I know this may be hard for some of you to believe, but I actually was a pretty good kid in high school. My grades weren’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but otherwise I was a pretty good kid. I had a lot of friends, was involved with a lot of activities, had a job, and stayed out of trouble. Either because of my lack of bravery or lack of opportunity, I never had one of those crazy parties when my parents went out of town (like all the kids in the movies seem to do). I never wanted to take my freedom for granted. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve made some top-notch stupid decisions when given freedom. But, I just waited until after high school was over. The verse at 13 got me to thinking about all of that this week. “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.”
Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Hmmm. I am so grateful to be born and raised in this country. I have never known what it is like to not be free. I say what I want, do what I want, travel where I want, buy what I want, and talk to whomever I want without ever worrying about what I am doing. My fear in talking about freedom (especially among those of us who were born and raised in this country and may not know any different at all) is that we may not know what it is like to go without the simple freedoms of life. So it can prove difficult to talk about the ways we are held captive.
Paul writes in today’s passage about the down and dirty 15: fornication (nothing like starting out with a doozy), impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and carousing. When we hear this list, we might get a little worried because there might be one or more of those desires of the flesh that we have given into more than once in our life. Remember, Paul’s letter was written to the people of Galilee who were recent converts to Christianity. This wasn’t meant to be a letter of shaming. It’s easy to hear it that way. Paul wanted to remind the new Christians that they no longer had to bow and cower under the law of other religions that demanded you do things certain ways or pay the severe punishment. With Jesus came freedom. That freedom can be scary. Think about that for a moment. If you’ve been used to doing things a certain way your entire life, the freedom to either 1) stop or 2) do them whatever way you want can almost be overwhelming.
So, Paul wanted to, in the most Christian way possible, warn these new believers to not go overboard with this freedom. It’s as if Paul would have said “just because you’ve been forgiven doesn’t mean you can now just go and do whatever you want, sinning however and with whomever you desire.” An argument similar to this is used a lot by non-believers, right? I’ve heard people say “if God is going to forgive me anyway, why do I need to go to church? Why do I need to read my Bible? Why do I need to participate in ‘Christian acts’. On my deathbed I’ll just ask for forgiveness and be good.” First of all, none of us know when we’re going to die, so we’re not guaranteed that “deathbed moment” portrayed in movies so often. Your faith isn’t a “get out of jail free” card, brothers and sisters. We know that we fall to sin daily and that God’s forgiveness is a daily event, not a one time, end of life insurance policy.
Part of the reason I like Galatians so much is that it really has stood the test of time. So many of the temptations the Galatians fought on a daily basis are the same ones we battle. And the temptations of this world that we may fall to are forgiven by God on a daily basis. And with that forgiveness comes freedom. But what in the world do we do with our new found freedom? When we are forgiven for our sins, we are freed from the bondage of those sins. And the next logical question may be “so what?” So then our response should (of course) be gratitude, joy, and thanksgiving. But is that enough? Remembering that there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love (or our place in heaven) our response to the freedom from our sins comes from a different place than our place of intentions. Our response is almost primordial or guttural. Maybe it could be categorized as reactionary.
See, when we’re given freedom from our sins, that freedom should drive us out into the world anxious, almost on fire, to tell others about our freedom. This sounds a little extreme, but it should be as if we want to run out and shout from the rooftops “I’ve been forgiven!!” And then, we should practically break down doors, walls, barriers, whatever is in our way to serve one another in God’s name. I have preached about this concept before. The idea is freed from–freed for. We are freed from our sin and therefore freed for service to one another in God’s name. The forgiveness of sins should make us so giddy that we can’t wait to show that love to one another for Christ’s sake.
We should be so overwhelmed by the fruits of the spirit that we have no choice but to serve one another. We should be so overwhelmed that we can’t help but love our neighbor as we love ourselves. And it’s not on us to decide who deserves this freedom or this forgiveness because none of us deserve it. And yes, sometimes joy, peace, love, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control are difficult. But remember these are fruits of the spirit, and not our works. At the same time, when you’ve been forgiven, trust in that promise. Don’t keep beating yourself up for your sins that God forgave a long time ago. Is anger easier than peace? Sometimes. Is envy easier than generosity? Sometimes. But remember, when we are left on our own, we will always fail.
Brothers and sisters, we all have been freed from our sin. We are now freed for service to one another and to this world in God’s name. The spirit feeds us and and then drives us from this place into the world that is hungry for proof of love, proof of forgiveness, proof of healing, mercy, and wholeness. How awesome is it that we can be those people to the world? How amazing is our God that other people are living proof of that to us? Your chains are broken over and over and over. The bondage of sin no longer defines you. Your definition of failure has no place in God’s kingdom. The freedom from sin allows you, me, all of us to live fully into who God has called us to be: beloved children of God.