You may have noticed that you read verse 5:1 two days in a row. You’re not imagining things. This is one of Paul’s “transition” verses. In some translations, it begins “therefore. In New Living Translation (the one this post links to), it’s “so.” Same idea. What follows in this text is connected in reference to everything that Paul has said in the preceding section. In other words, “in light of what I just said, here’s how to apply it, and why it matters.
“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” This doesn’t give us free rein to do whatever we want, because that would put us back in chains. But it is pulling on Paul’s preceding message of what we should be doing to stay free. To stay free, we must trust in Jesus as the way to salvation.
In essence, Paul is also telling them not to “open up that can of worms.” What I mean by that is, if the Gentiles are so bent on being circumcised to “prove” something or “appease” some Jews who bully them, be careful. By stepping into the trap of the law on just one little issue that really doesn’t matter to God, they open themselves up to having to follow every single regulation. Being a slave to those regulations has kept God’s people from being focused on their relationship with him.
When we so focused on following rules, we miss out on the relationship God intends. We are so focused on the black and white, that we forget to open our hearts. When our hearts are hard and cold, well, it’s not pretty. We’ve all known so-called Christians who seem to be self-absorbed, judgmental, cold-hearted, stubborn, etc. God wants our devotion first and foremost. If that means we follow his regulations out of our devotion or desire to please rather than out of obligation, it’s totally different. It’s our freedom in Christ that makes the difference.
None of us should want to fall out of God’s grace by discounting it for only being lawful. God “is the one who called you to freedom.” Why would you want to go back into chains when you don’t have to? We may be hearing messages of things we need to do to find favor with God. We may also be hearing messages that give the universe and other inanimate objects the power to manifest blessings in our life. We need to be careful of those trying to mislead us in a seemingly harmless way.
There is no question how Paul feels about people who try to change the gospel or give credit for salvation and grace to some other source than God himself. “I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves.” I have many pictures of Paul in my mind as I read his teachings. The shipwrecked and imprisoned Paul. The bold preacher. The compassionate friend. The bully to Christians (before his conversion). But these parting words are a bit strong in their leaning toward revenge. It shows us a picture of Paul who is a champion for his friends and fellow followers of Christ.
What spoke to you today in this passage? Take some time to think through what Paul has said up to this “transition” moment. Are you hearing God speak to you through Paul’s message?
Let’s pray … Lord, forgive me for those times that I am enticed by messages of the world contrary to your Word. I give you credit for all that exists, every blessing, and every ability you have given me. Continue to work in me to reveal for me your master plan for my life. How are you going to use me to further your kingdom and nurture your children? I am open and ready. In Jesus’ name. Amen.