Yet unrestrained self-indulgence, uncontrolled freedom, is rarely harmless. It always leads to using others for one’s own ends, while the sinful self is always unfulfilled and never satisfied.
Paul offers a radically different understanding of freedom. The freedom Christ gives is not freedom for self-indulgence but freedom from self for service to others.
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AS WE APPROACH the 4th of July, we think of the Declaration of Independence and freedom.
Three thousand years before Thomas Jefferson drafted that document, the Hebrew people suffered under bondage in Egypt. They yearned for freedom. God sent a man named Moses who demanded of Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” When Pharaoh refused, God delivered.
A thousand years later, the people were again oppressed, both by the Roman Empire. God sent a man named Jesus. In his first sermon, he preached of his anointment by the Holy Spirit “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives … to let the oppressed go free.”
This same liberating Jesus later said to his followers, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free … so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8)
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IN PAUL’S LETTER to the Galatians, it seems as if the churches are divided into camps.
● One group thinks you must stick to the requirements of religious ritual as symbolized in circumcision — they are the legalists. They say freedom in Christ is all well and good, but there’s something comfortable, secure, living in a world of a thousand dos and don’ts.
Paul condemns them. That’s not deciding for Jesus. In essence he tells them, shut up and listen — by grace and by grace alone we are saved.
● Another camp in the churches is made up of those who believe that freedom means license to do whatever you please. I referenced this in the introductory sermon. That’s still an issue in churches today. “I’m covered by the blood of Christ so I can do whatever I want.” • “I can live how I want to tonight and ask for forgiveness later.”
They take the grace thing too far, what is often referred to today as “cheap grace.”
What does that live like? 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.
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SUPPOSE I TOLD YOU that Lisa said she loves me with a never-ending love. In fact, she loves me so much that she will forever and always stay married to me and care for me and love me no matter what.
What would my response be? I could see that as open season to do whatever I want. Stay out late. Have a mistress. Abuse her. All of those things and worse because I have no fear of her leaving therefore I have license to do as I please.
Is that an appropriate way to respond to her unqualified love? Of course not.
Paul makes it clear — by God’s grace we are free. But it’s not, “Okay, I can do anything I please.”
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HERE IS AN EASY ANSWER to what it means to be saved, what it is to live with the freedom in Christ. St. Augustine once said, “Love God and do as you please.” What does that mean?
Now, suppose I told you that Lisa expressed her undying faithful forever love to me. And my response to that is to love her with a reciprocal love — undying faithful forever love.
Now, how would I treat her? I have freedom to do whatever I want to do, but what I want to do is live in a way that honors her. Does that make sense? I love Lisa and I can do what I want to do. What I want to do is show Lisa how much I love her.
That might mean washing dishes, cooking meals, someday caring for her in great illness, or even walking with her through death. It might mean caring for our children; providing help for what’s important to her.
Do I have to do those things? Is there a law somewhere that states that? No, of course not. But do I want to do those things? Absolutely! I find great pleasure in living in a way that pleases and honors her.
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TO LOVE GOD AND DO AS WE PLEASE is complicated. To love God sounds easy. To do as we please might sound like permission to do anything. But when they are put together when we love God then what we want to do (anything we want to do) is stuff that’s pleasing to God. That celebrates God. That shows our love for God. And what pleases God. Care for the poor, hungry, hurting, lonely, sick, dying. Lift up the broken. Welcome the outcasts. Paul quotes Jesus, “the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”
Paul’s understanding of love (agapε), of course, is not about sentimentality or warm feelings. It is the self-giving love God has shown us in Christ, “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). This kind of love goes far beyond what the law demands. It is an all-encompassing way of life, constantly seeking to serve the neighbor. Live in such a way that the fruit of the Spirit ripens in you — love God and this is how you will live toward God and others — love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
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IMAGINE A FAMILY, A CHURCH, A COUNTRY where everyone loves God and then does as one pleases.
— Keith Cardwell