Freedom: Part III
We’ve been looking at Galatians 5:1 wherein Paul summarizes the entire work of the Gospel by saying, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” In doing so, Paul (and the Bible entire) says that true, ultimate freedom isn’t the absence of submission but the presence of the right kind of submission—which is why Jesus said in John 8:32, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
But there is a bit of a contradiction here: if Jesus set me free, then why do I have to stand firm and not submit again to a yoke of slavery to be free? Wouldn’t that mean that Jesus didn’t really set me free? Or wouldn’t it mean that Jesus started me off in freedom but now I have to keep myself going in freedom?
Well, good questions! As we attempt answer them, let’s look at one crucially important story from John 8…
Neither Do I Condemn You
In John 8, there is this wild story of a group of religious and civil leaders trying to undermine the Jesus movement that had been exploding all throughout Galilee. The religious leaders, threatened by the authority of His message and growing number of His followers, try to catch Jesus in a theological error, which would warrant death by stoning. The civil leaders, threatened by the counter cultural nature of His message, try to catch Jesus in a legal error, which would warrant an arrest.
In doing so, the two groups—who originally held deep animosity against one another—collude together by entrapping a woman in adultery. If Jesus abides by civil regulation and forgives her, that is doctrinal disobedience; if He abides by religious regulation and stones her, that is civil disobedience.
Then, in an astounding act of Deuteronomic divinity (#seminarywords; that is, pretty much #tbt to God writing the Ten Commandments with His finger), Jesus kneels down and John makes it explicitly clear that He writes something on the ground with His finger. In doing so, one by one, the religious and civil leaders begin walking away—a gesture that reveals one profound reality when it comes to Jesus: He is greater than civil law, He is greater than religious law, because He is God.
And in this moment of incredible, supra-civil, supra-religious divinity, Jesus turns to the entrapped woman—who, by the way, is by all means guilty of sin—and the following mind-blowing dialogue takes place:
Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:10-11 ESV)
You have to look carefully to catch it: in His divinity, Jesus does not condemn the woman but divinely forgives her—and after doing so, He tells her to sin no more and, in a sense, stand firm on God’s Word. Again, Jesus, in displaying His infinite divinity, tells the woman, “Neither do I condemn you” and then tells her, “from now on sin no more.” Jesus doesn’t say, “If you sin no more, neither will I condemn you”—no, instead, by sovereign and amazing grace, He first ultimately forgives her. And it is therefore out of this forgiveness, not for this forgiveness that she is to obey and stand firm on God’s Word—she is to be fueled from forgiveness, not for forgiveness.
Grace Driven Freedom
Now when we go back to Galatians 5:1, what do you notice? “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Paul does not say, “Stand firm and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery and you will be free.” No, instead, in a powerful reflection of Jesus in John 8, Paul says, “You have already been set ultimately free! Therefore, stand firm.” He is saying that you already have been graciously and ultimately set free—and this grace is what needs to motivate your obedience; this love is what needs to fuel your obedience. And the fruit of this obedience is a deeper and richer experience of the freedom that is already yours in Jesus Christ.
The freedom of the Christian life is founded in and fueled by the freeing work of Jesus Christ. He has set us free; stand firm, therefore…” Or as John says it in 1 John 4:10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.