Before the World Series started, there was a commercial on the radio that said, “if you buy a mattress from us and the Astros win it all in 2019, like they did in 2017, we will give you your money back and you get to keep your mattress for free.” It sounded like a pretty sweet deal! Are those mattresses really free though? But as you might know, nothing in this world is ever truly free. Either you, or Mattress Mack, still has to pay for those mattresses. And sadly, because we lost a heartbreaker in game 7, it won’t be Mattress Mack… This time.
What does this have to do with us and God? Freedom from sin isn’t free either. Somebody has to pay for it. It still costs something. We will see, today, that freedom isn’t free, except in Christ. That’s the message we get to look at in Galatians 5:1-6.
To help you get an idea of the reason Paul writes these verses, let’s look at the whole letter of Galatians. On one of his missionary journeys, Paul visited Galatia and the church there received him with open arms as he spoke the gospel message to them. The reason these people received Paul the way they did was because they were living with the Old Covenant mindset of having to follow all the laws and rules of the Old Testament. They did not know that the Messiah had come and done away with and fulfilled the Old Covenant. They lived with the mindset that they needed to do things in order to be saved. So, when Paul brought them the message about freedom in Christ and what he had done, they were overjoyed.
But shortly after Paul left, false teachers came to the Galatians and started adding to the message Paul had preached. It was like a Christ + message. That means they preached about Jesus, but also about the works the Galatians needed to do in order to be saved. So, Paul then writes this letter to the Galatians and reminds them of how there is no “Christ +” message. It is only by faith in Christ alone. Nothing more and nothing less. Paul now writes these six verses to emphasize his point about Christ alone.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” The first word in Paul’s summary is the word “freedom.” That is the whole purpose of Christ’s message. It is for their freedom that Christ humbled himself, lived perfectly, died innocently, and rose victoriously.
What did Christ free them from? He freed them from the burden of the yoke of slavery. First off, what’s a yoke? Before there were tractors, farmers used teams of oxen or horses to plow their fields. Those animals were linked together by a big, heavy, wooden beam that was set on their shoulders and attached to a plow which they would pull and plow the fields. Now, what did Paul mean when he said that Christ freed them from that heavy yoke on their shoulders? The yoke on their shoulders is the law’s demand for perfection in order to gain favor in God’s eyes and receive eternal life in heaven. Paul pointed out to them that each of them carried the yoke to be perfect and were burdened by that yoke because they couldn’t live a perfect life. As our gospel lesson pointed out, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. No slave could gain their own freedom, just like no sinner can be freed from their yoke of sin on account of themselves. So, why trade in freedom for a burden? Paul asks them, “Why would you go back to carrying the heavy yoke? Get rid of that mindset to gain freedom from sin on your own, because you can’t.”
“Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again, I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” Wow! That is a harsh statement! Paul warns these Galatians if they are wanting to be saved by the law and their own works, they must obey the whole law. They can’t pick and choose which laws to obey because the law is not selective. If the Galatians want to go down this road, Paul tells them that they are far away from Christ and his perfect obedience. They have fallen away from God’s grace. They have fallen away from the freedom in Christ and sin reigns over them as they carry their heavy yoke.
Sin reigns over you too. To be freed from sin’s reign over you, to be freed from the burden of your yoke, the price for your freedom needs to be paid. To your shame, you think that you can pay the price for your freedom and carry your yoke on your own. You do your best to listen to your parents by always cleaning your room and finishing your dinner. You do what you can to be kind to people in your words and actions: by holding the door for someone, always speaking well of others, and not holding grudges. You take God’s plan for marriage seriously by staying away from lustful thoughts. You put God first in your life by always praying according to his will. You have your yoke under control and can carry it perfectly.
But you know what, that one time you ignored your parent’s command to not hit your sibling, you did not carry your yoke perfectly. That one time you spoke badly about your boss because you didn’t like how they treated you, you did not carry your yoke perfectly. That one moment you looked at someone other than your spouse with lustful eyes, even if it was on a screen, you did not carry your yoke perfectly. The time you did what you wanted to do, rather than what God says in his Word, you did not carry your yoke perfectly. Time and again, you fail at keeping God’s laws to carry your yoke perfectly. You cannot pay the price for your freedom.
“But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we have hope.” Did you hear that? You do have hope. This hope is not just a mere wish for something either. It is the guaranteed hope of freedom from sin forever. You have God’s guarantee of a final “not guilty” verdict. How can that be though? Freedom isn’t free. Someone has to pay for it. That’s exactly right, and someone did pay for your freedom.
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.” When you see your yoke, you see your Savior who carried your yoke. Jesus, knowing full well the weight of the burden of your yoke said, “step aside. I got this.” And as you watched, he carried your yoke perfectly. He lived a perfect life to give you 100% freedom from the burden of your yoke. He died an innocent death to pay the price for your freedom. And he rose from the dead to proclaim to you that your freedom is free when it’s found in him alone. Only in Christ, not in yourself, is freedom from sin found and that changes everything.
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” It’s not that good works produce faith. The Bible teaches faith produces good works. Faith in the freedom that Jesus won for you, is what drives you to live a life of thanks to God for what he’s done. Through your words of encouragement and love, through your actions of helping of others and letting your faith shine, people will see you’re different than others. They will want to know why you are the way you are and when they ask you why, you’ll get to share your faith in the hope of the freedom you have in Jesus.
Nothing in life is ever truly free. Freedom isn’t even free, and that scared Martin Luther more than anything else. Before Martin Luther became the man we think of today, he was a guilt ridden young boy. He was aware of his sinfulness and writes that he kept asking himself, “when will you become devout enough in your behavior so that you may have a gracious God?” Luther constantly pounded himself with guilt thinking he needed to carry his own yoke so that God would give him freedom. This mindset carried into his early adult life in the monastery. He worked so hard to carry his own yoke that he says, “I would have martyred myself to death with vigils, prayers, readings, and other works.” Luther almost worked himself to death trying to earn his own freedom but then his overseer verbally slapped him upside the head and said, “Dear Friend, why are you torturing yourself? Look at Christ. Behold the blood he shed.” Luther realized he was to look to Christ for his freedom. He was to look at the blood Christ shed as Christ carried Luther’s yoke for him. That is exactly where you are to look too. Look to Christ and see the blood he shed for you as he carried your yoke and paid the price to freely give you freedom. When Martin Luther commented on the book of Galatians, he wrote, “Look to the Gospel. It tells me not what I must do, but what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has done for me.” I pray that you remember, “Freedom is free in Christ alone.”