Freedom from the Yoke of Slavery

Hayden Parrish 1.22.20

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Galatians 5:1

In Jesus’ day, Jewish Rabbis referred to keeping God’s commands as “yoke of the law’. This phrase would make listeners recall something like the image below:

Cattle were often tied or “yoked” together to steer them in the right direction. Being under the “yoke of the law” meant that God’s rules were designed to lead Israel toward a life of obedience and blessing. In Psalm 119:10 it says, I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. In Psalm chapter 1, the Psalmist compares a blessed man who keeps the law with “the wicked” who ignore God’s law. In every way, the law was seen by the Jewish people as a gift from God.

While the Jewish people for centuries thought of the law as a blessing, Paul, who is also a Jew, called the law a “yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). According to Paul, what was once God’s method of leading his people closer to him, now has the potential to enslave them. So, what changed?

N.T. Wright tells this story to illustrate this radical change:

The lake freezes over for four months in the winter, to a depth of at least ten feet. People drive not only snowmobiles across it, but even cars and vans. It’s exciting – and also quite convenient – to be able to drive across the water to the village on the opposite shore.
But there comes a time, in late March or early April, when spring comes even to the lakes north of Montreal. Suddenly the ice is not so firm. Wise drivers don’t attempt the crossing anymore. The villagers leave an old car on the middle of the ice; when it begins to sink, they know the time has come to stop driving across the ice. Soon the lake will be unfrozen; boats will be operating again; and anyone who wants to take the car to the other side will have to put it on the ferry.
Paul’s point is this: spring has come to the people of God. For over a thousand years their fellowship with God has been established through the law. This was always essentially a winter regime, a time of waiting. There are, so to speak, modes of travel which are appropriate during that winter season. But if you become so keen on them that you don’t want to abandon them in spring, you’re going to be stuck at the water’s edge – or maybe will even risk trying to get across when the ice will no longer hold your weight. (from N.T. Wright’s N.T. for Everyone Commentary)

Through Jesus Christ, who perfectly followed the law that we couldn’t, we now have freedom from its burdens.


Before we break off into groups, I am going to open with an illustration about “Strange House Rules”. The big idea will be to lead us into a discussion about following the law in scripture. Start by going around the circle and asking this, “What rule or practice does your home have that may seem odd to you or others? What is the purpose of the rule or practice?


Read Galatians 5:1 together.

Our passages opens with “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” What is your impression about this statement? Do most people believe that Christians live a life of freedom? Would you say that the answers are different inside the Church than outside?

If you believe the above statement is true, how did that happen? How did Christ set us free?

In this context, the freedom that Paul is talking about is freedom from the law in the Old Testament. Paul’s opponents are asking Christians to submit to the requirement of circumcision that the law demands. So, if Paul says that we are set free from the law, how are we supposed to understand the Law in scripture (the Torah)? Do we read it as strictly as a history of God’s people or something more? Jesus words in Matthew 5:17 help us out here: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Simply put, Jesus’ obedience to the law and his personal sacrifice fulfills our requirements under the law.

Galatians 5 is addressing a group of Christians who were putting extra requirements on other Christians. Have you ever experienced something like that in your own faith journey?

Where does obedience fit in with our Christian faith? Does that fit with the freedom principle Paul is describing? We will talk more about this idea next week, but I wanted to get the ball rolling!


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