At this time Paul takes us from theology to ethics, from dogma to living out one’s faith. What would our being devoted to God, yet living without the Mosaic Law, look like? If the Mosaic Law is discarded as a premise for Christian conduct, what would happen to moral living? This was the problem that the New Testament Church had to answer, because it was, no doubt, put to us by both the legalists who opposed the believer’s posture, and the legalists who were genuinely interested in the answer. If law takes away real freedom, how does one keep from embracing the opposite extreme of living so freely that one becomes addicted to lust, greed, wrath and the like? Obviously, such behavior also takes away true freedom. The answer to this dilemma lies in maintaining the image of Christ within us, which is kept through faith as we shall see.
Paul begins by informing us that the work of Christ has set us free from the Mosaic Law, the yoke of bondage (slavery), and we are expected to embrace our freedom (Galatians 5:1; cf. Acts 15:1, 5, 10). By submitting to the authority of the Law, we would no longer be able to live (walk) under the authority of Christ who has freed us (Galatians 5:1-4). Just as one nation has no power over those living under the authority of another nation, so the freedom one enjoys under Christ cannot be enjoyed while living under the authority of the Law. Simply put, only Christ is able to offer us this freedom, and if we are submitting to another authority, whether that authority is the Mosaic Law or some modern replacement of it (such as making a particular denomination or group of denominations necessary for salvation), Christ is of no effect to us. Nothing Christ offers us can profit us, while we submit to a different authority.
One may ask: “in what sense has Christ liberated us from the yoke of bondage (slavery)? We have been liberated by Christ in the sense that we no longer live under the authority of the Mosaic Law. It is no longer able to require our lives. Rather we live under the authority of Christ who has saved us from the death sentence of the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law also defined what sin was, and for the most part we can still use its definition, but ultimately Jesus is our Lord and even a literal interpretation of the Mosaic Law would prevent us from obeying Christ and loving one’s neighbor, as the parable of the Good Samaritan shows (cf. Luke 10:30-37).
In Galatians 5:1 we are given two commands: stand fast in the freedom Christ gave us, and don’t become entangled again in the yoke of bondage. This implies that there is labor involved and that we could surrender our position if we aren’t careful. As Christians, we understand that we’ve been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (1Peter 1:18-19), and we are told by Peter, himself, that if we become entangled again in the yoke of bondage, we are, in fact, tempting God. To embrace the Law of Moses as one’s authority is to reject the sacrifice of Christ. Such a posture rejects faith and seeks to become acceptable to God on one’s own.
Personally, I was at first surprised that God would do such a thing as to give me such freedom. Then I was a little confused as to how it would work, but once I began practicing what I believed God was saying through Paul, I was greatly relieved. This was decades ago, and since that time I have marveled over both the mercy and wisdom of God in liberating mankind from the Law. Otherwise, I would be doomed to failure and only death would await me, and without Christ, this is exactly what God has done; he has put us all in a hold (under the Law) awaiting judgment (Galatians 3:23). Faith, however, rejoices in the face of judgment, for there is no judgment (no death) for those in Christ, Jesus (Romans 8:1; Galatians 3:13).
For freedom’s sake, we have been set free, and, if Jesus is the one setting us at liberty, we will be truly free (John 8:36). We have not made ourselves free, nor has any man set us free. Rather, it is Christ, our Savior who has set us free (Galatians 5:1). It is his gift to us, and it is to be received in the same manner it is kept, that is, only through faith. We stand fast in our liberty by trusting (directing our faith in) Christ.