Yesterday we began exploring Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” We explored the historical and literary context a bit. Today, I want to draw some conclusions regarding freedom. The key word in the verse is “freedom”. It is ἐλευθερίᾳ in the Greek text in the dative. ἐλευθερία is a word that that at its heart means liberty in the context of becoming free from slavery. Why is it in the dative? What is the purpose of this case here? This is the dative of interest which is a subset of the indirect object (Wallace, 143). This means that Christ set the Galatians free “for the benefit” of freedom.
Think about this for a moment. Christ set them free. Why? He set them free so that they would experience freedom. This means that they were, at some point, not free. What were they not free from? To what were they enslaved? Remember Paul is discussing in Galatians what it means to be “in Christ”. How can someone know they are in the community as opposed to be outside of the community. The Galatian converts were confused and needed direction. They turned to the other community of “the Book” and were informed that they needed to follow certain rituals. These rituals concerned table fellowship, festivals, and circumcision. These boundary markers, that have been thoroughly discussed by Wright, Dunn, Schreiner, and others, are the very things that are causing Paul such consternation.
The Galatians were becoming enslaved to boundaries of in/out that were obliterated in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In chapters three and four Paul laid out the differentiation between the law and the promise. Now he brings them to the point of action where they must realize that these laws are not necessary for them to interact with God. They do not need to become Jewish to be in Christ. Christ has set loose the boundaries of who is in and who is out. There is now freedom to live as they are in Christ.
Freedom here, therefore, is a liberation from a law which mandated one identify oneself by doing certain activities. The community of the people is open and free, the boundary markers have been shifted (baptism and communion, another series of posts coming soon). The outworking of being “justified” is inclusion or exclusion from the community of God. One cannot be “in the camp” if they are not justified. Justification prior to Christ came through the law, the following of mandated requirements to show that one was in the community of faith. Christ’s coming freed humanity from this stricture because he himself fulfilled these requirements and provides a means by his crucifixion and resurrection to enter into the community by faith alone, trusting in his finished work.
Paul anticipates the critics, “Freedom leads to license!” Not so, says Paul. This freeing from the old boundaries frees us “through love to serve one another. (5:13b)” Why? The freedom from boundary markers that separate one people from another allows us to love all those that come across our paths. We no longer have to concern ourselves with the issues that drove Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan.
Summary idea: Freedom in Galatians 5:1 is the freedom for anyone to be in God’s community and for us to relate to God as who we are and to serve anyone regardless of who they are.