By Philip Caples, Louisiana College
PINEVILLE (LBM) –While reading through the book of Galatians recently, I was reminded of a very important word: “freedom.”
In Chapter 1, verse 5, Paul stated, “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free,” (NIV) and according to Ronald K. Fung, this use of the word “freedom” references the Christian being free from subservience to the Law.
“Hence the Galatians must stand firm in this freedom and refuse to submit again to the yoke of slavery,” Fung wrote in “The Epistle of the Galatians” volume of the New International Commentary of the New Testament.
The subject of freedom is not foreign within the Book of Galatians. For example, Paul references the cost of freedom in his statement about the substitutionary atonement of Christ in Gal. 1:3-5 and in his allegorical use of Sarah and Hagar in Gal. 4:21-31.
Freedom is not foreign to an American citizen either.
Independence Day marks an important event concerning Americans’ freedom. On that day our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Moreover, we need to remember that spiritual and physical freedom are not for the few.
While the Declaration of Independence identifies “all men” as deserving of the rights contained therein, the Bible declares, “everyone” who calls upon the name of the Lord in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior “shall be saved” (Romans 10:13, NIV).
Therefore, what can we do to enhance freedom across our nation?
We need to become more vocal with the Gospel.
Paul was very vocal in rebuking the message of bondage touted by his Judaizing opponents. He wanted the Galatian believers to move beyond mere legalism and to live for Christ in both word and deed.
Applying this teaching, Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an excellence article entitled, “The Superb Right and Tragic Wrong of the SBC Alt-Right Resolution.” Patterson correctly addressed the controversial nature of the resolution on White Supremacy but also challenged Southern Baptists that speaking out is essential to advancing the Kingdom of God.
Specifically, Patterson wrote, “Following the teachings of our Lord, appropriate attitudes and behaviors must ensue. And when we speak against something, as we sometimes must, we do have to be fair….”
We also need to stand up for the rights of others.
Paul used the imperative phrase “stand firm” (Gal. 5:1) to make this point, urging his audience to live a Christian life in the face of the oppression and temptations of this “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4).
In a contemporary context, we need to stand firm against the injustices associated with the lack of freedom so many people face in the world today. The scourge of human trafficking should cause every Christian to stand firm for the rights of women and children, who do not have an audience of significant influence. Likewise, we should stand firm for religious freedom within the public school system.
In each case, being always aware that one person’s voice and stance can make a difference.
I remember serving in a small church in Northeast Mississippi when one family in the community threatened the opportunity for our children to read the Bible and pray at school before classes began each day. Instead of remaining silent, Christians stood firm together.
After several months, our loving but firm stance reaped a spiritual harvest when the Lord saved two people who had opposed prayer in the school. This move of the Lord brought personal transformation to these individuals and ensured the freedom of all the students at that school to pray and read the Bible voluntarily on campus.
In the same manner, Christians need to stand firm together nationally to protect the religious freedom of students across our great land.
As the Psalmist wrote, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen for His own inheritance” (Psa. 33:12, NASB).
Moreover, having been set free from sin through the atoning work of Christ, believers need to make a difference while we can.
Just as Paul commanded the Galatian believers to keep standing firm in their freedom, he also urged them to “not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1b, NASB).
Making a great point about the application of this passage, Bible scholar Timothy George wrote in his volume about Galatians in the New American Commentary:
“When Paul listed the various graces included in the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (5:22–23), freedom was not included among these desirable virtues. This is because freedom is already presupposed in each one of them. Thus the fruit of the Spirit is freedom—freedom to love, to exude joy, to manifest peace, to display patience, and so on.”
Basically, he is underscoring that in our freedom we can make a difference by loving God and loving others. The love of God will help others understand the freedom found in Christ, which will lead to them enjoying their freedom within our nation.
I encourage Louisiana Baptists to embrace their spiritual and physical freedom because we can help others to experience and enjoy their freedom.
One way to help others is by bearing one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the Law of Christ. To bear one another’s burdens means to come alongside a burdened brother or sister for the purpose of restoring such a one in the spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1-2).
I remember walking with a family through a very difficult time. They had harbored ill feelings toward one another for years. The entire family faced depression, frustration, and alienation from each other. Through much counseling, prayer, repenting, and forgiveness, this family reengaged their freedom in Christ and began to let freedom ring within their family and community.
We have all types of problems and circumstances plaguing our communities across America. The cure for our nation lies within the hearts of Spirit-empowered Christians willing to stand firm in the freedom of the Gospel, seeking to live in the terms of the Gospel rather than allowing a yoke of slavery to weigh them down. Would you join me in letting freedom ring within our families, across our communities, and across our nation? We can make a difference, if we are willing to follow the leadership Christ.
Philip Caples is vice president for the integration of faith and learning, and, dean of the School of Missions and Ministries with Louisiana College.
This column is part of a series of commentaries provided by LC faculty relating to the Southern Baptist Convention’s calendar of special emphasis issues, which in this edition of the Baptist Message is religious liberty.