Paul’s command to stand firm in freedom is not made in isolation. An important statement of fact precedes it: “Christ has set us free.” Why should Christians stand firmly in their freedom? Because Christ has already set them free. In other words, our freedom is a result of what Christ has already done for us. 1
This pattern of a statement of fact followed by an exhortation is typical in Paul’s letters (1 Cor. 6:20; 10:13, 14; Col. 2:6). For example, Paul makes several indicative statements in Romans 6 about the facts of our condition in Christ, such as “We know that our old self was crucified with him” (Rom. 6:6, ESV). On the basis of this fact, Paul can then issue the imperative exhortation, “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies” (Rom. 6:12, NRSV). This is Paul’s way of saying essentially, “Become what you already are in Christ.” The ethical life of the gospel does not present the burden of trying to do things in order to prove that we are God’s children. Rather, we do what we do because we already are His children.
The use of the word freedom to describe the Christian life is more prominent in Paul’s letters than anywhere else in the New Testament. The word freedom and its cognates occur 28 times in Paul’s letters, in contrast to only 13 times elsewhere.
What does Paul mean by freedom? First, it is not a mere abstract concept. It does not refer to political freedom, economic freedom, or the freedom to live any way we might please. On the contrary, it is a freedom that is grounded in our relationship to Jesus Christ. The context suggests that Paul is referring to freedom from the bondage and condemnation of a law-driven Christianity, but our freedom includes much more. It includes freedom from sin, eternal death, and the devil.
“Outside of Jesus Christ, human existence is characterized as bondage—bondage to the law, bondage to the evil elements dominating the world, bondage to sin, the flesh, and the devil. God sent his Son into the world to shatter the dominion of these slave-holders.”—Timothy George, Galatians, p. 354.
What things do you feel enslaved to in life? Memorize Galatians 5:1 and ask God to make the freedom you have in Christ a reality in your life.