The Christian life is a life of liberty. Jesus came to set the captives free, not to keep them in bondage or put them in bondage all over again. Do people see us as community enjoying joyous freedom?
Erm. Maybe sometimes.
But often, Christians are seen as people more bound up and hung up than anyone else. Steve Brown takes this on in A Scandalous Freedom:
“The good news is that Christ frees us from the need to obnoxiously focus on our goodness, our commitment, and our correctness. Religious has made us obsessive almost beyond endurance. Jesus invited us to a dance…and we’ve turned in into a march of soldiers, always checking to see if we’re doing it right and are in step and in line with the other soldiers. We know a dance would be more fun, but we believe we must go through hell to get to heaven, so we keep marching.”
Freedom is the essence of being Christian; it is the fundamental basis of all Christian living.
But there’s a but.
I cannot “use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh.” That just means that I will sin as I please, keep saying to God, “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” and then go on doing whatever I want again. It’s a danger.
You’ve been set free; now the question is, “How will you use your liberty?”
“Do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh.” Clearly, that danger is open to us. We can take the glorious freedom Steve Brown describes, and use it as a way to please ourselves while trampling on the feelings of those around us.
It is easy to think liberty is a right to sin, or the privilege to do whatever you feel like doing. Instead, this liberty is the Spirit-given desire and ability to do what we should do before God.
So “Through love serve one another”: This is Paul’s antidote for using liberty as an emotional free-for-all. The “flesh” expects others to conform to us, and doesn’t care much about others. But when we “through love serve one another,” we subdue that self-centred instinct.
What does that serving look like? Luther took it very practically: “If you want to know how you ought to love your neighbour, ask yourself how much you love yourself. If you were to get into trouble or danger, you would be glad to have the love and help of all men. You do not need any book of instructions to teach you how to love your neighbour. All you have to do is to look into your own heart, and it will tell you how you ought to love your neighbour as yourself.”
The alternative picture is described as a fellowship where each will “bite and devour one another” like a pack of wild animals. Animals!
That’s how we act when “liberty” becomes a platform to promote self-centred agendas.
If you want to see things go bad, put a few selfish people together. Selfish people will eventually be consumed by one another. The loveless life is a life lived on the level of animals, with a concern only for oneself, no matter what the cost to other people.