Defending Our Liberty in Christ (Thurs. Sept. 23)

The word of the day is “liberty.”  There is physical imprisonment.  But there is also spiritual bondage.  To be sure, there is slavery to sin (OSB Romans 6:20).  But we can be freed from sin only to be enslaved by another kind of captivity.  In today’s reading of Galatians 1-10, 20-2:5, Paul writes about “false brethren” “who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage” (OSB vs. 2:4).  Today we learn of Paul’s teaching that the Galatians should not trade their freedom in Christ for new spiritual bondage.  This case teaches us to fiercely guard our liberty in Christ against those who would enslave us with human preoccupations, practices, and prescriptions that would negate God’s undeserved gift of God’s grace.

Today we begin our reading of St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Surprisingly, St. Paul skips over the customary polite greetings of a letter and immediately expresses his grave concern that a “false Gospel” has misled his flock (vs. 6).  The apostle speaks of “false brothers” who have conspired against the liberty that the faithful in Galatia have in Christ (vs. 2:4).  The Galatians had once accepted the “Good News” of grace.  But now, imposters have enticed them to submit to bondage to the Mosaic Law (vs. 2:4).

Liberty is Freedom from Restraint, Obligation, or Liability

In response to this threat of slavery, Paul signals in our reading that his epistle will be a provocative declaration of the freedom given by the grace of God in Christ.  The Greek word for the “liberty” of St. Paul’s gospel is derived from the word for going where one wills to go.  Thus, “liberty” is freedom from restraint, obligation, or liability (Strong’s #1658, 84).

In this fiery letter, St. Paul defends this freedom of grace.  He proclaims that the Mosaic Law no longer restrains the faithful.  The Law had made them slaves.  But now, their freedom from the Law enabled them to become children of God (3:26-4:7).  He preaches that since Christ had perfectly fulfilled the Law, believers were no longer obligated to keep it to be righteous before God (2:21).  He teaches that those who have faith in Christ are not under the curse that applied to those who could not keep the Law (3:10-14).

Paul Did Not Receive His Gospel from Anyone but Christ

In today’s reading, St. Paul insists that this gospel of liberty is the true gospel.   recounts that he did not consult with anyone after his dramatic vision of the Risen Christ.  Thus, he did not receive “his Gospel” from anyone.  He obtained it from the revelation of Christ himself (vs.12).  The apostle also presents his version of the Jerusalem Council (vs. 2:2), the meeting of the apostles which accepted his message and the mission to the Gentiles.

From today’s reading, we learn how impassioned St. Paul was about the gospel of freedom from the Mosaic Law.  We realize that this doctrine of grace was the foundation of his outreach to the Gentiles.  In Paul’s day, whether the Gentiles must be circumcised and bound to the Mosaic Law was an open question.

The Gospel of Grace: the Foundation of the Gentile Mission

The apostle was so adamant against those who sought to preserve the rule of the Mosaic Law that he used course language like “accursed,” “false brethren,” and “yield into submission” (1:9, 2:4, 2:5).  And no wonder, for the ruling that the Gentiles must keep the Mosaic Law to be members of the Body of Christ would mean the collapse of the mission to those who were not Jews.  And it would make the faith in Christ one more form of the Jewish religion instead of the fulfillment of God’s promises and the means of salvation for the whole world.

For Reflection: Defending Our Freedom in Christ

We may not be slaves of the Mosaic Law with all its ritual, dietary, social, and religious regulations.  But we may have unwittingly let ourselves be restrained, obligated, and liable to other forms of spiritual bondage.  Our study of Galatians teaches that when human beings pose requirements for salvation other than faith in the grace of God, they are undermining the gospel.  When human persons insert regulations, restrictions, and obligations between us and our relationship with Christ, then we should resist them.  We should reject the focus on these substitutes for grace with the fervor that Paul expressed to the Galatians.

Rather than being ends in themselves, the structures, practices, and hierarchies of the church should be sacramental.  That is, the traditions of the church should be means of drawing us ever closer to the Lord and our fellow believers.  If anything does not enlighten, equip, and edify us in the grace of Christ then we should free ourselves from it as Paul claimed liberty for the Galatians.

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