Observations from  Galatians 5:1-15


Paul uses strong language in this passage because he realizes that these Galatians are in danger.  They are being pulled back into the darkness of legalism.  Paul does not mince words.


Here's what he's telling them:

l.        These guys who are telling you that the men have to be circumcised in order to follow Jesus are under the judgment of God.


2.  I wish that those who are unsettling you about circumcision would go all the way and castrate themselves!


Why is Paul using such strong language?  Because these people are being misled, and his job is to wake them up and bring them back on track.   You don't wake people up with fancy talk and frilly suggestions.  You wake them up by giving them the full picture in strong language.  Paul knows that if he doesn't do this, he's going to have to answer to God.


For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery……You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?


                        "You're losing it!  Wake up!"


So how does all this apply to us?  We are as prone as they to revert to the yoke of religious slavery, to sink into a religious routine, assuming that "if I do this, this, and this, I'm okay."   Thinking that what I do makes me okay with God.  I go to church.  I read the Bible.  I pray.  I try to help people.  Notice, it's all about "me."  The religious "me."  I'm the center.


While we may not be entangled in the Jewish Torah, we have our own version of religious bondage.  It's the slavery of the religious rut. "If I do these things, I'm okay."  Who needs the power of the cross, if we're justified by our religious rut?  Who needs the fire of the Holy Spirit burning in our hearts if we're sanctified by our religious routine?  


Notice how Paul begins this passage: 


For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.


There are two yokes:

            The yoke of freedom in the Lord Jesus.

            The yoke of religious slavery.


Many people who think of themselves as Christians are actually under the yoke of religious slavery.  Beneath the profession of faith in the Lord Jesus, the life they live is nothing more than a religious rut.  Spiritually they're wimps and zombies.  The world out there is not touched by God's love through them.  The harassed, the helpless ones do not hear a clear word through them.  No healing stream.  No life flowing.  Just religion.  They produce little, if any, fruit for the kingdom. 


"Come to me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you , and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

                                                            Matthew 11:28-30


In Galatians, the Spirit exhorts us (through Paul) "not to submit again to the yoke of slavery.  In this Matthew passage our Lord Jesus invites us to get under his yoke, which is a yoke of freedom.   So we have two yokes---like those heavy wooden beams that connect two oxen together as they pull a load 


It's easy to see religious slavery as a yoke, for it weighs us down, consciously and unconsciously.  "I've got to do this, this, and this."  And if we get weary and start cutting corners our "guilt" weighs us down even more.   Under this yoke we're never at ease.  Never free.


But how can we think of freedom in Christ as a yoke?  "Come to me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest."  That we can understand.  Jesus is promising to set us free from religious bondage.  To lift us up.  To make us strong.  To fill us with peace. To make us bold.  To fill our hearts with God's love.  But then Jesus adds: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me."


"You mean that now we have another yoke?  How can that be freedom?"


And yet, to pass from religious slavery into freedom does not happen in a split second.  We're so used to slavery, either to our religion or our lusts, we have so many habits and attitudes that belong to our old bondage, that now we have to learn how to walk as free men and women, as sons and daughters of God.


The place where we learn to live as free men and women is under the Master's yoke.  Walking with him.  Listening to him.  Receiving correction as well as encouragement from the Lord Jesus while we walk with him under his yoke. 


The yoke of freedom in Christ consists of five things:



1.      The yoke of freedom in Christ is a yoke of faith.            


The old yoke of religion always had fear in it.  But now, under the yoke with the Master we replace fear with faith.  Jesus simply says, "Trust me, I'm going to help you live the life."  This is why he keeps saying to us, "Believe in me…….Trust me enough to believe what I promise you….Trust me enough to obey what I command you."


2.      The yoke of freedom in Christ is a yoke of learning.


Under this yoke, I'm a disciple.  I'm an apprentice.  I'm learning how to walk the walk. 


Very few people who come to our churches think of themselves as learners.  Even the leaders are often lacking in teachability.   They've been to seminary; they know everything.   But when we get under this freedom yoke with Jesus, we suddenly realize how little we know, how much we need to learn!  And the Lord Jesus himself teaches us as we walk with him.  This learning continues all through our life in this world.  


3.       The yoke of freedom in Christ is a yoke of fellowship.


Fellowship first with the Lord Jesus himself"I am the Vine, you are the branches……Abide in me."   We take time to be alone with him daily.  We practice his presence as we move out into the day, constantly remembering that "it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of him who loved me and gave himself for me."  We dwell in him; he dwells in us.  We have fellowship.


Fellowship, secondly with other believers in the Body"A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another."  We are not a spiritual supermarket, where we come, pick up our goodies, and check out.  We are a family.  Members of one another.  Jesus is the head and in him we are all joined to each other.  We partake of one loaf, drink of one cup.  Fellowship with each other is not optional, it is essential.  No fellowship--no growth.  


4.      The yoke of freedom in Christ is a yoke of servanthood.


Under this yoke, Jesus empowers us to change from self-centered wimps into God-centered servants.  Freed from the fear of man, we now can manifest the love of God with boldness and power.  We wash feet, and every foot we wash is washed by the Lord Jesus through us.  


In this life of servanthood, I don't call the shots.  The needy ones around me don't call the shots.  The Lord Jesus calls the shots.  The phone rings.  "Let's meet for coffee," says the needy one.  But before you say Okay, you check with the Master.  Not every need that cries out to us is a call from God.  If we make the mistake of playing amateur providence to all the needs that cry to us, we will soon be exhausted and demoralized by the powers of darkness.


5.      The yoke of freedom in Christ is a yoke of witness.


We walk with the Lord Jesus under his yoke, and soon our lives begin to shine as lights in a dark world. 


"You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria and to the end of the earth."


"Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven."


Witnessing to the world about the Lordship of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus is not a matter of mouthing platitudes.  It's living and speaking what the Spirit empowers us to do and say.  Living and speaking as the Spirit empowers us out there in the world!


If we clam up as soon as we walk out of church,

if we hide our light under a bushel,

if we "wimp out" when it comes to bearing witness,


            then we are not free. 


Under the yoke with the Lord Jesus we are witnesses….evidence of his reality.  We are not alone.  We have the Master's help as we walk with him in faith.



Final words of caution:


For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.

                                                            Galatians 5:13


Being free of our old religious rut does not give us license to flop around doing our own thing.  Freedom in Christ enables us (through his love indwelling us) to be servants of one another. 


If, through Christ living in me, I can now love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind, I can also love my neighbor as myself!


That love is going to show itself in the way I deal with sisters and brothers in the Body.  I'm going to be thoughtful, aware of their needs.  I'm going to treat them with honor. 


That love is also going to manifest itself in the way I deal with people who are not believers.  Abiding in Christ my Lord, I will treat these people (for whom he also died) with integrity, with respect.  The Father's love is going to flow through me to these people.


But why does Paul end this powerful passage with a warning?  After showing us the way to freedom in Christ, he adds these words:

But if you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.


Because when professing believers are not under the yoke with Christ, when they are not about the business of the kingdom, the fellowship always implodes into infighting.  


When a body of believers is not focused on the work of the kingdom, with hearts nailed to the cross, then, instead of conquering the powers of darkness and setting the captives free, they begin biting and devouring each other.


Suddenly, these dear saints are busy standing up for their "rights," competing for the limelight, pressing their own agendas.  They have degenerated into religious wimps brawling with each other.


When the crucified Christ is not the center, the vacuum is soon filled with evil. 


No fellowship is immune to this.  Hence, there is a constant need in our fellowships to heed Paul's warning:


For you were called to freedom; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another.

                                                            Galatians 5:13