CALLED TO LIVE IN FREEDOM

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NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

PAUL’S LETTER TO THE GALATIAN CHURCHES

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson L)

I like the way Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) renders this verse: “God grant us grace to stay in grace! God grant us faith enough to live by faith, even to the end, as the freeborn children of God, for His name’s sake! Amen.” Spurgeon goes on to remind each believer that they are no longer following the legal mandates of the Law but living for God in the freedom of grace. So, do not subject yourselves, therefore, to religious legal principles. Do not live as if you were working for wages, and were earning your salvation. Do not submit yourselves to the rituals and commandments of mankind, which would rob you of your liberty in many ways. You have become a free child of God, never again wear the chains of a slave.[1]

To this group, we can add George G. Findlay (1849-1919), author of the Expositor’s Bible and Professor of Biblical Languages at the training college for Methodist ministers at Headingly, Leeds, England. He is straight forward in assessing why verse one, here in chapter five, being separated from chapter four above, was ill-judged. This is Paul’s application of the allegory of Hagar and Sarah, the slave-woman and the free-woman. Findlay calls it a triumphant assertion of liberty, a ringing summons to its defense. Through chapter and verse numbering, it was separated from chapter four, making it run counter to the ancient divisions of the Epistle.[2] Then we can add Presbyterian theologian of Yale Divinity School George Baker Stevens (1854-1906), who says without hesitation that this verse belongs to the last part of chapter four to understand its full meaning.[3]

However, Don Garlington disagrees. For him, this first verse’s summons to freedom is, in its own right, the high watermark of the Epistle.[4] On the other hand, Chinese Bible scholar Ronald Y. K. Fung takes the middle road and says that this independent verse – with no connective particle to mark its relation to what precedes or follows – serves as a “bridge verse” or “transition paragraph.” [5] It is, on the one hand, a summary of 4:21–31, if not also of chapters 3–4 as a whole, or even of 2:14–4:31 or 1:6–4:31,54 and serves as an introduction to the exhortations of chapter five.[6] And the writers of the Christ-Centered Commentary say that this verse functions as a transition verse between what was said before and what is being said now.[7]

The English transitive verb “enfranchise” means, to set free (as from slavery), to endow with the rights of a franchise: such as, to admit to the privileges of the owner, the freedom to choose. So, we can see in Edmunds’ thinking, the Anointed One set us free from the slavery of sin so that we can live in the freedom of choosing to follow Him as our Lord and praise Him as our Savior. And by saying that those who are now free should not become “enthralled” with their old way of living. The Greek verb enechō (“entangled” KJV) that Paul used means to become captivated with something. That’s why Edmunds chose “enthralled,” which means to be bewitched, fascinated, mesmerized, preoccupied, enraptured. It’s like being lured back into an addiction. This fits well with what Paul expressed to the Galatians in 1:6-7.

Edmunds suggests that this happens when a person does not feel that their Christian way of living is bringing them the same thrill and excitement they experienced in sin. Therefore, they start looking back at their old life and become desirous for their former lifestyle. That’s when their sinful tendencies start calling them to go back. Paul is trying to tell them there is a lot more for them up ahead if they just apply themselves to serving their Savior out of love and reverence. Don’t become discouraged because things don’t go the way you want them to go. Just being free should be enough to make a person happy.[8]

German theologian Johann P. Lange (1802-1884) draws a line between freedom from the moral law of men and the divine law of God. Regarding the idea of Freedom, which Paul in this Epistle maintains and justifies for Christians,[9] we are to consider that it does not primarily mean freedom from the accusations and the curse of the Law. In other words, although a person may be born again, they are still subject to condemnation were they to return to their sinful life. The Apostle is speaking about freedom from the claims (requirements) of the Law, from the obligation of attaching oneself to it so that by the works of the Law, a person can earn salvation.

For Lange, he feels that Luther runs too headlong and with little caution into declaring this liberty, which the Anointed One secured as freedom from all the laws of Moses. In doing so, says Lange, he praises being Law-free as the greatest benefit in the Anointed One’s sacrifice. There is no doubt that freedom from all that the Law’s demands to earn salvation, does, in fact, bring freedom from all the ceremonial laws.  In the first place, because by the very fact that the Anointed One delivered believers from the curse of the Law by paying for it Himself. So, Christians need to realize it is only in Him and through Him, they are made free from the Law itself. And when it comes to keeping the Ten Commandments and other moral laws, they are satisfied by our service to our Lord. Thus, it is only to those who do not give themselves any more to bondage under the Law does freedom from its curse also remain guaranteed. And in the same manner, those who give up their freedom in fulfilling the Law through the Anointed one loses that freedom as well as the liberty they had from the Law’s condemnation and fall into double bondage.[10]

Not only does Swiss-born, German-educated Protestant theologian Philip Schaff agree with others that this first verse should have been attached to the last part of chapter four, but that as an exhortation that provides the end to the reasoning in the argument of Hagar and Sarah representing God’s children under the Law and those under Grace, but it is also a suitable beginning of the encouraging action spelled out in this fifth chapter. Therefore, these chapters contrast Jewish bondage with Christian freedom. This is clearly seen beginning this fifth chapter in verse two.

When seen this way, says Schaff, “freedom” is the outcome of the previous discussion with Paul’s encouragement on letting go of the old and grasping hold of the new way. That’s why he feels that the term “for freedom” is the right way of expressing what Paul was saying. And this is speaking of “spiritual” freedom, not “carnal” freedom because once you are free, you should remain free. That’s because this freedom implies the consciousness of the full pardon of sin, ready and direct access to the throne of grace, and all the privileges and responsibilities of a child in their father’s house.[11] Remember, the devil is roaming around outside, searching for anyone he can devour.[12]

Baptist theologian Alvah Hovey (1820-1903), long-time professor and President of Newton Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, feels that the standard translation of the KJV does not properly give the meaning of what Paul says here in verse one, because most readers put the emphasis on the believer’s freedom instead of on the work of the Anointed One. He prefers the Revised English Version: “With freedom did the Anointed One set us free; stand fast, therefore,” etc. Still better, says Hovey, is the note in the margin that says: “For freedom, He set us free.”

Hovey goes on to point out that the word “freedom” is emphatic. The Anointed One brought us freedom, He did not free us just to be a pupil or elementary learner. How else were we to grow up in Him? His delivering us from restrictions of the Law was for the purpose of establishing us in the family of God as His children and heirs. Paul is evidently referring to the liberty of which he has been speaking in the previous chapter – that is, Christian liberty. So says Hovey, perhaps the rendering “For this freedom did the Anointed One set us free,”

That’s why, says Paul, keep that freedom and don’t let yourselves become entangled again in a yoke of unnecessary restrictions. Formerly they had been in bondage to the superstitious fears and rites of heathenism; now, they were in danger of accepting the useless and burdensome rituals of Judaism. They were moving in the wrong direction, away from spiritual liberty into spiritual slavery, and the Apostle’s heart is deeply moved with anxiety to preserve them from so great a calamity.[13]

Irish Plymouth Brethren writer William Kelly (1821-1906), points to what he believes is a remarkable illustration of the different ways in which the Holy Spirit brings out the liberty which the believer now enjoys. John’s Gospel finds a story that is attributed to the Son of God operating in the truth, and both points of view are in contradistinction to the Law.[14] There we have the case of a woman discovered in the very act of adultery. So, a certain group of village elders attempts to avoid judging to serve some selfish purposes, trying to be religious men. They put themselves, as one might suppose, on God’s side, to judge the gravest, plainest, most positive guilt, and this without mercy, but with self-judgment.

 It was the obvious effort of the village elders to see this woman’s sin and shame, according to God’s Law, not only to exalt themselves and claim righteousness, which was not theirs but to dishonor God’s Son with their confrontation. However, as John points out, it brought out triumphantly the glory of the Anointed One. He did not come to defile the Law, but to let them see that there was a glory that came, which surpassed the glory of the Law. In fact, in the light of this glory, the dignity of the Law grew pale; and the Anointed One showed it most clearly. Not that He uttered one word to lower the Law. Instead, He proved the utter powerlessness of the Law to meet the sinner’s need, except to properly bring condemnation on those who willingly disobey it.

But, says Kelly, the Law destroys the guilty hand as if wielding a sword, as well as the one against whom it is aimed. Yet, it is a two-edged sword in its character when the Anointed One speaks. And in this case, her accusers were forced to feel its keenness in their efforts to condemn this embarrassed adulteress. It was not her, but they who drew back in absolute confusion from the presence of the Anointed One. But mark this, notes Kelly, Jesus was not using the Law. He was showing the weakness of the Law by the divine light within Him. In doing so, He completely exposes the folly and sin of their misuse of Law. He showed that one without sin could alone righteously throw the first stone.

[1] Charles H. Spurgeon: Exposition of Galatians, op. cit., loc. cit.

[2] George G. Findlay: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 299-300

[3] George Barker Stevens: Exposition of Galatians, op. cit., p. 198

[4] Don Garlington: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 139

[5] Cf. KJV, RSV, NEB, NIV.

[6] Ronald Y. K. Fung: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 215

[7] Platt, David; Merida, Tony: Exalting Jesus in Galatians, op. cit., p. 96

[8] John Edmunds: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 71

[9] Galatians 3:25

[10] James P. Lange: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 129

[11] Philip Schaff: On Galatians, op. cit., p. 341

[12] 1 Peter 5:8

[13] Hovey, Alvah: On Galatians, op. cit., pp. 63–64

[14] John 8:32-36

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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