Galatians 5:1 – “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
This verse is sometimes interpreted to be saying that God’s law is a yoke of slavery. Let’s evaluate whether this could be the case.
Previously in Galatians, Paul had already associated imprisonment and enslavement with not yet being pardoned from the death penalty of sin. (Galatians 3:22-26) He also tied these words to a time when the readers did not know God and followed weak and worthless elementary principles of the world. (Galatians 4:8-9) There’s no indication so far that God’s law itself was enslaving. Rather, an aspect of the law revealed our inability to escape the death penalty. (Galatians 3:24-25)
We’ve also seen that the purpose of the Galatians letter was to correct false teaching that asserted one could be justified by becoming a Jewish proselyte. Much of Galatians chapter 3 was refuting this false teaching.
When we come to chapter 5, Paul is back to the main purpose of the letter. He’s arguing that justification is by grace through faith and not by circumcision [code for becoming a Jewish proselyte] as the false teachers were propagating. Becoming a Jew (or not) didn’t count for anything in the matter of justification.
“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:4-6)
There’s further evidence to think the yoke of slavery was the false teaching that one must become a Jewish proselyte to be justified. Peter used the exact same argument in the Acts 15 Jerusalem council meeting. Here are highlights from the meeting.
“But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)
We call this legalism. Peter calls it a yoke.
“Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10)
We must also consider the stance of other biblical passages that associate God’s law with liberty.
“So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts.” (Psalm 119:44-45 KJV)
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)
“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty…” (James 1:25)
“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.” (James 2:12)
God’s law is never portrayed as a yoke. Instead, we see it associated with liberty. The false teaching that one must be circumcised [become a Jewish proselyte] to be saved was directly called a yoke.