“For Freedom, Christ set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)
We Americans love our freedom. We celebrate it each year with fireworks and cookouts.
I remember as a child being told that I couldn’t do something and responding, “This is a free country. You can’t make me.” (Of course I didn’t say that to my mother.)
But sometimes this freedom can get us into trouble. As a child I loved Krispy Kreme doughnuts – especially the cream filled, chocolate covered type. On special occasions we were taken to Krispy Kreme and allow us to have one special doughnut. But while in college, I served as an intern on Capitol Hill one summer. There was a Krispy Kreme not far from our apartment. One day I came home with a whole box – a dozen – of the cream-filled, chocolate-covered doughnuts.
I don’t remember if I ate them all. But I do remember that after a while, I knew I had made a mistake. Sometimes freedom can lead us astray.
In these times we think that maybe we should turn back to our rules for security. Rules help us to feel secure because they give life definition. They remind us of the ways of life that have worked in the past. Rules are often created because of past experience and the lessons learned. But rules can lead to doing things just because they have been done in the past without really understanding their purpose. Following the rules can have a destructive side too. They can lead us to place heavy expectations on others for no good reason.
And, they can lead us to condemn those who are not like us. Reliance on the security of rules can prevent us from being led into the new possibilities that God has for us.
Instead of defining our lives by rules, we are invited to define our lives by a relationship with God revealed to us in Jesus Christ. This is the freedom of God. God promises to send his Holy Spirit into our lives to lead us and guide us in all things – teaching us his truth, empowering us in ministry, molding us to grow more and more like Jesus.
The Holy Spirit may lead us into new places – places not covered by the old rules. This is what Paul was concerned with. The old rules excluded people not of Jewish parentage. Paul was trying to help the people see that the grace of Jesus Christ was available to all people, regardless of background. In Christ, we are given freedom to live life based on a relationship with God, not based on rules.
But this relationship is not defined by self-indulgence. It can’t be. Jesus was not self-indulgent. Instead this relationship is defined by self-giving love. This is the love that Jesus revealed to us in his self-giving sacrifice – offered for you and for me.
When we live in this relationship with God, we are called to follow Jesus’ example. We are to use our freedom in Christ to become slaves to one another.
This call to a life of sacrifice may seem impossible. But this life is not powered by our own ability. Instead, the ability to love comes when God’s Holy Spirit operates through our lives. God’s indwelling in our lives makes this self-giving possible. We see this life in the fruit of God’s Spirit living within us – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. When these fruits are present, we know that God’s Holy Spirit is present, working God’s will in our lives.
This life may lead us to new places. The Holy Spirit may lead us into new things. In the gospel of John, Jesus told his disciples that he could not teach them everything at that time but that the Holy Spirit would instruct them in the future. This same Holy Spirit continues to be with us – teaching and leading us into new things.
So how do we know the new things are truly from the Holy Spirit? Look to the fruit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. If our lives are of the Holy Spirit, they will produce these. And there is no law against this. This is the freedom for which Christ set us free!
The Rev. Sally Franklin is pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fort Mill.