Christ came to destroy all of that. So that on new birth we are baptised into His body, and hence into His death and resurrection life, so that we are freed from that ruling disposition of sin. A heart from sin set free, to quote Wesley. Many object to this saying that we can not know freedom from sin until physical death, if that is the case then physical death and not Christ is the saviour! Jesus said if He sets free then we are free indeed.
When born He was given the name Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins, not just by forgiveness and having salvation from the eternal judgement of God, but also from the ruling power of sin in their lives. If this isn’t true then there was no point in Jesus coming into the world, for forgiveness was available under the OC. The NC is much more then that. By first birth we were born into sin, by new birth we are born out of sin. No longer is sin the practice of the believer, sin no longer has dominion over us, we being dead in Christ are dead to sin, and alive by His resurrection unto God.
But we must note once more that we did not free ourselves from sin, neither did the Mosaic law Rom.8:1-4, that freedom was only given to us by being baptised into Christ – being born from above. There is NO freedom, NO salvation and NO walking in the Spirit outside of Christ. Likewise the power to live the Christian life is only as we abide in Him; it is not by our own efforts nor by keeping any external regulations, whether it be the Mosaic or any man-made regulations.
It is the Son of God who sets free and who lives the life in us, why go back from that glorious state of being back into bondage?
F1.3 The yoke
The antithesis of ‘the liberty’ is ‘the yoke of bondage’. But what is meant by a yoke? A yoke is a device that links two animals together around the shoulders/neck. This was to ensure that when ploughing the animals went in the same direction, doing the same thing, so that the furrows would be straight, according to the will of the farmer.
The yoke of bondage then can be regarded as being coupled to that which takes you in a direction of that particular bondage, whether it be the Mosaic law, self imposed regulations or whatever. Once a person has decided to take that course of action he is bound to it and has no choice but to follow that to which they are yoked. Such as person is ploughing furrows according to the will of him who is behind such a bondage. The yoke of bondage is completely opposite to the gospel. Hence Paul’s words in Chapter 1
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another [= a different sort] gospel:
Instead we are encouraged to yoke ourselves to Christ, only by doing so can we be really free. By so doing we are bound to Christ, and the direction will be the one He chooses to take, and it is only in that are we really free. His mastery is not that of legalisms, it brings rest and not turmoil that makes one looking round to see if one has done enough.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
The real question is: with what or to whom shall we be yoked? Christ, the law, or any other external regulation? Paul’s plea here is that having been freed from the bondage of sin and the law, and anything else that we may have been yoked to, we are not to go back to become all wrapped up, once more in it. By being yoked to Christ we agree to go in His direction; the yoke of Christ is true liberty, all other yokes are bondages. Which yoke are you coupled to?