Have you ever failed to read the fine print closely, and it cost you? An NPR article called “When Not Reading the Fine Print Can Cost Your Soul” describes several “mischievous” clauses companies have included in online contracts. In one, people signing up for free Wi-Fi access could check a box “agreeing to ‘assign their first-born child to us for the duration of eternity.’” Several people checked the box, most likely not having read the clause. The article also says that “on April Fool’s Day in 2010, British retailer Game Station inserted a new clause into its license agreement, with a check box already ticked. If users didn’t uncheck the box, they agreed to grant Game Station ‘a non-transferable option to claim for now and forevermore your immortal soul.’”
Joking aside, how crazy would it be if you didn’t read the fine print closely enough and you gave up your soul? You think you’re getting a good deal, but it ends up costing you everything. That’s exactly what Paul is worried about in Galatians: “I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law” (Gal. 5:2–3). The false teachers are saying, “Just get circumcised and follow these food laws. It’s going to be great.” But Paul tells them if they sign on the dotted line, they’re obligating themselves to an entire religious system. That’s the fine print. They’re about to obligate themselves to obey all of the law—perfectly.
“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law, you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Are there more terrifying words in the New Testament? Paul is very concerned. There are two ways to be justified before God. We either, through our own efforts, perfectly obey the law, or we trust in a mediator who, standing between us and God, fulfills the law in our place. If the Galatians choose to submit to the law, obligating themselves to moral perfection, they’re by definition rejecting Christ as their mediator. They’re rejecting the grace God offers.
Called to Freedom
So, he reminds them that God has called them to freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). The ideas of slavery and freedom would have had enormous resonance to both the Jews and Gentiles in Galatia.
In Paul’s day, slaves made up about 20 percent of the population in Rome, and it’s likely that a large proportion of the people in the New Testament churches were slaves. If slaves earned enough money, they could purchase their freedom. But since they didn’t have legal rights, they couldn’t enter into a contract. Instead, they’d bring their money to a pagan temple and give it to the deity—Apollo or whoever—who would “purchase” their freedom. Paul’s phrase here, “For freedom,” often appeared on the legal documents in these situations.
For the Jews in Paul’s audience, slavery and freedom would evoke the great Old Testament story of salvation: the Exodus. The Egyptians had enslaved the sons of Abraham and “set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens” (Exod. 1:11). But God responded to their plight: “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exod. 3:23–24). Because of his covenant with Abraham, God liberated his people from the crushing burden of slavery. Then he made a covenant with them at Mount Sinai. Through the Exodus, God had made Israel his people and constituted them as a nation.
Paul calls that covenant—the Mosaic covenant—the “yoke” from which God is freeing his people: “Paul understood that Israel’s existence ‘under the law’ was a condition of Egypt-like bondage.” Desiring to return to the law was like Israel wanting to return to bondage in Egypt.
It wasn’t just 20 percent of the Galatians who were enslaved. Every human being is born enslaved to sin: Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female. But in Christ, our slavery comes to an end. In Galatians 3:28, Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In a spiritual sense, Paul collapses these social distinctions. All are enslaved to sin, but we’re united in freedom through Christ, our mediator, who obeyed the law perfectly in our place.
This is an excerpt from The Letter of Paul to the Galatians, a Core Bible study that aims to help you get the gospel right so that you can live in the freedom Christ has purchased for you. Check it out here.
 Matthew S. Schwartz, ”When Not Reading The Fine Print Can Cost Your Soul,” Nevada Public Radio, March 8, 2019, https://knpr.org/npr/2019–03/when–not–reading–fine–print–can–cost–your–soul.