‘You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.’
So we are called to be free, but not freedom in the sense that we can do as we wish, but freedom in that we can positively affect our world. Last week we saw a DVD of the work at Cedar House in Dublin and it focussed on Ray, a man who was trying to get his life back together after spending a long period of time using heroin and alcohol. He was, at the time of the film, using prescribed Methadone to come off of the heroin and he spoke of his search for Jesus and what he stands for. One line that stuck in my mind was what Ray called the ‘golden rule’. It was… treat others as you would like to be treated. In verse 14 Paul says it like this,
“Love your neighbour as yourself.”
If we were to do that, to love our neighbours as we love ourselves, to treat others as we want to be treated, how different would our lives be? Verse 15 gives us a picture of what happens now;
If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
A group of people who care for each other, who don’t gossip about whoever isn’t there, who aren’t negative about what happens (or doesn’t happen) in the group can accomplish amazing things.
Illustration; ‘the hermit’s gift’ Hot Illustrations For Youth Talks
Love your neighbour as yourself is a two way thing; we are to show love to those around us, not a romantic, Hollywood style of love but a care, a respect, a love that goes beyond liking. We are also to love ourselves. Over the last few Sundays, the youth have been looking at The Salvation Army position on abstinence from alcohol, both the historical roots for it and why we still adhere to it today. It comes down to self respect, a refusal to damage our bodies and a loyalty to some of those who the Army works with, namely alcoholics and the same reasoning applies to drugs and tobacco. We do not want to harm ourselves or lead others into activities that will harm them.
Paul says to the Galatians, and us, that to be free means not satisfying the desires of ‘the sinful nature’, because to do that would put us back into slavery again. Think about it, using alcohol again as an example, someone with a drink problem gets saved and then gets told that they can do whatever they want, in most cases the need/desire for alcohol is still strong, satisfying that need will lead them straight back into slavery again, their life will revolve around getting a drink and then another, and then another…and so it goes on. But the sinful nature is not just about addictions; look again at verses 19 – 21
‘The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 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.’
Look down the list; is there anything that rings a bell? Fits of rage? Jealousy? Selfish ambition? Remember, this list is not exhaustive, it finishes with the words ‘…and the like’. Anything that we do that is not quite right, a little bit dodgy; an attitude or behaviour that we wish we did not have could have been put into the list. Compare it with the fruit of the Spirit
‘…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’
Paul says fruit, not fruits, of the Spirit; I grew up with an image of a tree from which you could pick, love or peace, or gentleness, but that is a wrong image. The fruit of the Spirit can be compared better to an orange; it is one fruit but is made up of different segments and if one of those segments is missing the fruit is not whole. A person cannot choose which they like from love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, it is a complete package. And it is not a package that is easy to get. When a person comes to faith, when they believe in Jesus as their Saviour, God does not say;
“Here you go, eat this holy orange and you will have the fruit of the Spirit and it will all be plain sailing.”
No, we have to work at it; we each have tendencies in our characters that we do not want. We each have things that we do before we have time to think about them. It is easy to say, “Oh that’s just me, there’s nothing I can do about it”. Rubbish!!
‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.’
Do you understand what that means? It means that we have taken those parts of our characters that we do not like, that we know are contrary to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit and we have crucified them! We have hammered nails into them and those nails hold them to the only place where they can be got rid of, the cross of Jesus! It is a deliberate act, the Romans did not take Jesus, lay him on a piece of wood and drop nails onto him hoping that some would hold him to the cross; no! They took the nails placed them against his flesh and hammered them through! It was deliberate and they knew what they were doing. Our decision to crucify our sinful nature has to be deliberate and we have to know what we are doing. No one can come to God flippantly, too many people have done so in the past and when it came to the crunch they did not know what it meant to be a Christian, they had either seen, or been given, a view of Christianity that ignored the less pretty bits, the commitment, the process of becoming free from our vices.
I finish with the question that we started with this evening, would you be free? (Salvation Army Songbook 281)Are you prepared, to deliberately and purposefully crucify your sinful nature? Will you become the person you want to be, the person that treats others as you would want to be treated? The person who loves others as themselves and learns to love themselves? Then come to the only place at which it can happen, the cross. It is only at the cross that we can start our journey towards freedom, it is at the cross that we can get help to continue our journey; it is at the cross that we can be made whole again. Will you be free?