Why and How Christian Freedom is Constrained

Christians are called to freedom, yet this freedom is not a libertarian freedom in which we simply get to do whatever we want. In fact, the Bible explains several qualifications of our freedom that indicate that our freedom is constrained. In Galatians 5:13-26 we are told that there are two key constraints to our freedom and the path we choose is clearly demonstrated.

This is a sermon that I preached this past weekend from Galatians 5:13-26. In this sermon, we explored the constraints of the freedom Paul explains in Galatians 5:1 and 5:13 and found that there are some qualifications of our call to freedom.

The Flesh continues: Desires Corrupted

God created us in His image, and part of this means we have desires like He has desires. When Adam and Eve sinned, their flesh was corrupted and passed on (Gen 6:11-12), including their desires. Prior to our salvation, we walk in these desires, indulging them (Eph 2:3). In fact, we are enslaved to these desires, having no other desires in us other than those that are corrupted by the flesh. Ultimately, this makes us unwilling and unable to seek God (Rom 3:11-12).

When we recognize our enslavement due to the corruption of our flesh and come to Christ, and seek forgiveness, repentance, and salvation, the Lord saves us by His grace (Eph 2:8) setting us free from this enslavement. For this reason, Paul explains that we are not to use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh but to love one another (Gal 5:13).

In fact, to use our freedom as an opportunity for the flesh is an act of treachery, since having been freed from slavery, we choose, or volunteer again to submit ourselves to the old, harsh and destructive master.

Yet,the fact that the flesh continues to exist in us, and still has great vigor and strength is a constraint on our freedom. It exercises this constraint by desiring against the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:17). James tells us that we are tempted when we are ælured and enticed by our desires (Jas 1:14-15), and later that it is our pleasures waging war in us that causes quarrels and strife (Jas 4:1-2). These desires (or lusts) are those that continue in the flesh. Because they are desires of the flesh they are corrupted, just like they were prior to our salvation.[shareable]We are free, not in a libertarian sense but in the sense that we can decide who will be our master[/shareable]

The Spirit constrains: Desires Conflicted

While our flesh seeks to keep us enslaved, after salvation we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, who brings His own desires which become part of us, freeing us from the desires of the flesh. For this reason, Paul says that we are to walk by the Spirit and we will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16). It is the Holy Spirit’s presence that frees us from slavery to the sin nature.

The verb “walk by the Spirit” is an active command, which means that you and I are commanded to walk with the Spirit. Yet, just two verses later, Paul tells explains that, “if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law” (Gal 5:18). When he says “led by the Spirit” he uses a passive verb. So here we see the dual responsibility of the Christian walk. On the one side we are to work, but on the other hand, God Himself works in us (Phil 2:13).

When Paul says, “if we walk with the Spirit we will not gratify the desires of the flesh,” he uses a word normally translated “to complete.” In other words, if we walk with the Spirit, we will not complete the desires of the flesh. So, he is assuming that we have these desires in our flesh, the question is whether we will carry them out (NASB).

He explains that the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are opposed to one another. It is the desires of Christ to whom we are joined by the Holy Spirit that is the game changer. Because we have these two sets of desires in us, we are free, not in a libertarian sense but in the sense that we can decide who will be our master. The question is, will we be ruled by the desires of the flesh, or the desires of the Spirit?[shareable]The question is, will we be ruled by the desires of the flesh, or the desires of the Spirit?[/shareable]

The heart confirms: Desires exposed

The other key truth that Paul wants to show in this passage is that whichever master we choose will be evident to all. The key word is the word evident found in verse 19, “the deeds of the flesh are evident.”

The list of the “works of the flesh” in Gal 5:19-21 are not there so that we can see for ourselves which master we are choosing. The set of traits of the Holy Spirit in Gal 5:22-23 are similar, the purpose is to be able to tell whether we and our brothers and sisters in Christ are walking in the desires of the flesh or in the desires of the Spirit.

Paul closes his argument by saying that those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh. He again uses an active verb, to indicate that this is something that the believer himself is involved in. When we repent, we make a choice to put to death the deeds of the flesh, by regarding ourselves as crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20). For this reason, Paul reasons “and since we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. In English translations the “and” is not present in Gal 5:25, but it is there in the Greek and provides an alternative to the death in verse 24. That is to say, we have crucified the flesh but we live by the Spirit, and since we live by the Spirit, we should also walk by the Spirit.

Finally, it is striking that having said the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit are evident, he begins the next chapter (6:1-3) by explaining what we should do if we see the works of the flesh in others.[shareable]The list of the “works of the flesh” in Gal 5:19-21 are not there so that we can see for ourselves which master we are choosing[/shareable]

Conclusion

One of the key points from this is that we need the Holy Spirit, and His desires in us if we are to be free. In fact, there is no freedom without the desires of the Holy Spirit being in us. When we submit ourselves to the desires of God as expressed in His Word, and through His Spirit in us, we will walk in holiness and we will not complete the desires of the flesh.

But when we see strife, dissension, drunkenness, sexual immorality, etc, we can be sure that the desires of the flesh are being followed.

So, I want to urge you to understand the desires that the Lord has by studying and understanding His Word, and then yielding to His desires which, if you belong to Christ, are present within you.

[reminder]Does realizing that desires are exposed through behavior motivate you? How?[/reminder]