For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
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 neighbour as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
(Galatians 5:1,13-25 ESV)
Why do you do what you do?
Why do you behave the way you do?
Does your behaviour change with the environment or the context? Why? Why not?
Interesting questions for a Sunday morning / afternoon. I suspect that there would be a host of thoughts along the lines of …
I do what I want to do.
I do what others want me to do.
I do what gets me rewards.
I do things so I won’t get into trouble.
My behaviour is fixed; my behaviour is contextual; my behaviour is determined by my indigestion or whether I’m known or not.
Like Pavlov’s dogs, we’ve learned quickly enough about cause and effect – our behaviour can get us accolades or punishments. Generally, obedience to rules is rewarded while disobedience is sanctioned. In countless ways, we’re all told that such is the way of the world – get used to it.
So where does freedom fit in?
Are we only free to obey whatever rules we find ourselves in?
More interesting questions for a Sunday morning / afternoon.
And then there’s religion with God and the big rules and the big reward and the big punishment and it isn’t hard to see how humanity basically understands religion as a type of behaviour to get into God’s good books.
Paul tells the Galatians that they are free – that their lifestyles are best understood as freedom – that Christ has lived and died for humanity precisely so that we can live as free agents. It is actually a radical message. It is also a dangerous message.
Why? Because everyone knows that you just can’t tell people that they’re free for history and our own experience suggests that real freedom can easily lead to chaos, to a survival of the fittest, to the jungle of strong over the weak, to the world of the lord of the flies. So parents and kings, if they talk about freedom, talk about freedom within limits, boundaries, a qualified freedom, responsibilities. Real freedom is too dangerous for humans to have – and we can sense this – and so limits, boundaries, rules, laws, sanctions, punishments are set up and we can have freedom within that.
But Paul seems insistent. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery …
It is very easy to turn Jesus into a Moses, a law giver, a task master, and to think of him as setting up rules for living – obedience means rewards and disobedience means punishment. Such is the common view of the world – Christianity is all about do’s and don’ts – and the idea that Christians are actually free is laughable.
However Paul’s insistence that Christians are free makes no sense if his message was just a second edition of the Old Testament – same rules, different tune. Paul was not sexy-ing up Christianity as the latest version of religious behaviour because all the religions of the world use ethics and behaviour to achieve the goals of salvation, deity appeasement, and works righteousness. Such religions are not free. Paul was insistent that the freedom of the Christian was new and radical because the gospel of Jesus is new and radical. This freedom was not an euphemism for making people toe the line according to certain norms and standards – which people love (because it means that we can so easily judge everyone around us).
Paul’s insistence on freedom was the consequence of the liberation that Jesus achieved on the cross. Face it, if your eternal future is secure, what are you going to do today?
As I mentioned briefly to the children, all behaviour is ultimately governed by relationships – with ourselves, our egos, those around us. Few people can really make us do anything. We do all the things we do because of the relationships we’re in and the consequences (good or bad) we assume will come of them.
Christians are people who relate to the Lord Jesus Christ, to his Father, and also the Holy Spirit. ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ Nothing. This sets the priority for all our relationships. The cross is the foundation of how we live, how we view ourselves and those around us. Christians are a new creation – accomplished by Christ – in baptism, through his Word, strengthened at his table – and now we live with a freedom that is truly amazing.
We can describe this freedom that our relationship with Christ entails in two ways.
In relation to ourselves – we will struggle – we are free to struggle as we live what we believe in faith. Everybody struggles with all sorts of things – temper, attitudes, behaviours, weight, self esteem, etc. Christians struggle with sin not because they’re ‘bad’ or they have poor self worth but precisely because
they’re loved and they want to grow in that love. Why let lust, rage, pride, jealousy, worry, sulkiness, arrogance stifle love, cripple and imprison you, when we know in Christ that there is another way to live – forgiven, new starts, each day? Paul reminds us that this new behaviour is a gift – well, fruit really, from the Holy Spirit – we don’t produce it but we have the freedom to cultivate it.
In relation to others, Christians have a remarkable freedom. Paul said in the missing verses between today’s reading that “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal 5:6). God has placed us in relationships and he now directs us to live in those relationships – using our gifts and talents, our
sanctified common sense – with a remarkable freedom – no formula driven lives here – just the continual response of love. My Lord loves me – this love has captured me – I want to share this love – at home, on the flight line, in the hospital ward, buying petrol, eating, all the moments of our lives. This is not a soppy life but a life that engages people and circumstances – not with rules or formulas – but in and with a relationship with Jesus. There is a freedom here to serve, to be served, to do whatever is the loving thing at that moment – and it makes you alive!
Why do you do what you do?
Lord Jesus, help us live as your disciples!
- Galatians 5:1 - 25