To know that our transgressions have been paid for by our Lord. To know we can walk in love rather than in duty, or some attempt to earn favor. Over my years on social media and in life, I have seen many illustrations of how this “Gospel freedom,” or rest, is expressed.
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
When reading this passage, a text that comes to mind is Peter not eating with the Gentiles.
Surely, Peter, standing in the light of the Gospel, had every right to eat with whomever he wanted to. How dare Paul hamper on Peter’s Gospel freedom?! But this was not how the exchange went. Peter realized that his actions were causing division and issue and accepted the rebuke (Gal. 2:11).
The love of neighbor is not a game to be taken lightly.
“But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to…”
The apostle Peter accepted correction in regard to his actions about being a stumbling block to others. He did not use his “Gospel freedom” as a basis to act any way he saw fit.
Another example from Scripture is in the book of Philemon. People may scavenge and search the beach for years with minimal reward, but an out-of-place wanderer runs across a treasure at times. Similarly, the book of Philemon is like an orphan to the harmonious family of Epistles. Onesimus, a believer in the faith, inherited the same Gospel freedom that we boast in today. The apostle Paul who penned Romans 8:1 and the majority of the New Testament is more than aware of Onesimus’ freedom in the Gospel. Against all human logic, the apostle Paul sends a runaway slave back to his former owner.
What happened to “Gospel freedom?”
Nobody would choose to return to a place from which they have escaped. This is the exact opposite of what is typically professed as Gospel freedom. Paul sends Onesimus back to reconcile with Philemon.
To deny that the apostle Paul was employing the same tact that was written in Galatians 2, in regard to our life in light of the Gospel, would take a special “gift” of exegetical gymnastics.
“But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to…” -Galatians 2:14
Paul wanted them to reconcile and move forward in love. He did not ignore the fact that in the social norm of that culture, Onesimus’ actions were wrong. To be honest, I have to give credit to Onesimus. Many of us get mad if a brother or sister mentions a sinful action we did, and then use every excuse to justify our error with phrases like, “Gospel freedom.”
The question still remains, “What is Gospel freedom?”
If it is not the Ace of Spades for justification of my sinful actions, then what is it? Why can I not just cuss, be vulgar, slander, steal, and just call the person who offers correction a “legalist?”
The truth is, we all are, or were, slaves to sin. Born in sin (Ps. 52:5) and dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2:1). Not you, nor I, not even Gandhi seeks righteousness (Rom. 3:10-18). But God has freed us from our slavery to sin. We are freed and given a new heart and empowered for our walk by the Holy Spirit, God himself. The blood of the Lamb has purchased and redeemed us. There is no middle ground, you are either a slave to sin, or you have been freed by the Gospel and are a slave to righteousness:
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? but thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness
This freedom is not a declaration that we will never sin or have doubts. But with the Holy Spirit guiding our steps, we are able to walk in the light of life and know that even when we fail and when we sin, we have a Savior that has cancelled our debt and gives us his righteousness.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.