So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. – Galatians 5:1
Why do some slaves refuse the opportunity to be free? Why indeed. As a former police officer, I can say that one phenomenon that never ceased to amaze me was the number of offenders who would commit a second crime just so they could get back into jail. People who have never been to jail would probably never say they wanted to go. All they know is the freedom of the outside. But someone who has spent time in jail sometimes becomes accustomed to it to the point that there is more security for them in jail than out. They understand the system. It makes sense. They know what is expected of them and they know how to do just enough to get by. And so, rather than be free, they stay “in the system” where they are safe and are never expected to make their own decisions.
In the Galatian Church, Christians who had come out of the Jewish faith were starting to listen to some who were trying to add the Law back on top of their faith in Christ. Like ex-prisoners looking to get back into jail, they were feeling the call of safety that comes with a system that sets all the rules up front. In Judaism, they knew what was expected of them. They could just follow the rules. The freedom they had found in Christ was unsettling, especially talk about God’s Law dwelling within them. How would they know if they had done something wrong. Hundreds of years had not wiped out the memory of seventy spent in exile when the Israelites had failed to follow God. And for the hundreds of years since that event, they had worked on refining the rules as much as possible. To go from a rule book to a conscience is a scary thing. Especially when there is no understanding that our conscience is actually God in Spirit.
But Paul’s plea was a call for them to escape the slavery of the Law and run into the freedom that comes from abiding in Christ. He was calling out those who were looking to scare the former Jews back to their old ways. He was warning them that they were running back to something that could never save them, and away from the only One who could. He gave the same warning to the Gentile Christians in the church. They too were looking back to the familiar as a safety net.
Walking into the freedom that comes from accepting Christ can be unsettling, especially if we are leaving a situation that we have been in long enough to “get comfortable”. We may be at a place where we know what is expected. We may like the familiarity of our surroundings. But once outside, we will see it for what it is, a prison cell. And that prison will hold us forever unless we step out of it in faith. Just like the Jews and Gentiles of the Galatian Church, we have a choice to make. The slavery of beliefs that say we can save ourselves. Or the freedom of knowing that, in Christ, we are free to live out the Law instead of breaking under it. Slave or free? There’s a choice to be made. My prayer is that we all choose freedom as we walk into a relationship with Christ and the liberty that lasts forever.