“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13
“Christian liberty.” What a loaded (and often misunderstood) topic! I know that before I dug into this passage in Galatians, I sometimes used it as a shield when people confronted me about things I was doing or saying.
When we think of liberty, we typically regard it as self-focused…what we are free from or what we can do with this liberty. I believe that this is the reason so many of us have misapplied Paul’s writing on “Christian Liberty.” We use it to justify the “gray area” activities- those which, while technically not sin, are not wise to partake in.
How often have you said or heard, “Don’t judge me!” “You’re being legalistic.” “I have Christian liberty.”
But what is the focus of this passage in Galatians?
First, some background. Galatians was written to a church that had been established by Paul but had become influenced by Judaizers, people who were saying that new converts had to follow the Jewish law in order to really be saved. They were advocating Jesus+…Jesus + works. Paul’s main theme in writing Galatians is to remind the believers that salvation by works is a self-imploding system. Faith in Jesus’ sacrifice is the only thing that can save.
What is our freedom from? Galatians 5:1 states, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Here, Paul is referring to our deliverance from the bondage of sin…a bondage that could not be broken by any merit of our own. Our freedom is our salvation from sin and the eternal death that comes with it.
What is our freedom for? This is the meat and potatoes (in my opinion!). Verse 13: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Paul says our freedom is not to be used as an opportunity for the flesh…it is not an excuse. Rather, it is to be used to serve one another! Did you notice “direction” in which this liberty is pointed? It’s outward! How radically different from the view I used to hold. It’s not at all referring to freedom to do things that are not specifically listed as sin. Our Christian liberty isn’t to be used for our benefit…its proper use is to serve the brethren.
Christian liberty has nothing to do with whether we can do this or that because we aren’t under the legalism of the law…nor is it permission to sin (Romans 6:1-2). Rather, we are called to use Christian liberty in service to others. It isn’t about what we can now do or get. The focus is not inward, but outward.