By Pastor Jerry Donovan
Independence isn’t really a Christian concept. At its heart, Christianity is about acknowledging that we need help. We need a savior. We need the community of faith to walk with us in this journey through life.
Some have argued over the years that as a nation we might be better served to celebrate “Independence Day” and recognize that the greatness of our country is found in the economic and social systems that rely on individuals and groups to work shoulder to shoulder with one another to achieve shared results, ones that honor everyone, not just the few.
Freedom is a Christian concept we can claim and something we can proclaim. Paul launches the fifth chapter of the letter to the Galatians with the word freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free.” What does that mean exactly? For Paul, freedom is not simply a gift we are given, but a responsibility placed in our hands.
The question isn’t really “Are you free?” or “How free are you?” For Paul, the question is, “What are you going to do with your freedom?”
It has been said that Augustine summarized lawful living this way, “Love God and do as you please.” That seems a risky premise, that “do as you please” thing, except that the requirement to first “love God” means that what pleases you is what pleases God; therefore, there is no need of a law since your every motivation is to please the one you love.
Paul’s argument is if you love yourself most, then you will do what pleases you, regardless of how it affects everyone else. But if you love God most, then you will do what pleases God, which includes loving your neighbor.
Those who have chosen to respond to God’s offer of a relationship of love have turned their back on the way of self-indulgence. Paul puts it more dramatically, they have crucified that old way. Thinking of believers as incorporated into Christ as their representative, Paul can declare that as Christ died, so we died.
That is the freedom Paul celebrates in this text. It is the freedom to care for others, the freedom to see all people as equals in the sight of law and the eyes of God. It is the freedom to serve not because you have to but because you get to; not because you have a duty to fulfill, but because you have a love to put into action.
We are free to live independent of one another, caring only for ourselves, but we are also free to acknowledge our interdependence and how our own personal good comes to us from many others, even as we contribute to the good of others
Paul ends this section of his letter with the impassioned plea “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” This week may the people of God hear that a life guided by the Spirit is indeed bound to be free.