Question: "What does it mean that for freedom Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1)?"
Answer: In Galatians 5:1, Paul reminds the Galatian believers that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Believers’ sins are forgiven on the basis of Christ’s perfect sacrifice. Now believers can live in freedom from the law, and they can live in freedom from the consequences and power of sin. The NLT says, “Christ has truly set us free”; believers are “truly free” to live for the things of God.
The occasion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians was that false teachers had come into the churches there. These teachers promoted legalism and tried to require Christians to observe the Old Testament rules, laws, and ceremonies, especially circumcision (Galatians 2:3–5). Paul, in no uncertain terms, says that “for freedom Christ has set us free” and that Christians should not be placed back under the law’s yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1). The law’s purpose was to reveal our sinfulness (see Romans 3:20) and to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).
Before Christ’s sacrifice, we lived under bondage to the law (Galatians 4:3). We were burdened by demands we could not keep (Acts 15:10). Christ’s death and resurrection broke our bondage to the law. Jesus’ perfect life and holy sacrifice on the cross was the complete fulfillment of the law, and anyone who trusts in Him for salvation is made right with God. Only Christians have true freedom from the law. John 8:36 confirms, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
In Christ, we are free from the Mosaic Law’s oppressive system, and we are also free from the penalty and power of sin. Before Christ, we lived as slaves to sin (John 8:34). We sought to gratify our desires and lived for ourselves. We were dead in our sins (Colossians 2:13) and were destined to face the consequence of our sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). Yet, when we trusted in Christ for our salvation, our course in life completely changed. We were released from the law’s bondage because for freedom Christ has set us free.
Believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are characterized by a joyous freedom to follow Christ and God’s design for life (Galatians 2:20). The Bible is clear that Christian freedom is not a license to sin. Instead, believers are free not to live for sin and are free to live holy lives in Christ. For this freedom Christ has set us free: to live in relationship to God and others the way He intended (Galatians 5:13). Believers are free to live an abundant life (John 10:10), and we have been given everything we need for life and godliness (1 Peter 1:3).
Jesus did what the law could not do—He took away our sin and saved us, and in doing so He set us free from the penalty and power of sin. For freedom to follow His design of life He set us free. “The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit” (Romans 8:3–4, NLT). Now we who have this freedom can live in God’s ways and love others well in the power of the Spirit (Galatians 5:13–26).