“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” – Galatians 5:13
We all know what it’s like to live under a certain set of laws. Any civilized country in creation has them. If I go to a sporting event and punch a fan of the opposing team in the face, I’m probably going to suffer some consequences under the law of the land. When I drive 80-mph in a 45-mph zone past a police officer, the law is going to hit me in pretty hard in my wallet. This doesn’t just apply to federal or state laws, though. When I was in high-school I lived in a dormitory. If I was caught pulling a Tom Sawyer and sneaking down to the river to go fishing when I wasn’t allowed to wander off-campus, I spent the next few days stuck in the dormitory. Why? Because the school had laws. Our places of work have laws, and if we break them, we get fired or suspended or have our pay docked. Our families have laws. Our apartments or subdivisions even have laws.
Everywhere we turn, we are under law.
It’s an irony when the world around us believes also that Christians are under law, bound by law. To be fair, many of churches or congregations have made it appear that way. “Jesus loves if you do this. God loves you if you’re a good Christian and follow the rules.” The irony, though, is in this—that under Christ, we Christians are not under or bound by law—not even a little bit.
We are set free from the law. We are set free from following a certain set of rules or performing certain sacrifices that make God happy.
The reality—one which many Christians even fail to realize at times—is that God has already been made happy.
Christians have liberty.
This was the entire point that Paul was trying to make when he wrote a long letter with his own hand to the brothers and sisters in the province of Galatia. A certain sect of people who called themselves Christians had infiltrated and distorted the truth. We call them the “Judaizers” today. These Judaizers said that for God to really bless the Christians of Galatia, it wasn’t just about believing in Jesus. They also had to follow all of those laws that God gave to the Israelites in the Old Testament. That’s where God would really bless them—if they were good little Christians who were also good little Jews.
But Paul wouldn’t have it. He wouldn’t sit back and let the heart of the gospel of Jesus be destroyed like that! He reminded them again of the original message he had brought to them. Christ and Christ alone, by his sacrifice on the cross, had set them free from bondage of sin. Because he followed the law perfectly when the whole rest of the world could not, and then handed that perfection to the whole world, there’s nothing left for us to do. God is made happy with me and with you for the sake of Jesus—not for the sake of all the great service that I have brought to the table.
And so Paul says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.” And so free is what you are—free from the curse of sin. Free from earning God’s favor by living up to his standards. Free to live as a gospel Christian bought by the blood of Jesus.
So … why is “Resolutions: Part 5” entitled “Service”?
For that answer we again go back to Jesus! He is the one who saved us. He is the one who serves as our example now. Remember who Jesus is—God from God, eternal, almighty, Lord of the legions of angels. As the God of the universe, he is absolutely free.
And he is also love. And he showed us that love in the most amazing way imaginable, by doing something that we would never in a million years do if we had his kind of power and majesty. To see that, we jump to Philippians 2, which explains: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant … he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Php 2:5-8).
That God should become a servant for me is unfathomable love. That God, at whose service are angel hosts, should become man to serve me is astounding.
That’s how he freed me. That’s how he gave me a new heart, a new will, and a brand new spirit.
What do we do with all this freedom? Paul continues: “But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh.” This isn’t the grand license to sin. This isn’t the stamp of approval to live for pleasure and for self-gain. This isn’t the thumbs-up to party and get drunk and sleep around and do whatever else might make my body, my flesh, feel good.
“Rather, serve one another in love.” Jesus has set me free from the law’s curse to serve. It isn’t because I have to—that’s the old way of thinking under law. Now for the first time, under Jesus, I actually get to.
Martin Luther explained it like this, when he said: ““A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”
Does that idea bother you at all or sound a bit paradoxical perhaps?
If you jump a chapter backward in Galatians, you’ll bump into a pair of verses which help to explain this a bit more. “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4:4-5).
We now enjoy the status of God’s full heirs. He is our Father, and all of his goodness belongs to us. Even in our world, a proper relationship between a loving father and his son is not one where the son obeys out of fear, or to somehow continue making or keeping himself a son. It’s a relationship where the son obeys the father simply because he loves his father.
That’s what this Christian service now means. We love because Jesus loves us. We show that love by serving God and by serving people. Not because we have to, but because we get to.
How will you make this a part of your New Year’s resolutions—this service for God and for other people in your life? It’s a question that you can answer for yourselves as you shine Christ’s light into your specific contexts of life. Some opportunities are going to be apparent—for others you might have to have your spiritual eyes open a bit wider and with a bit more intention to identify them.
My idea for you is this—once a day for the next week, read the first half of John 13, where we see Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. Draw the scene in your mind like a movie. Consider the implications of everything happening in that upper room as God bends down to wash the gross feet of sinful people. Let this serve as an ongoing reminder of what it really means to humble oneself in service for others, a lesson that we learn from the master and motivator, Jesus himself.
God give you strength in humility this year and always to serve the world around you.