Genevan philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau once said: ″To renounce liberty is to renounce being a man.″ But about 1,600 years before Jean, Paul had already pronounced: to renounce our liberty in Christ is to renounce being Christ's follower. In today's reading, Paul shows us what impact giving up Christ's freedom will have on our personal lives.
Hence, freedom is the Christian's birthright!
Previously, Paul has pointed out that the Galatian believers are already the free children of Sarah. Now, he identifies the source of their freedom: Christ. Galatians 5:1 is considered one of the key verses of Paul's letter to the Galatians; it summarises all he has been saying so far.
Why did Christ set us free? For freedom, Paul asserts. Yes, everything He did on the cross is for the purpose of setting us free. This freedom we have in Christ isn't some imaginary thing or theological fancy. It is real freedom, gained on our behalf by no less than the Son of God, who paid the ultimate price for it. Hence, freedom is the Christian's birthright!
How could we ever give up our birthright? Nations have fought over what they perceive to be theirs, even if it is something transient or temporal. How, then, should we treat our eternal birthright, secured for us by Christ? Stand firm, Paul commands. Never give it up! Tolerate no yoke of any kind, whether pagan or Jewish. In other words, live up to our status in Christ that God has already declared. And don't ever forget, or we will lapse back into slavery.
Putting forward the full weight of his apostolic authority, Paul commands: ″Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you . . .″ (v. 2). The Galatian controversy is so serious that he feels it necessary to deal with it swiftly and decisively. Without mincing his words, he meets the problem-the call to circumcision-head-on, spelling out the consequence of adopting it (v. 2).
To Paul, it is not so much circumcision per se but what it represents that bothers him; after all, he himself had circumcised Timothy, whose father was Greek (Acts 16:3). But he did it in order to accommodate Jewish sensitivity. The Judaizers, however, believe circumcision is necessary for salvation. This is tantamount to saying that one must first be a Jew before becoming a Christian. And the foolish Galatians are on the verge of adopting it!
Unlike Paul, the Judaizers see circumcision as an initiation rite into Judaism, putting those who accept it under the law (Galatians 5:3), thus making observance of the law necessary for salvation. But the consequence is: ″Christ will be of no value to you at all″ (v. 2). The Galatians would be rejecting all of God's work in Christ and sliding right back into slavery. Christ cannot help them anymore, because He is the only bridge to God's justification; step off it and everything will collapse.
In the light of this warning, no believer should ever give up his birthright in Christ, not in the past nor in the present. No rule, sacrament, or practice should ever be made a necessary component of our salvation.