A Commentary by John Stott
The Epistle to the Galatians is essentially a polemical Epistle, an Epistle in which Paul plunges headlong into controversy because of the introduction into the Galatian churches of erroneous teaching.
And these verses at the beginning of Galatians 5 are in keeping with the tenor of the whole Epistle. It is a paragraph of contrasts in which the apostle sets over against each other two opinions or outlooks, indeed virtually two religions, one false and the other true. He draws the contrast twice, first (verses 1-6) from the standpoint of those who practice these two religions, and secondly (verses 7-12) from the standpoint of those who preach them.
1). Believers false and true (verses 1-6).
The best manuscripts divide verse 1 into two separate sentences, so that they are not a single command (as in AV) to ‘stand fast…in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free’, but first an assertion (*for freedom Christ has set us free*), followed by a command based upon it (*stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery*).
a). The assertion.
As the New English Bible puts it, ‘Christ set us free, to be free men’. Our former state is portrayed as a slavery, Jesus Christ as a liberator, conversion as an act of emancipation and the Christian life as a life of freedom. This freedom, as the whole Epistle and this context make plain, is not primarily a freedom from sin, but rather from the law. What Christ has done in liberating us, according to Paul’s emphasis here, is not so much to set our *will* free from the bondage of sin as to set our *conscience* free from the guilt of sin. The Christian freedom he describes is freedom of conscience, freedom from the tyranny of the law, the dreadful struggle to keep the law, with a view to winning the favour of God. It is the freedom of acceptance with God and of access to God through Christ.