“I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.” So goes the classic song written by Sara Evans in 2014, and it is so appropriate for us during this COVID Christmas! Today, many people are complaining that their freedom to travel to be with family on Christmas is ruining the holiday for them. I appreciate the oft-repeated phrase, “Christmas has not been cancelled!” But are you wondering how to celebrate and then close out 2020, to finish the year without discouragement about the ranging pandemic? First, I suggest considering the freedom we have in Christ in every circumstance. Then, you might google “best nature photos of 2020,” go for a long walk or hike to appreciate God’s creation, or journal about what you’ve learned about God, yourself, and the world this year. An excellent way to study Scripture is to consider what God is teaching us about himself, the world, and ourselves in the context for the original audience. The Bible offers us freedom from our human intellectual and emotional constraints that keep us bound to the past and inferior perspectives. God also gives us a completely different view on what true freedom is and how we can have it regardless of life’s trials or entrapments. I have been writing about the fruits of the Spirit this year to expand our views of what is possible for us who have the indwelling Holy Spirit—to think and live freely in Christ. Once again, our fathers of the Faith have wise words to appreciate that “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
I recommend reading all of Galatians 5 right now since this conclusion for the year’s blog series brings us full circle to the context of Galatians 5:22-23, the fruit we have from Christ. Christ has freed us from slavery to sin, and the Spirit produces fruit for our gospel witness. This season, it is my goal to enjoy my freedom in Christ through godly living and loving, fruitful works. In Philip Ryken’s commentary on Galatians, he writes: “…the only kind of theology that interested Paul was practical theology, so his epistle ends with ethics. Beginning with chapter 5, the apostle takes the good news of the cross and the empty tomb and applies it to daily life. The theme of these chapters is announced in the very first verse: ‘For freedom Christ has set us free’…What many Americans [and others] want these days…is not freedom of religion, but freedom from religion…Freedom from religion is not freedom at all, of course; it is another form of bondage…The best and truest freedom is the kind described by John Stott: ‘freedom from my silly little self, in order to live responsibly in love for God and others…Our former state is portrayed as a slavery, Jesus Christ as a liberator, conversion as an act of emancipation and the Christian life as a life of freedom.’”
“The obligation that is gone for the Christian is the obligation to obey the law to be saved, which is impossible to achieve. But now that we are saved wholly and freely by grace we are, if anything, more obligated to obey the law! Why? Because we have more reason to love God than we ever did before. Love arises from gospel faith and hope (vs. 5-6), and overflows into loving and serving our neighbors, rather than using them to serve ourselves. And loving our neighbor is ‘the entire law … summed up in a single command’ (v. 14). (2) Paul writes, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Galatians 5:13-15) Paul’s strong language is necessary since we try to justify ourselves by disparaging or condemning others’ reputations and character to appear superior or righteous. “We are born in sin, and thus we are evil by nature. We are destined to die, having been made mortal by God’s curse against Adam’s sin. Finally, we are tormented by the devil, who tempts us to sin and seeks to drag us down to the very pit of hell. True freedom, therefore, is not self-fulfillment. It is not merely political independence or social equality. It is not the kind of liberty that leads to license, the freedom to do whatever we want or believe whatever we choose.” (3)
“True freedom means liberation from sin, death, and the devil. And by the grace of God, this is exactly the kind of liberation Christ has come to provide. First, Jesus set us free from sin, and especially from its guilt…Second, Christ has set us free from death…Third, Christ has set us free from the devil. There is nothing I have to do to win God’s acceptance. Now that God has accepted me through Jesus Christ, I am free in him. And this freedom is the key to gospel holiness. The old Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander (1772–1851) asked a question that continues to trouble thoughtful Christians today. He wanted to know why ‘Christians commonly are of so diminutive a stature and such feeble strength in their religion.’ There are many answers to this question, but here is the one that Alexander emphasized: ‘There is a defect in our belief in the freeness of divine grace.’” (4)
“[Galatians] Verse 1 is the summary of the last two chapters of the book (and, in a sense, of the whole of the book). First, Paul tells us that we have a profound freedom in Christ. He literally says: ‘For freedom Christ freed you’. Both the noun and the verb are the word “freedom”; freedom is both the means and the end of the Christian life! Everything about the Christian gospel is freedom. Jesus’ whole mission was an operation of liberation…Yet second, he warns that this freedom we have in the gospel can be lost. It is important that Paul mentions this, because the emphatic, triumphant declaration of the first half of verse 1 might lead us to believe this gospel freedom is so great and strong that it can’t be lost…Paul says, though, that despite its divine source, our freedom is fragile and can slip from our grasp…In short, despite the fact that we already have been saved by Christ, we must be continually diligent to remember, preserve, rejoice in and live in accord with our salvation. We cannot lose our salvation, but we can lose our freedom from enslavement to fear…So this is a critical passage. Paul wants to show us that gospel freedom from fear and condemnation leads us to obey God, not to please ourselves.” (5)
“Believers…are very pertinently exhorted to stand fast, in consequence and consideration of their character; that is, they should highly prize and esteem it, as men do their civil liberty; and maintain it and defend it, at all hazards; abide by the doctrine of it without wavering, and with intrepidity; not giving up anyone part of it…and keep up the practice of it, by obeying from the heart the doctrine of it, by becoming the servants of righteousness, by frequent attendance at the throne of grace, and continual observance of the ordinances of Christ.” (6) All this we do through and because of our love for God, which the Spirit renews in us day by day, not as a set of rules or to-do checklist. Christ has freed us from slavery to sin, including the sin of self-sufficiency and independence. The Spirit produces fruit for our gospel witness continually as we enjoy our freedom in Christ through the godly living and loving, fruitful works. “The gospel does free you to live any way you want. But if you truly understand through the gospel who Jesus is and what He has done for you, then you will ask: How can I live for Him? And the answer will be—look at the will of God expressed in the law. The gospel frees us from the law, for the law. It does away with our old, selfishly motivated and unloving law-obedience. And it motivates us to obey the law out of love.” (7)
What is your perspective this Christmas? Are you thankful for the freedom you have in Christ or begrudging the civil liberties you lack? We have an excellent opportunity to put the Spirit’s fruit to work right now. “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” (2 Timothy 1:7-14) Are you at home with Christ this Christmas?
- Ryken, Phillip Graham, “Galatians-Reformed Expository Commentary, Galatians 1:1-16, P & R Publishing, 2005.
- Keller, Tim, “Galatians For You,” Galatians 5:1-16, The Good Book Company, United Kingdom, 2013.
- Ryken, Ibid.
- Ryken, Ibid.
- Keller, Ibid.
- Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Galatians 5:1, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/galatians -5.html
- Keller, Ibid.
2021 Note: My topic for devotions will be “Repentance,” starting with the next one on January 1, 2021. I hope you’ll be as passionate as I am to understand biblical repentance and exercise it in a world desperately needing this gift from Christ for salvation and sanctification.
Related Scripture: Psalm 51:10-11; John 8:31-32; Acts 15:10-11; Romans 8:5; Galatians 2:4-6; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Philippians 1:27; 4:1.
December 24, 2020