"For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another." Galatians 5:13-15
What is true freedom? In our day, everyone wants it, but no one can find it. To some, it means the ability to choose who you love and marry. For others, it means living apart from dependence on the government. For yet others the definition is fluid: the autonomy to do whatever you want without any hindrance whatsoever. But Christianity alone offers the path to freedom. And, surprisingly to many, that freedom comes through submitting yourself to the rule of Christ.
The truth of the matter is this: no matter what we may believe about our experience of freedom, until we have given ourselves as slaves to Christ, we will be bound to the slavery of our desires. We are not wonderful masters. We are oppressors. What we need is an exodus out of slavery—even the slavery of our own making.
What we need is not the fulfillment of our desires, but the crucifixion of our desires. We need the Holy Spirit to awaken us to God and to real freedom—the freedom found in God himself. When that happens, we stop treating other people as stepping stones to our own freedom, and begin serving them in humility so they might experience the same freedom we’ve found in Christ.
Many misunderstand the freedom Christianity offers. Law-keepers see grace as the pathway to sin. But the Christian is not free to sin. Christianity is freedom from sin. It is possible to use our freedom as a soldier would a base of operations, i.e. we can use the freedom we’ve gained as an excuse to go on the offensive, hurtling ourselves toward whatever we want. But to use our freedom in that way is to use it as a launchpad back into slavery. If a fish bound to the ocean chooses to use his freedom to jump onto the shore, he will become a slave to the air and he will begin to die. If he stays in the ocean, however, he is free to go and do whatever he wants. Real freedom is not the absence of all boundaries; it is the presence of proper ones. And the only place we can find proper boundaries is in the one who created the borders of the universe.
The false teachers’ self-righteous law-keeping led to the persecution of believers, including Paul. Since they could not grasp the grace of Christ, and the freedom thereof, they captured the Galatians in the snare of the law. Thinking they were obeying it, they violated it instead. They wanted only to make much of themselves, so they used the members of the church as stepping stones to their personal glory. They took the second table of the law and smashed it on the heads of their fellow church members. To obey the law is to love your neighbor as yourself. They loved only themselves. Whatever good intentions they had, they disobeyed the law because they failed to love others.
There is logic in the gospel, though this isn’t apparent to the merely moral man. The moral man wants only to obey the rules so that he feels good about himself. He aims to look back at the end of his life and be able to say, “I was a good man. I did some good—more good than bad. I earned my way. I am okay.” But this morality is not the life Jesus came and died to give.
The logic of the gospel tells us that our goodness cannot come from us. Adam ruined our chance before we were even born. But Jesus Christ entered our world, lived the obedient life we couldn’t live, died the guilty death we deserved, and rose to new life, showing us our future glorification if we will only follow him. The gospel says we can’t obey because our heart is of the wrong sort and we need a new one. By grace, Jesus has purchased the new heart for us and, through the Spirit, regenerates us, removing our hardened heart of stone and replacing it with a tender heart of flesh. This new heart has new capacities of love and obedience the stoney heart could only hope for.
This new heart not only longs to obey God and, since it’s God-given, it comes with God’s instincts included. It also longs to love others because, in doing so, we fulfill the law. The redeemed heart does not despise obedience to God. The redeemed heart is the only kind of heart that truly wants to obey God because its desire is born of God. The unredeemed heart, no matter how “good” its intentions, leads to biting and devouring, because only one man can stand on top. But the redeemed heart is willing to lose it all because he has already gained Christ. He needs not bite and devour, but only be humble and serve. In doing so, he finds not a loss of joy, but the discovery of it. He’s following his Master’s footsteps all the way to glory.
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared at David's blog, Things of the Sort.