As we approach Independence Day in the United States, I like to think about the Declaration of Independence and the inalienable rights that it acknowledges God has endowed for all people. The founding fathers of the United States placed their emphasis on freedom. Even continuing to today, it’s still somewhat of an experiment: Just how free can a people be? The concern is, of course, that when people have too much freedom, it results in anarchy. Just look at a room full of uncontrolled children to see how freedom can go wrong!
Our Scripture passage from Galatians also speaks to this tension. The body of Christ at Galatia had Gentiles coming into the fellowship, which is good, but they were bringing their unregulated lifestyles with them, which was introducing chaos into the body. In a case like this, humanity’s first instinct is to start making rules, setting laws, trying to bring the unruly members under control. But Paul says, this isn’t necessarily the answer. He challenges the Galatian church that it’s not about rules and laws, but rather about freedom.
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.Galatians 5:1
There’s a one-two punch to the Gospel, the coming of Jesus Christ. The first punch is the Cross of Jesus Christ, which deals with sin and judgment and wipes our slates clean. Through this, we are set free from the fear of judgment and condemnation (Romans 8:1). And this is wonderful, but it can’t stop there. We don’t just leave it at freedom. “Woohoo! Eat, drink, and be merry! Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!” No, unmitigated freedom results in licentiousness, which is a problem. We may try to combat the licentiousness with law, but that is trying to introduce an external force to solve an internal problem. The problem of licentiousness is in the heart, and that can’t be solved through regulation or governance. It never has worked, and it never will.
This is where the second punch comes in. God deals with the internal problems of the heart through the infusing of the heart of every Christian with his own Holy Spirit. The fundamental solution to all of the problems in our society and world is not a legal or political one, but rather an internal transformation that comes by the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit inside each believer. This is how a people and a nation can be transformed and live in a state of harmony.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.Galatians 5:16-18
The law and the flesh feed off of each other. If you really want to go to war against the flesh, you don’t do it with law, you do it with Spirit.
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.Galatians 5:24
This is the urgency of the mission of the Church in our day. We don’t need more political solutions. We need the Gospel to spread throughout our nation and world. We need the Spirit of God directing people to live together in righteousness and peace.
Each of us are individually called to apply to our own lives the one-two punch of the Gospel — to live in the freedom that comes from being forgiven, and to walk in the Spirit of God and bear his holy fruit. If we can get that into our own hearts and the hearts of our children, the strong hands of rules, laws, and government become unnecessary. Instead, we will have a taste of heaven on earth. This is what the Lord is offering his Church, both now and forever. Accept it today.