For true freedom, the Holy Spirit must live inside and guide

by Kyle
published June 7, 2014


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I had a government professor in college who told me something I never forgot, “Liberty is the ability to do what you should, not the freedom to do what you want.”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians largely concerns liberty. Someone began preaching in Galatia that in order to be truly saved, men needed to be circumcised and all people had to follow the statutes described by Moses in the first five books of the Bible, which the Bible refers to as “the Law.”

This idea, however, is the complete opposite of the Gospel. Paul over and over again emphasizes that believers in Christ are no longer bound by the Law (as opposed to human law under which we can still be arrested, fined, imprisoned, etc).

Christians are not even required to follow the Ten Commandments. They are part of the Law and as believers we are no longer under the law. Every sin, every infraction and every omission in the past, present and future has already been forgiven if you are in Christ. The rules are no longer even enforceable because those in Christ will never be punished for any of the rules they break.

It would seem, then, that Christians get a hall pass to do whatever they want without being punished. And technically, that’s true, but Christians who live that way miss the point altogether. Our liberty is not intended to be freedom for doing whatever we want.

In Galatians 5, Paul directly addresses the parties who created the occasion for him to write to Galatia. To those who have believed the lie which someone had begun preaching among them, Paul said that if someone wants to be circumcised because they believe it will save them, then those same people create a logical obligation to the rest of the Law, which no one can follow.

To those preaching the lie, Paul spends very little time. In Verse 12, he asks them why they don’t start cutting at their own fully developed genitals. Paul actually uses the word “mutilation.”

Then Paul gets to the good stuff. He explains how Christ did not set believers free from the Law so they could continue to sin, but so they would be specially enabled to love God and to love the people God loves without being encumbered by burdensome rules like ones about how to do your laundry. (Seriously, check out Leviticus 13.)

“If I don’t have a list of rules to follow,” you might ask, “How do I know what I should and shouldn’t do?”

Instead of follow some autocratic set of rules, God sent the Holy Spirit to live inside of and guide believers. Paul calls believers to first stop sinning (Galatians 5:13), then to follow the Holy Spirit living in them.

I wish I could explain objectively, step-by-step, how following the Holy Spirit works, but that would create another list of rules and defeat the point altogether. Paul offers no practical explanation of how people interact with and follow the indwelling Holy Spirit, either. He gives two descriptions, however: the deeds of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.

The former lists all kinds of bad behavior while the latter describes ideal personality traits: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Instead of rules, these lists are indicators. If you “walk by the Spirit, ... you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16) If you focus on what you want for your self, you will naturally do the immoral things Paul calls them the deeds of the flesh. Conversely, if you focus your life on what God wants as a function of your relationship with him through Christ, then the beautiful qualities will happen naturally.

Again, this fruit doesn’t grow because of a set of rules, but because you are allowing the Spirit to work in you to make you into a better person. Only once people put their walk with God and their faith in Christ first do they begin to naturally follow the core spirit of the Law, which Jesus summed up as commanding us to love God and love people (Matthew 22:37-40). The irony is that they end up obeying God without trying to while those who struggle to check off a list of “godly” behaviors will never accomplish what they set out for.

Those who have been set free and given liberty in Christ are uniquely enabled to do what they should. Everyone else is under the burden of the Law they can never hope to fulfill.

If you have trusted Christ, use this liberty wisely. Use it for knowing, following and honoring God with your life more and more each day.

If you haven’t trusted Christ, please know that the kind of freedom you can’t even imagine awaits you, and it costs nothing. You are not required to actually do anything other than to claim it. God offers his salvation freely. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for every one of God’s laws you and I broke, and God raised him from the dead on the third day after that. All that’s required of you is to reject any other attempt you’ve made to be “good enough” and trust in Jesus to do it for you. In short, believe and repent, and true liberty like you’ve never known before can be yours.

What do you think?

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