Building Up One Another by Gene Getz
“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge your sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Gal. 5:13) .
Freedom emerges as a major theme in Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. No longer are they to “let [themselves] be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5 :1) . Formerly, they along with the whole world were “prisoners of sin” (3:22). The Law of God thundered from Sinai did not set them free from sin. It simply made them more aware of how captive they were to their old natures. Throughout the years that followed, the law of Moses became God’s means “to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (3:24). It was Christ who fulfilled the requirement of the law death. Thus Paul could write to the Galatians: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (5:1).
Freedom What Is It?
What does Paul mean by “freedom in Christ”? First, let’s look at what he doesn’t mean.
1. Freedom in Christ is not freedom to sin (Gal. 5:13). The Galatians, like so many Christians today, had gone to two extremes. On the one hand, some had reverted to trying to become righteous by keeping the law. This only served to bring them back into bondage (Gal. 5:2 4). On the other hand, some, having heard Paul’s teaching about freedom, felt they were now able to do anything they wanted to do. Thus Paul wrote yes, you are free, but “do not use your freedom to indulge your sinful nature” (Gal. 5:13). When dealing with a similar problem, Paul wrote to the Romans: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:1 2)
Freedom in Christ is not freedom to sin. To have this attitude is to misuse, abuse, and misunderstand the grace of God. Paul, writing to Titus, graphically described what a true view of God’s grace will do: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say `No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:11 14).
2. Freedom in Christ is not freedom from the reality of the old nature. Nowhere does the Bible teach that a believer can
become perfect totally free from sin in this life. When Christ died for our sins, He did not, with His death and resurrection, eliminate our sinful natures. Thus Paul had to warn the Galatians not to indulge their sinful natures. If these Christians no longer had a sinful nature, Paul wouldn’t have needed to warn them against it. There would have been no reason to be so specific about the acts of the old sinful nature.
3. Freedom in Christ is not freedom from servanthood. This is one of Paul’s primary points in this Galatian passage. He helps us understand what Christian freedom really is! Rather than using others to indulge our sinful natures, we are to “serve one another in love” literally, to be slaves or servants to each other.
But, you ask, how can Christians be free and yet be slaves? Herein lies one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. Jesus spoke about it when He said: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the Gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34 35).
The Christian who wants to experience true freedom in Christ must live in total commitment to Christ. It sounds paradoxical, but in turning our lives over to Him completely we discover the freedom about which the Bible talks. Paul, of all men, knew freedom in Christ, yet he frequently introduced himself as a servant of Christ (Rom. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Titus 1:1).
Some Christians stop at this point, not realizing that being a “servant of Christ” also involves them with other members of the body of Christ. Turning our lives over to Christ also means turning our lives over to each other. We are part of a body of which Christ is the head. Being “in Christ” also means being “a part of each other.” This is why Paul told the Ephesian Christians to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21; see also 1 Peter 5 : 5) .
Freedom and Human Relationships
Paul’s primary concern in this Galatian passage (Gal. 5:13 26) focuses on relational Christianity. Five times he uses the “one another” concept. The first exhortation the theme of this chapter is stated positively. We are to “serve one another in love” (5 :13). But Paul stated the other four negatively in order to clarify what he really meant. Thus he wrote: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” Later he said, as he concluded this passage Let us not become conceited, provoking [each other] and envying each other” (5:26).
1. “The acts of the sinful nature” versus “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16 18). Human relationships make an interesting study. Sociologists and psychologists spend a lifetime attempting to understand the dynamics involved. And there is much we can learn, even from non Christians. All truth is God’s truth, no matter who discovers it.
Man will never be able to satisfactorily understand and explain the dynamics of human behavior and relationships apart from truth revealed by the Holy Spirit and recorded in the Word of God. Only in the Bible do we discover the reason why people do what they do.
People generally are dominated by a sinful nature. Of course, the way in which that nature expresses itself varies greatly, depending on the influence of Christian truth on particular societies and cultures. Even since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, all men have been afflicted with this spiritual disease (Rom. 5:12 14).
All history, both biblical and secular, verifies this doctrine. No matter what man has done to try to improve the world, society eventually deteriorated, primarily because man is sinful and selfish. Rather than desiring to serve others, he desires to serve himself. And even in so called Christian cultures, social programs as good as they may be do not work effectively because mankind is basically selfish and dishonest.
Yet mankind is not doomed to yield to the desires of his sinful nature. Wherever the Christian Gospel penetrates a society, revealing that Christ died for the sins of the world, people discover that they can “live by the Spirit” rather than by the desires of their sinful natures. True, there will be a conflict between the two, even in a Christian’s life, but he can now be “led by the Spirit” rather than by the desires of the flesh. Man can now choose whom he will serve.
2. Serving one another selfishly (Gal. 5:19 21). Man was destined to live in relationship to others. Very few people deliberately choose to live an isolated life, because God created man a social creature. The Lord bore witness to this fact from the very beginning when He said: “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18, NASB).
When sin entered the human race, man’s need for relationships with others did not cease. For several reasons, however, the process was terribly complicated and distorted. First, man became selfish by nature. He came into bondage to himself. Second, he was in bondage to the selfishness of others; others were in bondage to his selfishness. He could not live without others, for he was dependent on others to meet his needs. Nor were they able to live without him, for they were dependent on him to meet their needs. Thus we see that there isn’t such a thing as total freedom. Even non Christians must “serve one another” in order to survive physically and psychologically. The main problem, of course, is that there was no alternative to selfishness until Christ provided the way of love.
Interestingly, non Christians who have been exposed to the effects of the Gospel on culture, can live in relationship to others to a certain extent according to the principles of Scripture. They can even experience some of that “fruit.” This we’ve seen in our nation which was founded upon some of the precepts of Christianity. But as the influence of Christianity is minimized, mankind at large deteriorates rapidly and soon moves in the direction of uncontrolled selfish behavior.
Paul explained to the Galatians, “the acts o f the sinful nature are obvious.” And note! These acts are in the context of human relationships: “Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Gal. 5:19 21).
Till recent years in our own country, these “acts of the sinful nature” were not so glaring. One reason: the influence of biblical truth. But another reason is that man has always had a way of hiding his true nature and what he really does, even in a controlled environment. With the “openness” that has become a way of life in America, we discover even those we least suspect engage in the very “acts of the sinful nature” enumerated by Paul. And most surprising to many Americans particularly Christians has been the private (and even public) lives of our presidents and congressmen.
3. “Serving one another in love.” Though all people must serve one another in order to survive, and though all of us have a sinful nature, there is a way to serve one another that will set us free. This can create very satisfying and lasting relationships. It is the way of love.
By faith in His death and resurrection, we are set free from the domination of our sinful natures. Rather than having to serve one another selfishly, we can actually serve one another in love. The acts of this kind of behavior are also obvious. Paul called them the “fruit of the Spirit.”
Note again, what Paul enumerates are in the context of relationships. What he describes are not personal emotions but corporate manifestations. When “we serve one another in love” there are, of course, expressions of love. There are also expressions of joy. There is peace that is, true unity and oneness in the body of Christ. There is patience with one another. There is “kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control” (Gal. 5:22 23). These, wrote Paul, are the results of people in relationship who are not serving each other selfishly, but “serving one another in love.” When we “live by the Spirit” we “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5 :25) . We will no longer “bite and devour one another” and “provoke and envy one another.”
In summation, then, we must conclude that freedom in Christ does not give a Christian a right to sin, nor does it eliminate his sinful nature. Neither is man free from responsibility to others. In fact, he has a greater responsibility, because he is now a member of the family of God.
As a member of that family, with all of its rights and privileges, a Christian is to be a servant to all other members of that family. In fact, we are all to be servants of one another. And in “serving one another in love” we find true freedom in Jesus Christ. Our deepest needs are met in legitimate ways. We are not used by one another. We are not put on a performance standard. Our relationships with others can be truly satisfying and enduring. This is true freedom!
Practical Steps for Helping Other Christians To Begin Serving One Another in Love
Evaluate how much you and others in your church may be reflecting “the acts of the sinful nature” in your relationships rather than “the fruit of the Spirit.” One way to get at this information is to begin with the following questions. The answers give indication of Christian maturity in a body of believers. A seven point scale is included to help you measure various manifestations of Christlikeness. The number “1” signifies that the particular characteristic being evaluated is never visible. The number “7” indicates it is always visible. The numbers in between represent degrees of visibility.
If you have difficulty recognizing these evidences, there can be but one conclusion: more “acts of the sinful nature” are being reflected than the “fruit of the Spirit.” When this is true, Christians are not actively “serving one another in love.”
Note: Some Christians do not believe the “acts of the old nature” are visible in their church because there is no flagrant sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, drunkenness, and orgies. But they conveniently overlook the fact that the “acts of the old nature” also include hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissention, factions, and envy.
In order to check your own objectivity and the accuracy of your observations, ask several Christians in your church to take Step 1. Then prayerfully compare notes.
If, as a group, you feel others in your church are not actively “serving one another in love,” if the “acts of the sinful nature” are more obvious than “the fruit of the Spirit,” then think about taking the following approaches:
First, make sure you are not guilty of allowing your old nature to dominate your own relationships with others.
Second, develop a small group of Christians who will consciously attempt to manifest the fruit of the Spirit.
Third, begin to pray for others in the church but only after you’ve made sure your own life is in order.
Fourth, as a larger group, determine to reflect the fruit of the Spirit in all relationships with all other members of the body of Christ.
Warning: Carefully guard against “spiritual pride” and “pseudo spirituality.” Attitudes of superiority and spiritual pride create more problems than solutions.