Galatians 5:13 “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.”
“You, my brothers” Again, Paul emphasizes the close and intimate relationship he shared with the Galatians. The use of the term “you” rather than a more all inclusive term like “us” (as in 5:1) also seems to emphasize the intimate nature of a relationship with Jesus.
“were called to be free” The verb translated here as “were called” is in an intensified form. It also could be translated as “were indeed called.” It’s a higher calling. A stronger calling. The ultimate calling. Plus, the use of the word “calling” also emphasizes the concept of the RELATIONSHIP (remember, it is a universal truth and one of the major themes of this letter – everything in God’s Kingdom comes down to RELATIONSHIP). A “call” means God chose us; He reached out to us; He spoke our name. Think of the story of the prodigal son. He thought that he had made the decision to return to his Father. But it was the Father who was waiting all along. “Call” means God is the author of the promise. We can’t do anything ourselves to complete it. Think of your Mom or Dad, preparing the family dinner, and then calling everyone to eat. Our response is to gratefully come to the table, sit down, and partake.
“But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature” Paul ties up this first section of Galatians 5 by returning to his opening thesis in 5:1 – the freedom we walk in is a gift from God, so don’t abuse it. Paul has already touched on this concept in this letter in a variety of ways – look back at 3:15-24 for a discussion of the purpose of the law, and freedom from the law’s constraints – but the implication here is that the law’s guidelines help define the limits that we should live within. Romans 6:1 states that the freedom we have in Christ does not give us a license to sin. 1 Peter 2:16 says the same thing, emphasizing that if freedom in Christ is real, it can’t be used as a front to cover up a life of sin. Paul is tying up his original thesis in 5:1 and transitioning into the next section, which emphasizes personal righteousness and integrity. But if freedom is NOT a license for our personal fulfillment (this is the “American Way,” no? Thomas Jefferson’s language in the Declaration of Independence has become the mantra in our society – we have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”) or to do “what we want,” then what is it for? Paul answers this rhetorical question in the very next phrase --
“rather, serve one another in love” At this point, I want to shout “Ah ha!,” or "Eureka!," for this simple truth is really the core concept here. “Freedom,” therefore wasn’t designed for us as individuals, to set us “free” to do whatever we want to do, but to equip us to serve God and each other – in love! The context of the words translated here as “indulge the sinful nature” implies “selfishness.” That’s the key. Of course, the freedom Christ brings to us has great, even incalculable personal benefit. But the real purpose in setting us free from sin and bondage is so we can be useful for God. Now, the way I phrased that last sentence makes it sound like the emphasis is back on “works,” that is, on what we do. But God seeks to set us free in order to bring us into right relationship with Him. He showers us with love and gifts, redeems us from hell, communes with us, abides with us, and makes us a part of His family. We are free from the law – that is, we no longer need to earn God’s favor. But what do we do with that freedom? The purpose of “freedom in Christ” is to allow us to creatively, personally, and intimately respond back to God in love – to serve Him with all of our hearts.
Let’s go back to the family dinner analogy. I am called by God to come to the table. I don’t have to pay for my meal, like in a restaurant, I’m part of the family now. I am free to choose what I eat, and how much. (I personally struggle with my weight, and with overeating, so this concept strikes a chord with me). If I choose to not eat a balanced meal, or to overeat, or just eat dessert, or to sneak a snack of junk food before I get to the table so that my appetite is ruined, the result is easy to see. At best, I’ll get fat and be unfit for the hard work I need to do -- the work God set me free to do! At worst, I’ll get sick and eventually be of no use to anyone. I will also displease and disappoint my Father, who gave so much to provide me with such a fine meal, and the freedom to enjoy it. I will end up not being in right fellowship with him. I won’t be thrown out of the family, or not be allowed to come to dinner anymore (that is, I won’t lose my salvation), but I will bring a world of trouble onto myself, and be of little use to God in the sense that there will be good chance I will miss out on the specific purposes God called me to because of my irresponsibility. My freedom is a gift I am to use with responsibility.