Something’s going on in Galatia that has Paul worried. Shortly after Paul brought the good news of Christ to Galatia, some other visitors arrived with what Paul calls “a different gospel.” We don’t know exactly who these visitors are, but from Paul’s letter, we may assume they are Jewish Christians from Jerusalem who want to introduce Mosaic Law and circumcision into the Gentile churches. Paul, a Jewish Christian himself, nevertheless believes that to introduce the law and circumcision into the Galatian churches would be to deny the freedom offered in the true gospel, that it would not only confuse the Galatians, but pervert the gospel given to us in Christ. What is this freedom of the gospel and how do we fight for, not against it?
First, the freedom of the gospel is freedom from that which enslaves us. Paul refers to these enslaving patterns of our culture as “elemental spirits.” For Paul, a Jew, these “spirits” were slavish devotion to traditions. For the Gentile Galatians, these spirits were former pagan gods Paul later calls “no gods at all,” which laid claim on their lives and held them in bondage.
What are these enslaving spirits for us today? What are the traditions and false gods that enslave us and how do we respond to them? Apathy? Greed? Vanity? We become slaves to anything that comes along if we are not servants of Christ. As Bob Dylan has written, “You Gotta Serve Somebody.”
The freedom of the gospel is freedom to become even more than servants. It is freedom to become children of God. To become heirs of God’s promise. Because God sent his son into this world, as one of us, we come to share in the promise of salvation with God’s people Israel. As heirs of the promise we share in the responsibility of proclaiming the good news to all people. Not only are we freed to speak and act, we are called upon to do so.
The freedom of the gospel is the freedom to share God’s promise. We are called to share the promise of salvation with our brothers and sisters whether it is popular or unpopular to do so. We are called to speak and act to preserve this freedom just as God has spoken and acted through Christ.
Finally, the freedom of the gospel is the freedom to receive the spirit of God’s son. This freedom enables us to accept the responsibility of being children of God, heirs of God’s promise. Of ourselves, we would prefer to turn back to the enslaving spirits which allow us not to take responsibility for ourselves and for others. Because of this God has sent the spirit of his son into our hearts that we might accept the rights and responsibilities of being children of God, heirs of his promise. Not only are we freed to speak and act, not only are we called upon to do so, but we are empowered by the spirit to act and speak as children of God.
The freedom of the gospel breaks the bonds of slavery to human traditions and false gods which divide us. The freedom of the gospel unites us as one in the One who gave up his freedom to the point of death so that we might be set free.