13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.(Galatians 5:1: 13-25 NRSV)
Let’s be clear about one thing: there’s nothing wrong with God’s Law. God created it and gave it to God’s people as a guide in how to love the neighbor. Yes, it’s long: 613 of them as a matter of fact. But, it’s a good law that sets us apart. Our Jewish friends find great comfort in it.
The problem that Paul has with the law is in the way it’s used. We don’t need the Jewish law in order to be legalistic. Many a Christian sect has used legalistic rules to keep their people “in line.”
Jesus loved the law. He was clear about the use of the law when he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17 NRSV) In fulfilling the law, Jesus chose to remove the legalism and show us how to live out the law in an authentic fashion. To do that, he taught us how to get to the heart of the law to discover the depth of its meaning.
I’m reminded of the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Both entered the temple to pray. “The Pharisee standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner.'”(Luke 18:11-13 NRSV)
If you see yourself as better than others because of what you do, fall to knees. If you use the law to ingratiate yourself with God, it’s time for a long talk with God.
We are free. Free under Christ. Free to stand firm. Free to be an authentic human being. Free to enslave ourselves to each other.
Yes, that’s what I said: Free to enslave ourselves to each other. Perhaps this example may help: people in a committed marriage are free to love and care for each other. They are not free to have affairs with people outside of their marriage covenant. They are not free to disregard the wants and needs of their spouse.
We can be free within the Christian community or addicted to works of the flesh. Read the list slowly. This time we’ll use Eugene Peterson’s “The Message”:
19-21 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time:
- repetitive, loveless, cheap sex;
- a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage;
- frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness;
- trinket gods;
- magic-show religion;
- paranoid loneliness;
- cutthroat competition;
- all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants;
- a brutal temper;
- an impotence to love or be loved;
- divided homes and divided lives;
- small-minded and lopsided pursuits;
- the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival;
- uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions;
- ugly parodies of community… (Galatians 5:19-21 The Message)
These are things that have the power to eat our soul. Living in anger and enmity and strife provides a false sense of power. The Pharisee lorded his righteousness over the tax collector’s head. His self-centered malice separated him from God and humanity.
Anger in of it itself is not evil. There are things to be angry about: 2500 children dying every day because of starvation and curable disease is something to be angry at. Poverty should make all of us angry. Injustice, as well.
Anger can create in us a desire and a will to do something about it. To send assistance to developing nations; to get involved in poverty in our communities; to seek justice.
But when anger turns into a need to get even, to seek vengeance, to want immediate recompense, we enter dangerous territory. When anger turns to hate and we use a gun — we have entered a very dark place.
If we’re free within the limits of love and if we choose not to gratify works of the flesh, where does that leave us? If we take freedom too far we risk wallowing in fleshly stuff.
Follow Jesus. We are disciples of Jesus who understand our commitment to each other in love. We are disciples who read and study and worship together to build up our knowledge of the reality of Spirit fruit. Paul writes that when we belong to Christ, we have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Living by the Spirit means reaping the results of that life:
- Love, joy, peace: This is how we relate to God’s grace. These are God’s gifts to us: love that brings us joy and peace.
- Patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness: This is how we relate to each other: with compassion and understanding; seeing the holy in each other.
- Gentleness, self-control: This is how we relate to ourselves. The Spirit engages us in a better way to be that allows our God-created, authentic selves to shine through.
There’s freedom and there’s freedom. We’re free to be addicted to anger and vindictiveness and maliciousness and other toxic passions. Or, we can choose an even better way: to get into that perfectly crafted yoke with Jesus and show the world what authentic Christianity looks like.
Hard to do? Perhaps. Agape love isn’t romantic; it’s tough and gritty and honest. But, we’re in the world, not of it. How do you honor God’s call to authenticity within the fruit of the Spirit?
All glory and honor be to God.