James Philip has been since 1957 minister of Holyrood Abbey, Church of Scotland, Edinburgh. After serving in the Royal Air Force during World War II, he went to Aberdeen University where he graduated in Arts and went on to study Divinity at Christ’s College. He was ordained in 1948. Before going to Edinburgh he was minister at Gardenstown in northeast Scotland. Mr. Philip, who is very interested in the work of Inter-Varsity Fellowship, is well known in Britain for his conference addresses.


Galatians 5:1

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage (KJV). Christ set us free, to be free men. Stand firm, then, and refuse to be tied to the yoke of slavery again (NEB).


During the past twelve months CHRISTIANITY TODAY has presented messages from notable preachers of God’s Word in the United Kingdom and the continent of Europe. This sermon concludes the series, which has included ministers from seven countries and nine denominational traditions. Sermons in the 1963 series will be by Asian Christians.

The point at which this great exhortation comes in Galatians is very significant. It follows a comprehensive doctrinal statement in which the Apostle Paul expounds the facts of the Christian position relating to the liberty that is ours in Christ. This is an order which he generally adopts in his epistles, and it is one which it is of the first importance to understand, if we are to appreciate the force and validity of the challenge he makes in our text.

First, then, he proclaims the great affirmations of the faith, unfolding the unsearchable riches of Christ, and after this, and on the basis of this, he gives the exhortation to consecration and holiness of life. First the indicatives, and then the imperatives, or, if you like, first the facts, then the challenge based on these facts. It is when we know what is ours in Christ that the challenge to consecration takes meaning in our lives. “This is where you are,” he cries, “this is where God has placed you in Christ, in a position of liberty. Therefore stand fast, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Such is Paul’s understanding of the message of grace, and we now examine it in detail.

What, then, is the nature of this liberty of which he speaks? What is Christian liberty? You will have noticed in Galatians that Paul uses the word “redemption” and the verb “to redeem” in connection with Christ’s work (3:13 and 4:4, 5). Now the word “redemption” with its verb “to redeem” is one of the most important words in the New Testament. Its root meaning is “to release or set free by the payment of a price.” It is a picture from the slave market. The slave is bought by a new owner, and thus set free from his slavery. Three thoughts are associated with the word: (1) the state of sin out of which we are to be bought, and that it is intervention by an outside power who pays the price to release us; (2) the price that is paid: the purchase price of our redemption is the blood of the Redeemer; (3) the resultant state of the freed one: it means both the glorious liberty of the children of God, and, paradoxically, a new enslavement, enslavement to Christ, which is perfect freedom.

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Now the first component part of this redemption, we may say, is justification, in the appropriation of which we are set free from the guilt of sin, and this Paul has made reference to in Galatians 2:16. Justification, the Shorter Catechism tells us, is “an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”

That is definition in the grand manner; that is precise terminology, and we could not leave out any word without damaging the structure of what it seeks to convey. What does it mean? It means that in the Gospel, God makes a pronouncement upon the sinner, in which he receives a new status in His sight. Justification does not refer to our condition, in the sense that we are made righteous, but to our status, in the sense that we are accounted righteous in God’s sight. In Christ we are given a new position in which there is no longer any condemnation for us because of our sin. How can this be? The answer is: through the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us and received by faith alone. How are we to understand these words? Look at them this way. The Bible presents us with two pictures. The first is of man as he is by nature, lacking in righteousness, having fallen short of the glory of God, and therefore guilty in His sight and under condemnation, and as such, totally unacceptable. The second picture is of another man, the Man Christ Jesus, of whom it is twice recorded that God said: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” and who is all that we are not, who lived without sin, and was wholly acceptable to God. If all that he was could only be “made over” to us! But this is precisely what the Gospel is about. His “performance” was for us. All that ever he did, in life and in death, he did for our sakes. We are accepted in God’s sight, not for any righteousness of our own, but because of Christ’s righteousness.

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A debtor to mercy alone,

Of covenant mercy I sing:

Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on,

My person and offering to bring.

The terrors of law and of God

With me can have nothing to do:

My Saviour’s obedience and blood

Hide all my trangressions from view.

This is the language of a justified man, a man who has been given a new status by God, a new position through grace. Not only so; it is the language of one who is standing fast in the position God has given him in Christ, as is the opening passage of Romans 5 as it exults in the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Such is the first aspect of the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. “I have placed you,” says God, “on a solid rock; stand fast therefore and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

Do you see the pattern?—first of all the unfolding of what God has done, then the exhortation to rise to it and meet it by faith.

A Double Freedom

But now there is a second component, so to speak, to Christian liberty. There is a double freedom in Christ. There is not only freedom from the guilt of sin, but also freedom from the power of sin. I am not very sure whether we may separate these two, as we sometimes do in our hymns:

Be of sin the double cure,

Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

I am not at all satisfied that Paul makes that distinction. Even in the Epistle to the Romans there are some passages where he might well be referring to both aspects. However, for our purpose of definition we need to think of the other aspect, liberty from the tyranny of sin. To be a sinner means not only to be guilty, but also to be in bondage. “He that committeth sin is a slave of sin,” and there is freedom from this also in the death of Jesus Christ.

We cannot have Christ as our substitute without entering into an identification with him in his death and resurrection. That is why, in the second chapter of Galatians, we find Paul merging justification and identification together. He speaks of justification apart from the works of the law; then in the next moment, and in almost the next verse, he says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” That is, the faith which appropriates the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ also brings us into a relationship with him in his death. And so, paradoxically—this is the fascinating thing about Galatians—in order to experience the full liberty of the Spirit, there must be a crucifixion. As Paul puts it succinctly in Romans 6:7, “he that is dead is freed from sin.” In other words, the faith that justifies is a faith that crucifies.

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What does this mean? It means that a man who puts his trust in Christ is brought into a new relationship with him. He is “in Christ,” he is united to him in his death and resurrection. It is in the Epistle to the Romans that this is developed most fully. Thus in Romans 6 Paul says that we are baptized into His death (v. 3), buried with him by baptism into death (v. 4), planted together in the likeness of his death (v. 5), that our old man is crucified with him (v. 6), that we are dead with Christ (v. 8). Five times, in a few verses, Paul stresses our position in Christ, asking repeatedly, “Know ye not …?” It is as if he were saying, “Don’t you realize that if you have put your trust in Christ at all, this is where you are, this is where God had placed you?”

This brings us to the point where we must consider what has been called “the representative nature” of Christ’s death. Christ died, not only as our substitute, but also as our representative. When he died, we died in him. This idea of representation is prominent in the Apostle Paul’s teaching about Christ, finding perhaps its fullest expression in Romans 5:12–21, where Adam and Christ both alike stand, not as private individuals but as public or “representative” figures. Just as what Adam did involved all who are “in Adam,’ so what Christ has done involves all who are “in Christ.” When He died, we died in him; when he rose from the dead, we rose in him. It is this principle that underlies all Paul’s teaching here. To be a believer means to have died to sin and risen to live unto God. Now this Paul speaks of as an accomplished fact; it is not something we have to do, but something that has been done. It is a truth of fact first before it becomes a truth in our experience, as with justification. It is when we reckon upon this truth and recognize it to be truth, that it becomes a glorious power and dynamic in our experience.

Such then is Paul’s doctrinal teaching in Galatians: we are justified freely by his grace, and have a new status; we are crucified with Christ and have a new life, lived by the faith of the Son of God. That is our position; that is where God has placed us.

Then he says: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free,” that is to say: live as a justified man, live as a crucified man, live as one who has died and is raised again to newness of life. That is the life of faith. This is the “reckoning of faith” of which he speaks in Romans 6:11. How then does it work and what does it involve? Let me give you these words in Romans 6:17, 18. “God be thanked,” he says, “you used to be servants of sin, but now have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.”

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“Ye obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine.” In other words, you received that doctrine, you listened to it, it dawned upon your soul, it gripped you, it mastered you, it commanded obedience from you, and in that act of obedience, liberty became a conscious experience in your life. You were made free from sin, and you became servants of righteousness.

Do you see how it works? Faith is not an intellectual acceptance of the Gospel, although, of course, intellectual acceptance of the truth of the Gospel is involved in any living faith. It is a moral capitulation to the truth of the Gospel; it is to dare to believe where God has placed us. But the whole trouble with us is we do not believe where God has placed us.

Here is a man who says, “I try my hardest, but I cannot do it; it is no use.” God says, “You can do it.” He also says: “You must do it. I have placed you in a position of victory.” He says, “Now, be victorious,” and we must dare to believe God’s Word with the obedience of faith—particularly and especially the obedience of faith, for this is not a magic formula, but a moral challenge. Given a man who is prepared to obey God, with all that that means in costly surrender of his own self to Him, that man will be filled with the glorious liberty of the children of God. Let a man revise very carefully and systematically the doctrinal truths that God states about his position—“there I am, there I stand, there he has placed me”—and look at them steadfastly and say, “Is that where I am? Then I demand to see the fruit of it in my life.” This is how a person is to enter into liberty.

Well, where are you? Where has God placed you? What is the truth about your position in Christ? “He hath made us kings and priests unto God”—not he will make us, but he hath made us. I am on entirely new ground, and Christ says to me: “I have adopted you into my family; go out and live royally because you are a son of mine.”

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That is the challenge of faith—to go out and live like free men and act the part. Some people think that this is hypocrisy, but this is a measure of their misunderstanding of the mighty truth of God. We can go out and act the part because God has made the part real in the death and resurrection of his Son. He comes to prisoners and says: “You are free; go out and be free.” You are free! That is what God says to us in the Gospel, and there is no reason for any of us to live in the bondage of sin. We are God’s free men and women if we are Christ’s. Go out and live like free men and women. “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free.”

The Great Test

Now this is the great test of faith. Think of the situations we know we will meet tomorrow morning and of the fierce temptations that will assail us. Well, now, face them as the man you are in Christ, not as the man you are by nature. They come and touch these weak spots in your life, and straightway you feel they are drawing you away. Pull yourself up and say, “I am no longer that man by nature; I am no longer the man I am; I am the man God has made me, and I can resist this lawless thing and dismiss it.” This is something with which the moods and emotions of life have nothing to do. They are irrelevant to them. This is a stand that is as firm as the Eternal Rock itself. When God has inserted us into the death and resurrection of Christ he has passed the sentence of death on the old nature in us. “I have been crucified with Christ; that temptation cannot appeal to me for I am dead. That to which it made its appeal has died, has been crucified with Christ.”

You know, the torment and bondage that many believers experience, under the mistaken assumption that it is a sign of grace to be so wrestling and so overburdened, is far, far removed from the biblical position of sanctification. That is a sub-biblical position. We have no right to be groaning and in bondage if we are in Christ. Ours is the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Take my soul thy full salvation,

Rise o’er sin and fear and care.

Rise to the position God has given you. Be the man God has made you in Christ. Live like a son of the King.

We ought not to allow ourselves to be pushed around and imposed upon by the world, the flesh, or the devil. We must take our stand. That is what Paul means.

Are you there? Are you Christ’s? If you are, then I put it to you: if you are going to be honest and realistic, you must go out and demand from God that you will see the fruits of Christ’s passion in your life in terms of liberty from the bondage that has crippled you for so long. Go out and demand it—“O, God, you say that I am Christ’s, that I am set free; now let it work.” Go out and be free, and God bless you.


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