By: Thomas Clayton Booher
Galatians 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty
Liberty is a concept that Americans easily identify with. Our Declaration of Independence was a notice to the King of England that we, as colonists, claimed the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The declaration lists the grievances against the King, which include “Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us,” “protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States,” “cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world,” “imposing Taxes on us without our Consent,” “depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury,” “plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.”
Mutually pledging to each other “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor,” the signees made the break by declaring their liberty, that is, their freedom from the tyranny of the English crown:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America.... by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved.
The liberty that our American forefathers sought was a liberty from the tyrannical rule of a Crown, which essentially had little interest in the welfare of its colonial subjects, using them for its own good,or at least, for the good of the homeland.
Paul writes that the saints of the New Covenant “have been called to liberty.” What is the liberty that he has in mind? Is it anything like the liberty that the signers of the Declaration had in view, men who were compelled to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
The liberty that Paul is speaking of and the liberty sought in the Declaration of Independence have this in common – they are both a breaking away from or a dissolution of an authority that once heldabsolute dominion over the one that is freed. What is the authority from which the New Testament believer has been freed?
It was the Old Testament cultus that Israel was bound to. It was the strict and exacting system of worship, animal sacrifice, priestly ritual; the regulations of food, sanitation, dress, social relations, etc.Paul explains that the real purpose of the Law (Old Testament system) was as a tutor (Gal 4:24) which had a pedagogical role in underscoring man’s inability to keep the law, and the necessity of a substitutionary sacrifice for the remission of sins. This role was in place until the fulfillment of all that it typified and anticipated in Christ was met in Christ’s first advent. Hence, the liberty that Paul is speaking of is a breaking away or release from the Old Testament religious system because of Christ who fulfilled the Law. There is no more need for an earthly temple, priesthood, or animal sacrifice because Christ became the great sacrificial lamb and high priest who opens the way into the heavenly holy of holies.
John has this same role in mind when he writes, “For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17). It is an underlying thesis of the letter to the Hebrews.
To require one to keep any part of the Law’s ritual (circumcision, ceremonies, feasts, sabbaths, etc) was to require meritorious work in addition to faith, and thereby to seek justification not by faith in Christ alone, but by a mixture of faith and works.
Paul speaks of false brethren who came into the congregations of Galatia to spy out their liberty in Christ for the purpose of bringing them into bondage (Gal 2:4). Their identity as false brethren would make these men out as professing believers, seemingly brothers in Christ, but who really were not because the gospel they put forth was a false gospel.
This false gospel was the requirement of Christians, in addition to faith, to keep the law. Obviously, it was not a complete relapse into the Old Testament system, which included animal sacrifice, seventh day Sabbath-keeping, circumcision, feasts, holy days, and an adherence to a multitude of case laws. These false brethren must have placed some worth in the sacrificial character of Christ’s death as there seems no hint of their rejection of it, or a requirement to revert to the old way of animal sacrifice. It is probably for that reason they claimed to be Christians and why so many of those in the Churches of Galatia were so quickly turning away to another gospel. Those who were turning saw some similarities between the doctrine of the false brethren and Paul’s teaching, but were not fully examining it in light of everything that Paul taught.
It is a mistake that is made today. There are those who would claim to be true brothers and use language that is similar to the language of sound doctrine, but whose meaning is different.
The Christian Universalist provides an example for us. A Christian Universalist is one who believes that the only way of salvation is through faith in Christ, but that all will eventually come to faith, even those who have died in unbelief. Those in hell now will some day come to their senses, repent, believe, and be rescued from hell. Thomas Talbott (The Inescapable Love Of God) and Robin A. Parry (The Evangelical Universalist, under the pen name, Gregory MacDonald) are advocates of this.This view forces them to redefine or disfigure biblical concepts such as divine love (God’s love is of his essence and therefore cannot fail to save all whom he loves, which is everybody), punishment (which is really mercy because it brings those in hell to their senses at which time they will relent and give in to God), and justice (which sees an infinite punishment of finite sins as unjust).
Rob Bell (Love Wins), views hell to be as much as our living contrary to God’s ways now as it does with something yet to come. The identity of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life is wrenched from it exclusivistic moorings and twisted to mean, “people come to Jesus in all sorts of ways.... They drink from the rock without knowing what or who it was.” (p 158) The gospel is the good news that:
“begins with the sure and certain truth that we [all without exception] are loved. That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts[morally broken but not totally depraved] and has spread to every corner of the world, in spite of our sins, our failures, rebellion, and hard hearts, in spite of what’s been done to us or what we’ve done, God has made peace with us[reconciliation universally and presently applied]. We are now invited to live a whole new life [conversion, taking a new direction in which we begin tofulfill our potential] without guilt or shame or blame or anxiety. We are going to be fine.” (p 172)
In Christ there is liberty, a breaking from a harsh, laborious system into a life in which the heart istransformed, the mind renewed, and Spirit of God enables to pursue holiness. It is freedom to keep God’s law enthusiastically because they are no longer a burden (1 John 5:3; Matt 11:28). It is coming under the authority of pastors and teachers so that we are no longer tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men (Eph 4:14). It is learning from Christ so that we put off our former behavior and put on a new man which is created in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:21-24).