KEY THOT: When Paul states that “for freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (v.1), he is implying that before we knew Christ, we had no freedom—that we are subject to the “yoke of slavery.” Martin Luther, in response to Erasmus’ book on human freedom, wrote his book, The Bondage of the Will. In it, he argued that the human will apart from Christ is not free—it is in fact under bondage to Satan and to the sinful flesh. So, in what sense was our will under bondage before we knew Christ and in what sense is our will now free?
Today’s reading in Galatians gives us some clue. Paul states clearly that freedom does not mean we cannot sin: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (v.13). Freedom actually means that we are now really free to choose good and evil. We now have two choices: to walk by the Spirit and to walk according to the sinful flesh. Previously, we are not free because we only had one choice--that is to sin. We lived according to the desires of the sinful flesh or in some cases under demonic control. We are slaves to sin and we cannot choose to do what is right, even though we know what is the right thing to do. Paul describes this classic dilemma in Romans 7:14-20:
- For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
So if bondage means we had no choice but to sin, does freedom mean we have no choice but to do right? If we have no choice but to do right, then it is just another kind of bondage—more akin to that of a robot that has been pre-programmed to do the "right thing" defined by the programmer. Real freedom in Christ means that we have a choice—and we can still exercise the freedom to sin, to follow the desires of our sinful flesh. But we now have the power and presence of the indwelling Christ to help us not to sin and are in fact free to choose to do right, viz., to “walk by the Spirit... not gratify the desires of the flesh” (v.16).
Formerly, before we knew Christ, we could justifiably say, “I have no choice but to sin”. Now we cannot use that excuse. We can only say, “I have a freedom to do right but I deliberately choose evil.” In other words, it is no longer “I can’t” (no choice) but “I won’t” (wrong choice). So when a Christian chooses to obey the impulses of his sinful flesh, he is making a conscious choice to disobey the Spirit and therefore grieve and quench the Spirit.
Every choice has a consequence: if we walk by the Spirit, we bear the fruit of righteousness: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (v.22-23). But if we choose to obey the desires of the sinful flesh, we will exhibit the effects of that wrong choice: "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these” (v.19-21).
So, as believers we are free to choose: and we know what kind of choice we have made by the character formed in us. It’s a daily choice—we can choose to walk by the Spirit or we can choose to walk by the flesh. That is the freedom we have in Christ. Adam and Eve had total freedom in the Garden. That is why they could choose between the Tree of Life (good) and the Tree of the Knowledge (evil). And in exercising their freedom, they chose the Tree of Knowledge that led them into bondage to sin and Satan. And this bondage is passed on to all mankind through the sinful flesh.
Father, thank You for the freedom we have in Christ. Help us to use our freedom not to indulge in the sinful flesh but to walk by Your Spirit and serve You. Amen.