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Galatians 5:1 by Robert Dean
Series:Galatians (1998)
Duration:1 hr 2 mins 39 secs

Doctrine of Spiritual Freedom
Galatians 5:1


Whenever we talk about a subject such as freedom or liberty we must realise that, especially today, whether we are talking about spiritual freedom, establishment freedom, political freedom, economic freedom, etc. it is one of the most misunderstood of used and over-used words in our vocabulary. What most people mean by freedom is not the true sense of the word. What most people mean by freedom is, I get to do it my way and I'm not going to listen to any other authority or anybody else. The attitude is of some sort of personal autonomy and unfortunately it is even true in the spiritual life, and it becomes what theologians refer to as antinomianism—against law, and there are no absolutes in life, we can do just whatever we want to do. That is a production of the sin nature.


Galatians 5:1 NASB "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery."


It is this verse as sort of the crux of Galatians that has given rise to labelling the epistle the Magna Carta of the spiritual life, for it is here that we have outlined for us the true nature of our freedom in Jesus Christ. In the Greek the verse begins with the dative feminine singular of the word eleutheria [e)leuqeria], the basic word that means freedom or liberty. It refers to the status of being free and of possessing freedom. It is used in this particular case with the article in the Greek. The article in the Greek is very different from the article in English. In English it is called the definite article because if you don't have it then the word is indefinite. It is the word "the." In Greek it is not called the definite article because in its absence the word is not necessarily indefinite like it is in English. This is difficult syntax in this passage. For one thing the word eleutheria is the noun and the verb eleutheroo [e)leuqerow] (Christ has set us free) is the cognate. Normally when there is what is called a cognate dative—eleutheria is in the dative—it us used in an adverbial sense. That makes no sense in this passage. So it is necessary to delve into a lot of technical material to discover that what is here is a dative (probably of destination, possibly of sphere) that it is for the destination of freedom that Christ has set us free, and the article is used to restrict the sense of freedom (a sort of sense of "this freedom") which indicates that the freedom being talked about in the content of the epistle, not just any kind of freedom. It is talking about freedom contextually as Paul has laid it out and the contrast between grace and being a child of the free woman versus law  and a child of the bondwoman. So the issue here is going to be freedom related to freedom from slavery.


We need to define what we mean by freedom. Webster's Dictionary: It means "the quality or state of being free as in, a) the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action; b) liberation from slavery or restraint from the power of another…" The latter is the main idea of what we see here in Galatians. We need to ask the question: What is the power, the slavery we are freed from? "… c) the quality or state of being exempt or released, usually from something onerous. Synonyms are freedom, liberty and licence. It has a broad range of applications from total absence of restraint…" That almost borders on the idea of anarchy, and that is the way some people want to take freedom in the spiritual life. "… to merely a sense of not being unduly hampered or frustrated. Liberty suggests release from former restraint or compulsion, and that is the nuance that we have in this passage. "… Licence implies freedom specially granted or conceded and may connote an abuse of freedom."


Someone has said: "You are not really teaching the grace of God if somebody isn't taking advantage of it." The trouble is that the self-righteous legalist type is afraid that somebody is going to take advantage of the grace of God, so they want to step in and protect the honour of God by imposing a lot of rules and getting involved in people's business, and they start interfering with their life and telling them how to live their life just so that they don't take advantage of the grace of God. That is interfering with the dictates of the Supreme Court of heaven. That is God's responsibility and God is certainly capable of taking care of things when we start taking advantage of His grace. It is typical of every immature, baby believer to take advantage of the grace of God. The freedom that we have in this passage is freedom in the sense of liberty, the release from former bondage to the law, and it is not a licence to engage in whatever behaviour we desire.   


2 Timothy 3:16 NASB "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching [doctrine]…" Doctrine is from the Greek word didaskalos [didaskaloj] which literally means teaching. Any teaching or instruction from Scripture—that is what doctrine is. When we take the time to study any particular doctrine what we are doing is categorising, classifying a particular subject, and we are brining to that subject everything the Bible teaches about that particular subject or topic and how that relates to the thinking and production in the spiritual life of the believer. 


The doctrine of Christian liberty


  1. From what are we set free? Christ redeemed us—He bought us, paid a price for freedom—from the curse of the law in 3:13. We are all imprisoned by sin, that is the Greek verb sunkleio [sugkleiw] in 3:22 (poorly translated "shut up") which means imprisoned. We are in bondage to the law, kept in custody by the law, 3:23. We are said to be enslaved to the law as a child to the pedagogue, 3:24. We are said to be a slave to religion in 4:8. There is the analogy of the slave woman Hagar in 4:22-31. So we are not free, we are born in slavery and we see two or three different categories of slavery in Galatians—to the law, to the sin nature, to religion. We are freed from the penalty of sin, freed from the power of sin in phase two, and we will be freed eventually from the presence of sin in a glorified state and will no longer struggle with sin. So we are freed from the penalty of sin in phase one, and in phase two which is the spiritual life we are to live out our freedom from the power of sin; to learn how not to be controlled in this life by the power of sin—i.e. sanctification, a life that is set apart to the service of God.
  2. Freedom was secured by Christ's finished work on the cross. This is the significance of the clause in 5:1, "Christ set us free." It is the aorist active indicative of eleutheroo. Christ performed the action and we received the action. He did all the work; we don't do any of it. It has been accomplished in the past; Christ set us free through His death on the cross. A description of how this took place is found in Romans 6. There are a lot of similarities in what Paul says in Romans to what he says in Galatians. In Romans 5:21 he says: "so that, as sin reigned in [spiritual] death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." In other words, because there was sin God was able to display His grace. In 6:1 he says, "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? [2] May it never be! [mh genoito]..." No, that is a false application of the principle and it is not what Paul is trying to say. "… How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" This is what the rest of the chapter is going to explain. What does it mean to die to sin? [3] "…all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?" The main verb here is the aorist passive indicative of baptizo [baptizw]. The word means to dip, plunge or immerse. The significance of baptism is identification. When it says here we "have been baptized into Christ Jesus" we have an important phrase, eis plus the accusative of christon [e)ij Xriston]. The reason this is important is that it gives us a clue as to what kind of baptism Paul is talking about. Cf. Galatians 3:27 NASB "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." The phrase "baptized into Christ" is the same phrase as in Romans 6:3, therefore a comparison of Scripture with Scripture tells us that the kind of baptism in view in Romans 6 is the baptism by means of God the Holy Spirit that takes place at the moment of salvation. The means by which we are placed into union with Christ is the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit. This is called positional truth—the doctrines that relate to our position in Jesus Christ. This is further sub-divided into two categories: retroactive positional truth and current positional truth. Romans 6:4 describes retroactive positional truth. NASB "Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death…" Because of our identification with Christ on the cross—that is the thrust of baptism. By means of the Holy Spirit we are identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection—so that as a result of that, being identified with His death, the sin nature is crucified with Christ. This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 6. "… so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk [subjunctive mood: potential, dependent upon our volition] in newness of life." What is this "newness of life"? It is freedom from enslavement to the sin nature. Before we were saved we had no option but to follow the dictates of the sin nature. Remember the sin nature not only produces sin, it also produces human good. Romans 6:5 NASB "For if we have become united with {Him} in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be {in the likeness} of His resurrection, [6] knowing this, that our old self was crucified with {Him,} in order that our body of sin might be done away with…" Future tense. In other words, this is how we are going to learn how to do away with the power of sin in our daily life. "… so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." Positionally we are free, but experientially we may still be living in bondage to the sin nature. To realise this freedom entails two things. First of all, our volition, and secondly, some knowledge upon which to act. We have to know what the options are so that we can activate our volition. [7] "for he who has died [to sin] is freed from sin." The verb "freed" is perfect passive indicative of dikaioo [dikaiow], the word for justification, not the word for freedom. It is a perfect tense which indicates the present reality of a past action. Because we have been identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection and action took place in the past (we were justified) with results that go on for all eternity. He who has died has been justified [declared righteous] from sin. In other words, sin is no longer an issue in the spiritual life because the penalty was paid completely by Jesus Christ. [8] The principle. "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, [9] knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. [9] For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. [10] Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus." This is an analogy that Paul is using here and it is very simply. He says Christ died and was raised to a life with God. The analogy is that we as believers died with Christ; therefore we are to live a life for God. That is the thrust of the argument. We are able to do that because we are dead to sin. We still have a sin nature, we are still going to sin, we are still going to struggle with sin and temptation; but the point is that sin does not have to be a master over us. We are set free at salvation from sin and positionally we have freedom and we are slaves of righteousness.

           Romans 6:12-14 NASB "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin {as} instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members {as} instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace…. [17] But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin [as an unbeliever], you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." What is the point? Positionally we are now a slave of righteousness and we need to start living like one.