But now Paul turns the notion of freedom on its head. He says in 5:13
"For you were called to freedom brethern; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."Did you notice what Paul did there? He has essentially said "You've been freed. Now become slaves again." Most translations soften Paul's rhetoric by saying "serve one another" but the verb here comes from the same root as the word for slave. Paul is urging his churches in Galatia, who have been set free in Christ, to use their new found freedom to become slaves to one another in love.
This is a substantially different concept of freedom than we normally have. Usually, freedom is to be free from any restraint, it is to be allowed to do whatever we want, to fulfill all our own desires. But that is not the kind of freedom Paul believes the Galatians have been granted through Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul says it is the constant need to seek gratification of all our own selfish desires which is the real slavery. Therefore, true freedom is to no longer be enslaved to our own self-centeredness and as a result to be able to serve others in love.
In fact, Paul almost personifies these selfish desires, which Paul refers to as "the flesh", and the work of the Spirit as two parties warring again each other. In v.17, he says:
"For the flesh sets its desires against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please."Paul describes human beings as being incapable of complete autonomy; we will either be led by the Spirit or the Flesh. There is no middle ground. That is why Paul warned the Galatians in v. 16 not to allow their freedom to become an "opportunity" for the flesh. The word translated opportunity, aphormen, literally refers to a military base of operations. Paul does not want the Galatians freedom from the Law to become a forward operating base for their own selfish desires to run rampant in their lives which would lead to all the vices Paul lists in v. 19-21. Instead, the Galatians must walk by the Spirit and as a result bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
It is no accident that I am preaching from this passage on the day we celebrate our nation's independence and freedom. I count it a great privilege and blessing to have been born in America and it is hard to imagine living anywhere else. I also have respect for the men and women who give their lives to defend the political freedoms that we have as a nation. Anyone willing to give up their life for a cause bigger than themselves is worthy of respect. Yet I also know that the freedom we celebrate on the 4th of July is not the freedom which Christ died to bring us. In fact, while our political freedoms are important and good, they often become precisely the kind of operating base for our sinful desires which Paul describes. Without the work of the Spirit in us, our freedom to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" quickly becomes slavery to "my needs, my rights, and my greed".
While the language of rights and liberty might be the foundation of our nation's democracy, it is responsibility, submission, and Christ-like service to one another which make up the grammar of the Church's life together. The freedom Christ grants us as members of his body is not about what we like or don't like, its not about our plans, preferences, agenda, or desires. It is about allowing the Spirit to work in us so that we might be freed from precisely those things and then be able to put others ahead of ourselves just as Christ did. To be free in Christ is to be free to become a slave of Christ-like love to all.