In the category of Stranger Things, I have a weird confession. When I took my first Bible survey course in seminary, I developed little memory tricks for remembering the themes of each of the New Testament books. For example, for Hebrews, I remembered “HE (is) B(ett)ER (than the)RESt, which roughly spells out HEBREWS, if you misspell it. Hebrews is based on the superiority of Christ over angels, Old Testament prophets, etc. So, he is better than the rest!
For Galatians, I tapped into my love of science fiction and especially Battlestar Galactica. What was their mission? To free humanity from the evil robot Cylons; thus Galatians is about freedom. Laugh if you will, but I got an A!
Let us see what Galatians has to say about freedom, as we celebrate freedom today:
Galatians 5:16-18 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?
19-21 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.
This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.
22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
23-24 Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
25-26 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. (The Message)
There is so much meat on this bone, we may need to come back to it another day. But for now, look again at first three verses.
The writer of Hebrews is contrasting freedom with self-interest. “There is a root of self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit.” That is pure genius. Think of all the places in life where people imprison themselves; the genesis of those places is likely to be rooted in some selfish, self absorbed, self-interested behavior. Addictions begin when we indulge in a dangerous behavior. Adultery starts with that need for the adrenaline rush of someone’s flattering interest. Family disputes happen when one family member feels entitled to what the all the rest should receive. Arguments ensue when we think our opinion is more valuable, right and superior to someone else’s opinion. Betrayals happen when self-absorbed desires assert themselves over the common good. Basically, nothing good comes from selfishness.
In contrast, Christ offers a life of freedom. He came to set us free from sin, from death and mostly from ourselves. We are encouraged to pursue a life lived fully in the Spirit, which offers affection for others, exuberance for life, and SERENITY.
So before the parade-watching, flag-waving, fireworks extravaganza begins, ask yourself this: where am I lacking freedom in my life? I bet that if you trace that back, there will be selfishness at the root; either your own, or somebody else’s.
The cross is as much a symbol as the flag. As we lift one high today, let us lift higher the other.
Photo by Michelle Robertson.