True freedom is more than just doing what we want. In fact, this kind of freedom often becomes a kind of slavery. The freedom to act on our whims, whether that be staying up all night, eating anything we want, dealing only with people who please us, these “freedoms” are not freedoms at all, but false attractions that lead us away from true freedom.
Galatians talks about these false attractions as “works of the flesh.” These works are our attempts to gratify our own desires without concern for our relationship with God, with each other, or with ourselves. These “works of the flesh” stem from the desire to be free from the hard work of relating to God, to others, and to self. Ultimately, they are however, another yoke of slavery that consumes our relationships.
These works of the flesh are opposed to the Spirit within us, says Galatians. These desires for self-gratification keep us from the freedom possible in Christ. The advice is given, “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence.” A list is provided of ways we act out our self-indulgence, from idolatry, to envy, to drunkenness. A common thread through each is an abuse of freedom that impacts on our relationships. We become consumed by one another as we give in to these works of the flesh.
In modern language, these desires of the flesh have come to be called addictions. What begins as an exercise of freedom, whether to smoke or to drink, to work, to watch television or use the Internet excessively, becomes a kind of slavery. Persons in recovery say the first step is to admit powerlessness and turn to a Higher Power. Galatians says the first step is to turn from “works of the flesh” and experience the “fruits of the Spirit.” In both cases, there is a need to let go of ourselves and our desires and let God bring healing. This healing brings true freedom.
True freedom is not freedom from relationships, but freedom to live within relationships. Though you may not struggle with addictions, all of us have felt the tension of trying to make our relationships work. Parents who try to understand their children, to provide enough freedom and enough discipline. Brothers and sisters who want different things and struggle for control and attention. Friends who bear the pain of being misunderstood. Relationships do not come easily and this creates a desire within us to want to escape, to find some form of freedom from the tension. When we are unable to create peace and harmony, we are tempted in our frustration to give up and at times we do.
Galatians makes this appeal to believers, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” And in verse 26, in more practical terms, “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”
Galatians provides us with some practical words on Christian living. Not just living as an individual Christian, but being a part of a Christian community. As much as we try to live out our faith in community, we are going to run into obstacles. Though we have been touched by the Spirit of Christ, we maintain the works of the flesh and this creates tension within us and among us. We are tempted to measure our holiness against each other, to see who is the most Christ-like. We become frustrated by the sins of others and fail to notice the sins within us.
In his book, “Life Together” Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this difficulty of being in a Christian community with diverse individuals. It becomes essential, in the midst of our diversity, to uphold the value of each individual. He writes:
Strong and weak, wise and foolish, gifted or ungifted, pious or impious, the diverse individuals in the community, are no longer incentives for talking and judging and condemning, and thus excuses for self-justification. They are rather cause for rejoicing in one another and serving one another. Each member in the community is given a particular place of service… Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship.
Our fellowship depends not on everyone thinking alike, but on drawing out the unique gifts of service from each different member.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are fruits that have been planted in our hearts by our faith in Christ. We don’t need to create them, but allow them to grow in the community of faith, watered by the truth of God’s word. Let us be guided by the Spirit, that our lives might bear fruits such as these.
True freedom is not doing what we want, but being who we are, children of God.