The Blessed Liberty of Grace
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” Galatians 5:1-12
In this chapter the Apostle Paul urges every believer to stand firm in the blessed liberty of the gospel, the liberty of grace, and urges us never to abuse that liberty. We must stand fast in, hold to, defend, and maintain “the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.” The liberty we have in Christ is too precious to lose or take for granted. It is the liberty of grace, salvation, and life in him. Every believer, every saved sinner, every heaven born soul is free in Christ. Because “we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free” (4:31), because Christ has made us free, we must continually stand fast in the blessed liberty of grace.
Paul’s exhortation in verse 1 could not be urged with more pressing arguments than those given in verses 2-4. All who attempt to make themselves holy before God by the works of the law have made Christ and his redemptive work meaningless to themselves and have fallen from grace altogether (vv. 2-4). Works salvation is not simply a doctrinal error; it is an utter denial of the gospel of Christ. To embrace it is to embrace “another gospel” (1:6-9).
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free” (v. 1). It is Christ who has made us free, and Christ who keeps us free. He has made us free by his obedience unto death as our Substitute and by the gift of his grace in the new birth. He keeps us in the blessed liberty of grace as he keeps us looking to him alone for righteousness, acceptance with God, assurance, and peace. Yet, it is our responsibility to continually look to him, to continually trust him, and refuse to be entangled with the oppressive yoke of legal bondage. What is this “liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free”?
1. It is liberty from the law’s bondage.
Believer’s are not under the law. This fact cannot be stated more emphatically, or more constantly than it is throughout the New Testament. Every reference to the law of God as it relates to believers declares that we are dead to it and it to us, because Christ has fulfilled it for us (Rom. 6:14-15; 7:1-4; 8:1-4; 10:4; Gal. 3:24-25; Col. 2:8-17; 1 Tim. 1:8-10). There is not a single passage to be found in the New Testament in which believers are motivated by law to do anything. “Christ is the end of the law.” No, he did not destroy the law. He fulfilled it, finished it, and brought it to an end. He was made under the law, that he might fulfill it for us. Now, he is free from the law. And we are free from the law in him, in exactly the same sense and to exactly the same degree. We are free from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13-14), the condemnation of the law (Rom. 8:1), and from the covenant of the law (Gal. 4:24-31). Martin Luther wrote, “In the stead of sin and death, he giveth unto us righteousness and everlasting life; and by this means he changeth the bondage and terrors of the law into liberty of conscience and consolation of the gospel.”
Almost all who profess to believe that salvation is by grace agree that we are free from the ceremonial law, that we are free from circumcision, feast days, sacrifices, and all the burdensome, carnal rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic dispensation. But many try to impose upon us the rules of the moral law (the ten commandments), vainly attempting to divide the moral law from the ceremonial law. Such a division does not exist in the Word of God. Those who would teach us to live by the moral law, were they consistent, must also demand that we observe and keep all the carnal ordinances of the ceremonial law. It is impossible to keep a sabbath day without a sacrifice! (Read what the law says, and see — Numbers 28:9-10.)
I do not suggest or imply that believers are free to violate God’s law. The Word of God does not teach that and believers do not live in rebellion to the law. However, the Word of God does teach, and I do assert, that all who are born of God are free from the yoke, bondage, curse, and rule of the law.
“Free from the law — O happy condition!
Jesus hath bled, and there is remission.
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Christ hath redeemed us once for all.
Now are we free — there’s no condemnation!
Jesus provides a perfect salvation.
‘Come unto Me’ — O hear His sweet call!
Come — and He saves us once for all.
Children of God — O glorious calling!
Surely His grace will keep us from falling.
Passing from death to life at His call,
Blessed salvation — once for all!”
2. The liberty of grace is liberty from sin.
We are not free from the being of it, nor from the indwelling of it, nor from the temptation to it, but from the dominion and damning power of it (Rom. 6:11, 18; 1 John 3:5). The Lord God imputed all our sins (past, present, and future) to Christ and punished him for them to the full satisfaction of justice. Christ, by his one offering for sin, has purged our sins and put them away forever. That means that God will never impute sin to any for whom Christ was made to be sin. Therefore, we say with David, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:8).
3. This liberty is the liberty of life.
Spiritual, eternal life is ours in Christ (Eph. 2:1, 5-6; 1 Pet. 1:23-25; Rev. 20:6). Being made partakers of the first resurrection, we shall be made partakers of resurrection glory when Christ comes again. That is to say, as surely as Christ has given us spiritual life, he will raise our bodies to life and immortality at the last day (1 Cor. 15:53-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). We “shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
With this liberty of life in Christ comes freedom from the fear of death. Christ has destroyed the power of death by dying in our place and rising again. Since all of God’s elect were partakers of flesh and blood, under the dominion of death, Christ became a man to suffer and die for us. It was not possible for our Representative to satisfy the claims of divine justice against us unless he lived and died in our nature. By his substitutionary death on the cursed tree and his triumphant resurrection, the Son of God destroyed the power of Satan and the power of the grave over us. We are now more than conquerors in him. Why then should we fear death?
The Lord Jesus delivers us from the fear of death by removing our sin. “The sting of death is sin.” It is sin that causes men torment in death. But in Christ we have no sin. In him we are fully forgiven. By his blood our sins are washed away. If we are born of God, we are in Christ; “and in him is no sin” (1 John 3:1-5). Be sure you have the forgiveness of sin by faith in Christ, and fear death no more. To die forgiven, “accepted in the Beloved,” is not really to die at all. It is simply the departure out of this world into the Father’s house. The Son of God declares, “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:26).
The law of God held us in bondage to the sentence of death and condemnation; but “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Gal. 3:13). “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 10:4). He is the end of the law’s power to condemn. In the book of God’s holy law there is no legal claim of condemnation upon any believer. Christ satisfied that claim for us. Why then should we fear? If I am in Christ, I am dead to the law (Rom. 7:4; 8:1-4).
The Lord Jesus Christ delivers us from the fear of death by changing the character of death. For the unbeliever death is a horrible thing. For the unbeliever, anything short of death is mercy. But, for the believer death is a great blessing. John Trapp wrote, “To those that are in Christ death is but the day-break of eternal brightness; not the punishment of sin, but the period of sin. It is but a sturdy porter opening the door of eternity, a rough passage to eternal pleasure.”
Why should Israel be afraid to cross the swelling Jordan into the land of promise with the ark of God before them? The fact is, believers do not die in the sense that others do (John 11:25-26). To the ungodly, death is the penalty of sin; but to the believer, it is just a change of location. Death to the wicked is the execution of justice, but to the believer it is a deliverance from sin. To the worldling, death is the beginning of sorrows, but to the believer, it is admission into glory. To the rebel, death is imprisonment, but to the believer, it is freedom
4. The liberty of grace is the liberty of sonship.
Moreover, the Lord Jesus has given us free access to the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16), free use of the gospel ordinances, freedom to use all things for his glory, and freedom from the fear of death and of judgment. This is Paul’s admonition — Do not allow anyone to entangle you with any system of works religion. We are free in Christ, because we are complete in Christ (Col. 2:9-10).
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free.” Paul here uses a term borrowed from the battlefield. He says, “Hold your ground. Stand fast.” Your freedom in Christ is under constant assault. As those who have been set free from the shame, drudgery, shackles and misery of slavery, we must never allow anyone to bring us back under the yoke of bondage.
“Be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” The yoke of bondage is the yoke of legal slavery (Gal. 2:4). Those who are under the yoke of slavery to the law are under an unbearable yoke (Acts 15:10), and are condemned to the futile pursuit of righteousness by their own obedience. They can never find rest. The Lord Jesus calls for sinners to come to him and take upon them his easy yoke and light burden, assuring all who come that they shall find rest for their souls in him (Matt. 11:28-30).
Here is Christ’s word to lost, ruined, guilty sinners. — “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There is no salvation to be had, but by coming to Christ. There can never be any true, peaceful, satisfying rest for our souls, except we come to Christ, trusting him alone as our Lord and Savior, — trusting his blood as our only atonement and his obedience as our only righteousness. Only Christ can give weary sinners rest.
Here is the Master’s word to us all, both to the unbeliever and the believer. — “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls.” In all circumstances of life we find rest unto our souls only as we voluntarily submit to the rule and dominion of the Son of God as our Lord and King. The only way to find rest is to willingly slip our necks under his yoke. When we do and only when we do, we will find that his yoke really is easy and his burden really is light. I bid you now, whatever your circumstances, take the Master’s yoke upon you, and find rest unto your soul. Take upon you the yoke of his grace, bowing to him as your Lord (Luke. 14:25-33). Take upon you the yoke of his doctrine, his gospel, bowing to him as your Prophet (Jer. 6:16). Take upon you his yoke of providence, trusting him as your God and Savior (Ps. 31:1, 5, 7, 15). Only in this way do we find rest for our souls.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The call of the gospel is a call to rest, the blessed rest of faith in Christ. It is this rest that the Old Testament sabbath day pointed to and typified. All things relating to sabbath law in the Old Testament pointed to the necessity and blessedness of that rest of faith which believers enjoy in Christ (Heb. 4:9-10). “It is,” wrote Edgar Andrews, “to die with him, to rise with him, to walk with him and to reign with him. It is to be cleansed by his blood, led by his Spirit, taught by his Word, strengthened by his power, filled with his love… A bird, released from captivity, is free to soar above the mountains, rove the land and cross the oceans. There are no limits to its odyssey. So also there is no limit to the liberated soul. It is free to explore the ‘width and length and depth and height – and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge;’ free to be ‘filled with all the fulness of God’ (Eph. 3:18-19).”
“If ye be circumcised”
“Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing” (v. 2). Christ must be trusted as our only, all-sufficient Savior. True faith looks to Christ alone. If we add anything, even the most solemn religious duties, to the obedience and blood of Christ to obtain God’s favor, to improve our standing in God’s favor, or to keep God’s favor, whether it be circumcision, baptism, Bible reading, praying, church attendance, or doing good for others, we do not fully trust Christ alone as our Redeemer and Savior. Such proud self-righteousness is an utter contempt of Christ. He profits us nothing because we are, rather than submitting to the righteousness of God in Christ, going about to establish our own righteousness (Rom. 10:3).
“For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law” (v. 3). That person who seeks righteousness to any degree by his own works and religious exercises does not trust Christ alone and, therefore, is a debtor to keep the whole law perfectly. “Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?” (Gal. 4:21). The law demands perfect, complete obedience. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10).
Fallen from Grace
“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace” (v. 4). Keep this verse in its context. Remember to whom it is written and for what reason. Paul is addressing himself to those people, whoever and wherever they may be, who try to merit God’s favor by something they do, who have one eye on Christ and one eye on their own works. Such people, while professing to believe in salvation by grace, have departed from it altogether. You have fallen from the gospel of the grace of God and embraced another gospel. Christ is become of no effect to you.
Paul is not suggesting that such people once were saved, but now are lost again. Those who are saved by grace, those to whom Christ gives eternal life “shall never perish.” These people never truly had he grace of God. They only claimed to have it. They never truly walked in grace. They merely professed to walk in grace. Those who depart from the faith never had faith. Works and grace are mutually exclusive (Rom. 11:6).
“Nothing, either great or small;
Nothing, sinner, no;
Jesus did it, did it all,
Long, long ago!
When He, from His lofty throne,
Stooped to do and die,
‘It is finished!’ Yes indeed,
Finished every jot.
Sinner, this is all you need.
Tell me, Is it not?
Weary, working, plodding one,
Why toil you so?
Cease your doing, all was done,
Long, long ago!
Till to Jesus’ work you cling
By a simple faith,
Doing is a deadly thing.
Doing ends in death!
Cast your deadly ‘doing’ down,
Down at Jesus’ feet.
Stand in Him, in Him alone,