As we prepare to celebrate our annual American holiday of Thanksgiving, many of us will give thanks for the freedoms in our country. No one can dispute that people emigrate to the US worldwide for financial, religious, and social opportunities to realize their potential. But in our season of racial and cultural investigations, our holiday seems to be in question, and it stopped being closely related to the original Thanksgiving long ago. “Settlers in Berkeley Hundred, in what is now Virginia, celebrated their arrival with a Thanksgiving as far back as 1619, according to National Geographic—though The Washingtonian reported the meal was probably little more than some oysters and ham thrown together. Decades before that, Spanish settlers and members of the Seloy tribe broke bread in Florida with salted pork, garbanzo beans, and a Mass in 1565, according to the National Parks Service…Our modern definition of Thanksgiving revolves around eating turkey, but this was more of an occasion for religious observance in past centuries. The Pilgrims would most likely consider their sober 1623 day of prayer the first actual Thanksgiving…Regardless, the popular telling of the initial harvest festival is what lived on, thanks to Abraham Lincoln.” (1) I vote for returning to a more spiritual Thanksgiving for our freedom in Christ and liberty through the Holy Spirit’s application of the gospel that frees us from enslavement to sin and the law. Will you join me in thanking God for the blessing of eternal liberty, which frees us from sin’s bondage so that we can enjoy God’s provisions rightly?
The Truth of Christ Sets Prisoners Free
I have been drawn to three passages this week as I have meditated on our Christian Liberty. The first is John 8:31-32, Jesus’s teaching in the temple, surrounded by Jews. Some of the temple-goers were true believers, but others held to the false belief that they were saved merely by being of Jewish descent. The later ones were still in bondage to the law’s demand for perfection. But, “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” John Gill describes the blessings of the liberating gospel. “The spirit of truth should lead them into all truth, and cause them to grow and increase in Gospel light and knowledge; or Jesus himself, who is the way, the truth, and the life; and the sense is, that they should know more of him, of the dignity of his person, of the nature and usefulness of his offices; of the efficacy of his blood, the excellency of his righteousness, and the fulness of his grace, and that for themselves: and the truth shall make you free; from ignorance and error, and the prejudices of education, under which the whole nation labored, and from the thralldom [enslavement] of the law.” (2) We, who are in Christ, have everything to thank God for—the blessing of eternal liberty from Christ, the Holy Spirit’s work, which frees us from sin’s bondage, and God’s continuous supply of grace and mercy for our lives here.
After Jesus had ascended in glory and supplied the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to his first followers, Paul came to faith in Christ, much to his surprise. Paul had been imprisoned by the law, unable to see the truth of Christ’s words, captive to its impossible standards, but convinced he was right with God. Then the Lord transformed him on the road to Damascus with his blinding light and words, ironically freeing Paul from his dark prison and opening his spiritual eyes to the truth of Christ’s redeeming gospel. After he arrived in Damascus, the Lord directed Ananias to lay hands on him. Ananias told Paul that Paul would serve Christ by the Spirit’s power. “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17) Surely Paul considered this when he wrote to the Corinthians about their mutual freedom. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) “Where [the Holy Spirit] is as a spirit of illumination, there is freedom from former blindness and darkness; where he is as a spirit of regeneration and sanctification, there is freedom from the bondage of sin, and captivity of Satan; where he is as a comforter, there is freedom from the fear of hell, wrath, and damnation: where he is as a spirit of adoption, there is the freedom of children with a father; where he is as a spirit of prayer and supplication, there is liberty of access to God with boldness.” (3) All Christians have the true gospel liberty, through the Holy Spirit’s application of the gospel that frees us from enslavement to sin and the law. Not just when we are initially redeemed but eternally blessed by the Holy Spirit’s work, freeing us to enjoy him infinitely.
The Galatians’ Freedom
In our time, many “teachers” appear to be sincere believers but are misled, misinformed, or ambitious for popularity at any cost. We have leaders who say they have “de-converted,” others who pressure their followers to maintain efforts toward perfect human obedience, and those who have old or new philosophies about Christianity, such as Mormonism or Extra-Biblical Revelation. In Galatia, “The church came into being as a result of God’s Spirit at work in Paul’s proclamation of the gospel. But within the short space of time since Paul left, the church has been visited or infiltrated by false teachers…[who] convinced the Galatians of a false gospel which requires them to be circumcised…Although the Galatians appear to have come under the spell of these teachers and have become convinced of their teaching, Paul does not regard the situation as hopeless. Nevertheless, Paul is more critical of his audience here than in any other letter, and he chastises the Galatians for being foolish and provides numerous reasons why they should return to the truth. (4) Paul declared to them, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). “Being justified by faith in Christ…means that their standing with God rests wholly on the fact that they have been accepted and adopted in Christ…They live, and as long as they are in this world will live, not by being perfect, but by being forgiven…No human performance is ever good enough, for there are always wrong desires in the heart, along with a lack of right ones, regardless of how correct one’s outward motions are, and it is at the heart that God looks first…[but] Christians have been set free from sin’s domination. They have been supernaturally regenerated and made alive to God through union with Christ in his death and risen life, and this means that the deepest desire of their heart now is to serve God by practicing righteousness….Now, being changed in heart, motivated by gratitude for acceptance through free grace, and energized by the Holy Spirit, they ‘serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.’ This means that their attempts at obedience are now joyful and integrated in a way that was never true before. Sin rules them no longer…Paul insists that Christians are free to enjoy as God’s good gifts all created things and the pleasures that they yield, provided only that we do not transgress the moral law in our enjoyments or hinder our own spiritual well-being or that of others. (5) Since the Galatians and we have the true gospel, we should, above all, thank God for the blessing of eternal liberty through the Holy Spirit’s application of Christ’s perfect sacrifice. We have freedom from all our human tendencies to fight the truth about our sinfulness or give in to hopelessness. Christ has promised and faithfully provided the rest we need and reason to praise God for his steadfast faithfulness and loving-kindness. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Related Scripture: Psalm 44:2; 102:18-22; 146:7; Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19; John 8:31-32, 36; Romans 6:17-18, 22; 1 Corinthians 7:22; Galatians 5:13; James 1:25; 1 Peter 2:16.
2. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, John 8:31-32, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/john-8.html
3. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, 2 Corinthians 3:17, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/2-corinthians-3.html
4. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Galatians, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
5. Packer, J. I., Concise Theology, Salvation Brings Freedom, Tyndall House Publishers, Kindle Version, 1993.
November 23, 2022