Tuesday, 2 July 2013

freedom in Christ- Gal 5


Imagine that the Prime minister of Canada made a special announcement that tickets for traffic violations would no longer be given. You won’t get a ticket for running a red light. You won’t get a ticket for speeding. You could drive on the wrong side of the road and no police will pull you over. … Would you drive any differently? … You are free from the condemnation of the law, but there are still consequences to our actions. You are free from receiving a ticket, but you might still feel the consequences of driving dangerously.
We think of freedom in a pretty individualistic way. In the modern western mind Freedom is being allowed to do whatever I want, whenever I want, with whoever I want.  Freedom is being unrestricted in deciding to do whatever we desire to do. Freedom is having no responsibilities, and no interference with us reaching our desired goal. This is a concept of freedom many people carry around with them.     
We think of slavery as the flip side of this. Obviously there is literal historical slavery (which still exists in more places than we would like to admit), but we also see slavery in a more symbolic way. So we speak about being slaves to our jobs. We can see any obligation or responsibility as a kind of slavery. We talk about being “trapped” in relationships, or being “tied down”. Any sort of responsibility can be viewed as a kind of bondage and enemy of freedom. … these definitions of freedom and slavery are not Biblical views. They are popular views, but they are not really very helpful or realistic views.
If we went back to the driving analogy, how free would you feel to drive on a road where every driver felt individually free to drive on the road however they liked? I think most of us would stay at home rather than venture out on roads where drivers exercised their personal freedom to choose which side of the road to drive on and run red lights. It would actually restrict our freedom to get from point A to B. Are the patterns of behavior we call the rules of the road really a kind of slavery?  The popular definition of freedom is coloured by selfishness and a disregard for community.  It’s not a very practical or helpful view of freedom.
            In our reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatians Paul is telling his readers what freedom looks like. He has informed them that they are free from the condemnation of the law. They will not receive a heavenly ticket for not being circumcised, or following the Biblical festivals, or eating Kosher. Some visitors have been trying to convince them that these outward signs of membership with God’s people are important, but Paul sees this as a kind of slavery that Christ came to free us from. It is trust in Jesus that matters and makes us one with his people. They are free from the Torah Law, but that doesn’t mean a life without consequences. Paul says that basically there are two ways of living before them now. They can live according to the “Spirit”, or they can live according to the “flesh”.  
            By “flesh” Paul isn’t necessarily talking about skin and muscle. He is talking about that part of ourselves that is driven by disordered and broken desires. It is the part of ourselves that is vulnerable to temptation and corruption. The “flesh” is the person we are not proud to be. It is the part of us that is still under the influence of Sin. Some people have translated “flesh” as “the false self”. The Old Testament Law was often trying to limit the damage of this side of ourselves, but it was really just managing its consequences.  
            Alternatively, we can live by the “Spirit”. By this Paul means our true selves as God created us to be. Living by the Spirit is living under the guidance and lordship of Jesus. It is life as part of the people of God, and it is freedom because of who we belong to. Living by the Spirit means that the Holy Spirit is active and alive inside us binding us to God’s people and to God.
            Paul says a fleshly life looks like this: “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like”.  Life ruled by sinful desire is really just another kind of slavery. For example, hatred usually comes out of some kind of brokenness. Someone who is filled with hatred is not free. If you have ever felt that it is not a nice state of being. Hate eats at you. It controls you. It is a state of being that has enslaved you.  The same goes for fits of rage and anger.  Rage usually comes from a desire to control. Rage is not really a state anyone wants to live in. It does not lead to a happy life. A life ruled by sinful desire is a life where our desires are imbalanced and we are ruled by them. We become slaves to selfishness, fear, hate, and anger. To the immature this might look like freedom, but really it is slavery.
              A life of freedom is a life in the Spirit. It is a life where our desires are put in order under Christ. Life in the Spirit is life as it was meant to be lived. It is when we fully realize who we are and who we were created to be. Paul says The Spirit filled life looks like this: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. These are not laws. We don’t make joy into a law. Joy is a result of life that trusts Jesus. When you’re living in the Spirit these things naturally flow out of you as a part of your personality. We are in the process of transformation and so at the beginning we might have to ask God’s help to learn forbearance (or patience), but it will eventually flow out of us naturally the more our life comes under the dominion of Christ. Eventually the unnatural thing will be anger and impatience, because patience has become such a part of our character.     
            Freedom is based on whose we are. Freedom is based on the Lord we serve. And we do not have the choice to not have a master- we serve some master whether we are aware of it or not. Our Christian freedom is not based on rights and what we can get away with without any punishment. The New Testament scholar Gordon Fee says, "Freedom is not to be free for self, but for others. The real question is not whether an action is 'lawful' or 'all right,' but whether it is good, whether it benefits. Truly Christian conduct is not predicated on whether I have the right to do something, but whether my conduct is helpful to those around me".  It's not a matter of if I can get away with it- God won't mind that much. It's a matter of whether those around me benefit.  Our freedom is almost like a joyful chosen slavery to serve others in love.  
I was watching a TV show once called "Intervension". The show is basically a mini documentary about a person and their struggle with an addiction. They tell their story and the story of their families and how their addiction has affected the people around them. There was an episode with a young girl named Dallas. She had a difficult time growing up and at some point decided to experiment with drugs. No doubt at first it felt like freedom. It probably felt like an escape from her life. So perhaps her drug use could have been considered a kind of freedom. She was doing what she wanted and no one was able to stop her. In watching the show, however, nobody watching could say that she was free. She was trading anything of any value for drugs, she was homeless, she was even prostituting herself for drugs (and her boyfriend seemed to be okay with it). [...] Is this freedom? Always working and scheming to find your next fix? Destroying your family and the people you care about? Destroying your body and selling it to strangers to get high? Is that freedom? ...  I don't think anyone watching could see that as freedom. It was slavery to a desire for a drug.  The misuse of freedom can lead to another kind of slavery. You can make drugs your lord rather than Jesus.
The Preacher Frederick Beuchner says it this way, "To obey our strongest appetites for drink, sex, power, revenge, or whatever leaves us the freedom of an animal to take what we want when we want it, but not the freedom of a human being to be human." "The old prayer speaks of God 'in whose service is perfect freedom'. The paradox is not as opaque as it sounds. It means that to obey Love himself, who above all else wishes us well, leaves us the freedom to be the best and gladdest that we have it in us to become. The only freedom Love denies us is the freedom to destroy ourselves ultimately."
            Freedom is for love, not to bite and devour each other (as Paul says).  To bite and devour, and gossip, and nitpick, in the community is slavery to some brokenness inside ourselves.  Only the truly free can love. Christ was free to love. Even on the cross he was free to love. No one had the power to take that from him. The Spirit alive in us offers the same freedom. The Spirit offer to show us who we truly are- who we were created to be as God’s children.      
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