I am working a sermon on this part of Galatians for my 4th of July sermon and appreciated come thoughts on this verse from John Stott:
As the New English Bible puts it, ‘Christ set us free, to be free men.’ 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. This freedom, as the whole Epistle and this context make plain, is not primarily a freedom from sin, but rather from the law. What Christ has done in liberating us, according to Paul’s emphasis here, is no so much to set our will free from the bondage of sin as to set our conscience from the guilt of sin. The Christian freedom he describes is freedom of conscience, freedom from the tyranny of the law, the dreadful struggle to keep the law with a view to winning the favor of God. It is the freedom of acceptance with God and of access to God through Christ.
Since ‘Christ has set us free’ and that ‘for freedom,’ we must ‘stand fast’ in it and not ‘submit again to a yoke of slavery.’ In other words, we are to enjoy the glorious freedom of conscience must not lapse into the idea that we have to win our acceptance with God by our own obedience. The picture seems to be of an ox bowed down by a heavy yoke. Once it has been freed from this crushing yoke, it is able to stand erect again (cf. Lev 26:13). which Christ has brought us by His forgiveness. We
It is just so in the Christian life. At one time we were under the yoke of the law, burdened by its demands which we could not meet and by its fearful condemnation because of our disobedience. But Christ met the demands of the law for us. He died for our disobedience and thus bore our condemnation in our place. He has ‘redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us’ (3:13). And now he has struck the yoke from our shoulder and set us free to stand upright. How then can we dream of putting ourselves under the law again and submitting to it’s cruel yoke?
What I noticed is that often times our freedom in Christ, be it either from sin, or from a guilty conscience, is something we have to intentionally walk in, live in, and live out. We have to stick to it and not let the things of this world (or our faults, failures or shortcomings) tempt us back into living a guilt ridden life. In contrast, we are to walk in the freedom God has given us through the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Paul later says in Gal 5:4 –
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
When we stop walking in the freedom we have in Christ and start relying on our efforts to please God, we’re no longer walking in grace – we actually begin to step out from God’s favor – it displeases him when we try to live a legalistic life, which as my friend Bill Heroman noted, can sometimes be unintentional. Trying to live a life based on good works alienates us from God where as reliance on his mercy and grace brings us into his favor and brings freedom into our lives, real and lasting freedom. Once we have been in God’s favor why would we want to leave that by trying to live in slavery to a guilty conscience again?
I don’t know about you all but I am not aware of a greater freedom than freedom from a guilty conscience that was bound by the law or efforts to please God or others. There is just nothing like it. A guilt ridden conscience is indeed a heavy yolk and burden. And Paul, who know what that kind of life was like (see Romans 7), urged the Galatians not to go back to that way of life – so much so he called anything other than freedom in Christ “another gospel” and a gospel that condemns, not one that brings freedom.
So let’s remember Christ has set us free from the need to please him through legalistic actions or through obedience to a set of rules and regulations (Gal 1-14) – all that is needed to live the life of freedom he has called us too is to simply live by faith in him and what he did on the cross and through the resurrection from the dead.