Using Freedoms Wisely
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Freedom is a wonderful thing. This coming Thursday we’ll celebrate the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, to live in the home of the free, the land of the brave. Yet, with freedom comes responsibility. You don’t have the freedom to go up and punch somebody in the nose just because you feel like it. Your freedom stops where the other guy’s freedom starts.
In first century Christianity, Paul wrote today’s passage to the church in Galatia for a couple of reasons: First, many were still bound up in Old Testament laws designed for Jews, and were insisting that others follow them if they wanted to follow Jesus. For instance, part of today’s chapter that we skipped is all about circumcision. It was important when God first instituted it, but it was no longer required to follow Christ. If anybody ever adds any requirement to be a Christian other than to follow Christ, be wary. If anyone says, “Yeah, you need Christ, but you also need...to go to church every Sunday, you also need to be baptized, you also need to speak in tongues, you also need to worship on the right day of the week, you also need to completely abstain from alcohol, you also need to be circumcised” -- these may be good things, but they are not what gives you eternal life. If anyone ever adds a requirement for you to be a Christian besides following Christ, run the other direction! That is a cult in the making!
The other reason Paul wrote was to ensure people didn’t abuse their newfound freedom in Christ. Some were taking their freedom and going hog wild with it, living selfishly for their own pleasures and hurting others in the process. So Paul gives some principles for using freedoms wisely. I’ve summarized them down to three on your outline. First,
1. Serve one another in love
Paul told them in verse 1 that they were free in Christ. And in verse 13, he said, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Paul used a term here, “flesh,” that is also translated “human nature,” “carnal nature,” or “sinful nature.” It means who we are apart from Christ, our propensity to sin, to pursue our own selfish interests. He says that part of you is dead. In verse 24, he says it has been crucified with Christ. As you invite Jesus to take control of your life, that part of you dies with him on the cross so to speak. But it’s still there. Even though that old self is dead, it still rears its ugly head. Don’t listen to it. Instead, Paul says, “Serve one another humbly in love.” As you focus on the needs of others, you tend to be less self-centered. You don’t have time!
Paul gives a picture of the exact opposite of humble, loving service. In verse 15 he describes wild animals devouring each other. Our son’s dog decided to corner a porcupine this week, and she got a mouth full of quills out of the deal. Animals are not always kind to each other. Humans aren’t either. Yet, the Christian should be different.
There is an allegory sometimes attributed to C.S. Lewis, and sometimes to Rabbi Haim. The picture is of people in hell who have rather large forks and spoons. Each one is three feet long. And they are constantly frustrated at the banquet table because they can’t get any food into their mouth. Hell is one long frustration. However, heaven uses the exact same gigantic forks and spoons, and there everyone is feasting and having a grand old time! The difference? They are feeding one another, across the table. Serve one another in love. And secondly,
2. Walk by the Spirit
In verse 16, Paul encouraged them with these words: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The solution to self-centered living is to “walk by the Spirit.” The idea is to allow yourself to be continuously filled by God’s Holy Spirit. Jesus told the disciples, “Hey, I have to go away, because if I don’t, I can’t send you the Comforter, the Helper, the Paraclete.” And later he tells them, “I will be with you always.” The way he does that is through God’s Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who is the very manifestation of God the Father, of Jesus the Son, in our lives at every moment. We are never alone!
When we are “filled with the Spirit,” that means we are living in full awareness of God’s presence and full surrender to God’s leading. We are the mere vessel for God to use in carrying out his plans. We understand that he is the potter and we are the clay. When we walk with God in this way, we are walking by the Spirit.
Now walking implies activity. The Greek word Paul chose is literally translated, “Go on walking.” The Christian life isn’t just sitting around waiting for God to do something. It’s watching and moving and living, obeying in the last thing God told you to do, in great anticipation of what he will do next. It’s praying as you go, so you are doing what scripture says, to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). It’s being aware of God’s presence in and around you all the time.
Jesus said, in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We are connected to Jesus through the Holy Spirit. That is where our strength comes from. I found this vine weed choking the life out of some small trees on our property, and so I cut it out. I couldn’t reach all of it up in the trees, but I cut it at the base and pulled out what I could. You know what happened? After a day or two, the vine that had wrapped itself around our trees had died. Its branches couldn’t survive without the vine base. That’s the way it is with us and God. We can fake it for a while, but only for so long. If we’re not staying connected to God--in prayer, in scripture, in recharging with other believers, in worship, in service to God--we’re going to lose our strength. We’re going to burn out fast.
When we stay plugged into God’s Spirit within us, we lose the desire to gratify what Paul calls the “desires of the flesh,” all those things that are not good for us. Paul describes some of them in his examples: sexual sin, religious substitutes for God, and severe anger issues. This is not intended to be an exclusive “keep you out of heaven” list. These are just examples of what can get out of control in your life when you’re not plugging into God’s presence on a regular basis. So as I’ve said before, the key is not trying harder, it’s trusting more!
You know how, when you lose your temper, you might say something you instantly regret. And you shout after it, “I’m so sorry! That wasn’t me at all!!!” The problem is, that WAS you! That was bad fruit creeping out of your life because you’re not walking by the Spirit.
The third step is similar to the second. We need to...
3. Live in sync with the Spirit
Paul gives a good military analogy for us in verse 25. He writes, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Anyone who’s ever been to basic training knows about keeping in step. Paul’s point is to not only walk in the Spirit, but keep up the same pace, watching regularly for what God wants to do in and through and around you. You know how obvious it is if one person gets out of step with the rest of the formation. You can tell it from a mile away. So here, you’re merely keeping cadence with the Holy Spirit.
Paul writes in another chapter of this same letter, in Galatians 2:20, a very famous Bible verse: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul so yielded his life to God that he felt like it was not his life anymore to live. He recognized that Jesus loved him so much, had sacrificed so much for him, that he literally owed Jesus Christ everything he had, his very life. It’s like, if someone saved your life in combat, you would feel a debt to them for the rest of your life.
When you get an attitude like that, you start walking in step with the Spirit. You line up your life with God so much that you are in sync with God. This is the context for praying for whatever you want, and God will give it to you. Why? Because you are in step with God’s perfect will. And something amazing happens. Look at the verse at the bottom of your outline, verses 22 and 23 of today’s passage. God starts manifesting fruit in your life, what scripture calls the “fruit of the Spirit.” You become more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, etc.
What I like about this verse is that the word “fruit” in the Greek is in the singular. There is but one “fruit of the Spirit” that every believer receives over time, depending on how much you cooperate with the Holy Spirit. Because it’s the Spirit bringing about the growth, not you or me. You know what happens when you try really hard to be patient. You keep it up for a while, but then you lose it. You lose your temper. You can’t force the fruit. What you can do is walk in sync with the Spirit in your life and allow the Spirit to produce all of these qualities naturally in you as you keep your eyes on God. Let’s pray about it together:
Thank you, Father, for your presence with us wherever we go, in the form of your Holy Spirit, this third member of the Trinity we don’t understand too well. Yet, we get that this Spirit is you, and he’s up to something great in each one of us, as we learn to walk in the Spirit and to live in sync with the Spirit. Help us align our lives with your constant presence within us, in the name of the One who gave himself up for us on a cross, Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.
There was one little boy in the teacher's class who really struggled to learn.
One day the teacher asked him who signed the Declaration of Independence, and of course he didn't know.
The teacher asked him every day for a week but still he couldn’t give the right answer.
Finally, in desperation, she called the boy’s father to come and see her. She said to him, “Your boy won’t tell me who signed the Declaration of Independence.”
The father said to his son, “Come here, boy, and sit down.”
The boy dutifully did as he was told and then his dad said to him, “Now if you signed that stupid thing, just admit it so we can get out of here.”
1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.