Current Confusion Over Christian Freedom
In countering the Galatian heresy, Paul sometimes refers to Christian freedom. But the freedom he describes is very different from the way his words are commonly interpreted today. Paul's reasoning regarding grace, law, justification and freedom has been so twisted out of context that today his meaning is rarely correctly understood.
For example, the popular view of freedom today, especially in Western society, is that individuals should be free to live as they please. People generally read that concept of freedom into Galatians. But such an idea was totally foreign to Paul—and to the authorities and society of Paul's day.
The government of the Roman Empire was a dictatorship under the authority of the emperor. Relatively few people possessed Roman citizenship with its associated legal rights. Most of the population belonged to two other classes of people: free noncitizens and slaves. From these came the majority of Christian converts. Paul contrasts the free (nonenslaved) people with enslaved people to illustrate an important truth.
Those who are justified by the death of Christ are free from the condemnation to death earned by past sins. Those not justified are not free from that condemnation. As unforgiven sinners they remain like criminals sentenced to death and detained in bondage (as on death row) awaiting execution at the time of God's final judgment.
Paul does appeal to Christians to untangle themselves from—live free from—this world's bigoted class distinctions. He does this because, for the Church, "there is neither Jew nor Greek [gentile], there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
However, he never represents this freedom as a release from the law of God that defines the sins that are so common in the world around us. He does point out that Jesus Christ "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4).
Jesus Christ frees us from the condemnation that we bring on ourselves by participating in the evils of our present society, not from the authority of God's law. Paul made it very clear that God has "condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4).
Paul consistently contrasts sin that reflects the works of the flesh to righteous conduct that reflects the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23). The reason we need God's Spirit is so we will have the ability to perform what the law teaches. The Holy Spirit opens our minds to understand the true intent of the ways of God. We then must grow in godly character by diligently walking in God's way.
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