Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)
Slavery is a particularly vivid image. History is full of this particular human tragedy, and something in us will always react at the thought of another person enslaved, or even being forced by circumstances to sell themselves into slavery. It’s an emotional issue, yet it’s a backdrop which we should be cognisant of at all times when considering the power of our liberty in Christ. To fully comprehend this incredible gift of grace, we should always see our lives before Jesus against the harsh reality of shackles and chains.
The command to stand fast implies that we can lose our liberty in Christ.
This shouldn’t be confused with losing our salvation, a matter for ongoing debate and which has no place in this devotional. Liberty in Christ, while it is part of the ‘salvation package’ is not ‘instantaneous’ but is something we grow into and have to hold onto. Again, this shouldn’t be misunderstood. Every single blessing purchased for us by the blood of Jesus was paid for, once and for all. They all already exist as spiritual realities but all of them, salvation included, must be received in order for them to manifest in our lives.
Salvation is the beginning of everything. It includes every single benefit and blessing available in Christ, but starts with spiritual salvation – being saved from sin, forgiven, and born again as a child of God. Even spiritual salvation must be received in order to be effective. Jesus died for every sinner, and the salvation He offers exists, whether we choose to receive it or not. Our choice does not affect the reality that salvation is real and available. It simply means we choose to either accept or refuse it. It is only when we actively receive it, however, that it impacts our lives. The same is true for liberty in Christ.
Christ’s death delivered the final blow to every shackle and chain that held mankind captive. Everything that once held us in bondage to self, the world, or the kingdom of darkness, has been severed. That is an unalterable spiritual fact. But we need to receive it and walk in it in order for it to be a reality in our lives. The chains may be broken, but we need to shake them off and walk free in our liberty in Christ. Until we do, they will remain and effectively hinder us in our lives and in our walk with God.
The Bible tells us that everyone who has been set free by Christ is truly set free. There are no qualifying clauses. It is absolute freedom, perfect and complete. The problem, however, is that we’ve lived in chains for so long that we don’t always see the bondage that holds us back. We can shake off the obvious things, but the subtle hindrances, the obscure bonds, remain in place because we’re simply not aware of them until God points them out to us through His Spirit. It is part of the work of the Holy Spirit to effect the full provisions of the cross in our lives. Liberty in Christ is only possible when we surrender all things to the Spirit.
Like all things of God, liberty in Christ is a process of learning. Through grace and the wisdom and discernment imparted by the Spirit, we shake of the chains one by one. But liberty in Christ can easily be lost. This is the warning inherent in today’s verse. To understand it, we must first understand how we came to be in bondage in the first place. The patterns that created the spiritual slavery remain operational both in the world and in the flesh, and we must learn to recognise our weaknesses in order to stand in the freedom Christ purchased for us.
We are, firstly, born in sin. It is an inherent part of the nature of mankind due to the fall. Due to this fact we are born into the kingdom of darkness because the devil is the prince of this world and we’re born into the world. Secondly, both the world and the devil put pressure on us from the very beginning. The world system stands in opposition to the kingdom of God, presenting ideals, teachings, philosophies, religions of every kind, and reasoning that denies and challenges the Word of God in every possible way. The devil, of course, promotes and empowers all of these to create situations that increase our bondage. The third issue is that of self, which constantly demands comfort, self-gratification, and self-indulgence. It is through self – our responses to temptations and the choices we ultimately make – that we confirm the bondages into which we are born and which only liberty in Christ can break.
What’s important is that the patterns and habits that we establish throughout our lives – the instinctual responses to temptation and to situations and circumstances – that pose the greatest danger to our liberty in Christ. These are often subtle and covert, and we perhaps don’t even know that they are there. They’re complicated ‘eco-systems’ of thoughts and emotions that work together to restrict and bind us. Without Jesus and the cross, we are utterly helpless to firstly, break the chains and secondly, to shake them off. They constantly work within us to erode our faith and our commitment and, if left unchecked, will slowly but surely rebuild the chains that enslave us.
Jesus not only purchased perfect freedom with His blood, but He also made sure that we would be able to both receive it and hold fast to it. He did this by the indwelling Holy Spirit. On our own, we are incapable of the spiritual discernment and wisdom required to see our weaknesses and emotional or intellectual danger zones. Liberty in Christ means surrender to the Holy Spirit. It also means being willing to listen and to obey, to avoid people and places that provide the wrong ‘triggers’ and cut off behaviour that stunt our spiritual growth. One of our biggest problems is our fondness for familiarity. We surround us with the things we find comforting, and comfortable leads to complacent. The moment we find ourselves complacent is the moment that our liberty in Christ is most at risk.
Paul understood that our spiritual growth is directly proportional to our liberty in Christ. We cannot grow in any area in which there is still bondage. Slavery to sin and self stifle life in the Spirit. Any area that is not surrendered is an area of bondage, and anything that we resume control over is put back into slavery. This truth is the outworking of the truth that we only gain our lives if we first lay them down. To lose our lives essentially means to lose self. It means cutting loose our self-focused needs and demands and surrendering them to the will of God.
To hold fast to our liberty in Christ is to remain in Christ. Me in Christ also means Christ in me. Simply put, what Jesus accomplished on the cross – defeating the power that has us captive – can only operate in us if He is in us and we are in Him. Outside of Him, it will be ineffective. This doesn’t diminish its power. It simply means we do not make space for it to operate in us. We exclude it by choosing not to receive it and live in it – and continue to receive it and live in it for every shackle the Spirit reveals to us. It’s ongoing and continuous, a growth into greater liberty with each new victory.
It’s a reality that where there is a vacuum, something will always fill it. If Christ is not in us, self will very quickly move to fill it and that is the beginning of the slide back into bondage. If we’re experiencing frustration, a kind of spiritual wall in our growth, then it’s very likely that some kind of bondage has crept back in. Liberty in Christ does not bring spiritual barriers or limitations. It always brings greater growth and a deeper relationship with God. If we hold fast to the freedom we have in Christ and focus on ensuring that we remain in deep and abiding relationship with Him, there will be no place for self and the bondage it inevitably brings.
Thank You, Jesus, for Your work on the cross and for the victory that You purchased for us. Grant us the grace and wisdom to walk in surrender to Your Spirit. Show us the things that bind and hinder us, and empower us to shake them loose in obedience. As you have promised, Lord, remain in us and keep us always safely in You.