Jesus emerges from our passage as the Architect and Champion of freedom. The passage opens by addressing those “who desire to be under the law” (Gal. 4:21, NKJV, emphasis added), biblical code words in this context for legalism, the ultimate spiritual bondage—attempting to gain a right standing and eternal security before God by scrupulous living, something Paul understood from personal experience (Phil. 3:3, 6–9). The slavery of legalism is that one never knows if they are being good enough to satisfy God.
The passage closes with the invitation to “stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and . . . not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1, NKJV, emphasis supplied).
Jesus did not wait until He came to live among us before He picked up the mantle of championing freedom. In His Old Testament role as Yahweh, He defined true religion by emphasizing personal and social commitment “to undo the heavy burdens [and] let the oppressed go free” (Isa. 58:6, NKJV). The psalmist extolled God’s law for prescribing a life of liberty (Ps. 119:45); James would later capitalize on that theme, citing both from the Ten Commandments and the OT law to love one’s neighbor, labeling God’s law as “the law of liberty” (James 1:25).
When Yahweh came to earth as Jesus, He adopted as His own the prophesied messianic mission statement to “proclaim liberty to the captives . . . [and] set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18, emphasis supplied; cf. Isa. 61:1, 2). He defined slavery at its deepest level: “Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34, NKJV); He identified freedom at its highest level: “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). It is possible to be free from physical oppression but lost in spiritual bondage. Peter spoke of those who promise others “freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19, NASB).
The slavery of sin is induced by deception and maintained by brute force. It attracts by offering “freedom” from divine restrictions and the “benefits” of self-dependence and self-realization. But it ultimately leads to enslaving addictions. Some addictions aren’t “evil” or apparently harmful; they’re just interesting, entertaining, informative, keeping us abreast of what’s happening out there. But they also sponge up our time and keep getting in the way of better things we want to accomplish. Worse, they shield us from Him who alone is the Architect and Champion of freedom and can help us become “free indeed.”
The freedom Jesus offers contains a beautiful irony. In contrast to the slavery induced and maintained by power over others, there is a “slavery” won by altruistic love and chosen by free will in a voluntary commitment to love and serve the other, the kind of commitment one makes in marriage to love and serve the other “in good times and bad … until death do us part.” The two slaveries are universes apart. When Jesus sets us free indeed, a love-awakened desire longs to be bound to Him who set us free! Paul wrote affirmingly, “Having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18, NKJV, emphasis supplied). One of the most cherished designations New Testament authors gave themselves was “bondservant”/“slave” (Greek, doulos) of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Rev. 1:1).
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1, NKJV, emphasis supplied).