Stand Firm Then
By Beth Moore
How a single verse of Scripture can redirect a whole life is a divine mystery. Galatians 5:1 was such a verse for me. I was in my late thirties, many years into ministry. I’d written several well-received Bible studies and was thoroughly immersed in church culture. In the psalmist’s words, the “ropes of Sheol” had also entangled me no few times in my life and I was presently choking.
I’d known the kindness of the Lord. I’d sensed His nearness innumerable times. Scripture was alive to me and serving deeply satisfied me. I had people in my life whom I loved, and they loved me. But I could never shake the feeling of tangling with a gorilla of some sort that was trying to tear me limb from limb. I’d go back and forth between thinking the gorilla was a predator in my life, the devil himself or the troubled girl in my mirror. A Frankensteinian fusion of all three, I lost as many battles to it as I won.
My path-altering moment in Galatians 5:1 broke the exegetical rules. I couldn’t have told you the context. My aim was to look up the fruit of the Spirit in v.22. I ran into v.1 accidentally. IT IS FOR FREEDOM THAT CHRIST HAS SET US FREE. (NIV) The only explanation for just the right verse at just the right time is God’s sovereignty. To wrap language around the Spirit’s conviction — the verse hit me as if Jesus were saying these words:
I gave my life for more than this. I set you free so that you could actually be free, not so you could live your whole life in varying forms of bondage. I had the journey of my life ahead. It would include some of the hardest days I’d face and, doubtlessly, the fiercest battles. My best days were also ahead, however, and the effects of the journey that began with Galatians 5:1 continue to accompany me even now. My life is not easy. I still have spiritual warfare. I win battles and lose battles and obstacles loom large, but the oxygen supply to the gorilla that had chased me for a lifetime got all but choked off. My hope is that Galatians 5:1 may be the right verse at the right time for someone today just like it was for me all those years ago. Every commentary I picked up gave prominence to Galatians 5:1. J. M. Boice writes, “Paul interjects a verse that is at once a summary of all that has gone before and a transition to what follows. It is, in fact, the key verse of the entire Epistle.”1 Scot McKnight spotlights 5:1 as Paul’s thesis in Galatians.2 In his comments regarding the human dimensions of freedom in Christ, McKnight makes this observation: [W]e need to observe in Paul that “being free” is personal and existential in the sense of being liberated to be what God wants us to be and to do what God wants us to do . . . In general, we might say that “being free” is the liberation of a person’s spirit from everything that shackles it to sin and ugliness; “being free” is the liberation of a person’s spirit to do what God wants, to be what God wants, and to enjoy the life God gives us on this earth.
Whatever obstructs our freedom in Christ qualifies as a yoke of bondage. First Corinthians 6:12 is an important go-to verse for freedom. Paul writes, “ Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “ Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.
Paul brilliantly quotes a common saying of the day to the Corinthians in order to add a caveat: just because one can doesn’t mean one should. For example, a loved one has been battered and bruised by a yoke of severe alcoholism throughout her adult life. As she enters her sixth year of sobriety, she knows that, according to the Bible, having a glass of wine is not a sin but, for her, it is a nod to madness. Wine is permissible but, for her, it is not beneficial. Once anything has held habitual mastery over us, a boundary is a crucial means to liberty. In order to flourish in freedom, we may have to step away from a friendship, relationship, a particular church or circle of people resistant enough to wholeness that, although our involvement may be biblically “permissible,” for us it is not beneficial. We can, unfortunately, go back under the same old yokes we once escaped. Or, we could simply trade the old yokes for new ones. For these reasons, freedom in Christ needs to be internalized, renewing our minds and reshaping our understandings, and not just externalized through behavior modification. If we’ve never let the Holy Spirit tend to our emptiness, for example, we will be subject to one addiction after another trying to fill the chasm. If we don’t know the grace of God, our value to Him and how loved we are by Him, we will live at the fractured mercy of our vulnerabilities, setting ourselves up over and over to be mistreated or to mistreat. One thing matters above all. It’s what matters in your everyday walk, in your efforts, in your work, in your relationships, in your successes and failures, in your mishaps, in your wasted time and in your well-used time. FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE.
There’s no outgrowing it or outdoing it. To this we give our lives. 1James Montgomery Boice, “Galatians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 486. Copyright ©1972 by James Montgomery Boice. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com 2Scot McKnight, Galatians, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 243. Copyright ©1995 by Scot McKnight. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com 3McKnight, Galatians, 245
Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) is a dynamic teacher whose Bible studies and conferences have taken her across the globe and reached millions. A wife, mother, and grandmother, Moore lives in Houston, where she leads Living Proof Ministries with the purpose of encouraging and reaching women to know and love Jesus through the study of Scripture. She is the author of So Long, Insecurity and Chasing Vines: Finding Your Way to an Immensely Fruitful Life.