You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
Jesus Christ set his face toward the cross in order to set his people free.
The nails in his hands were the keys that unlocked our shackles. The cry “It is finished!” (John 19:30) was his command for our release. And Easter’s empty tomb shattered the door to every cell. Because Jesus died and rose again, every Christian can say with the apostle Paul, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).
Sometimes, however, the idea of freedom is more thrilling than the reality of it. For, as Paul goes on to tell us, true freedom is less about following your dreams and more about kneeling down to scrub another’s feet. “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
Why did Jesus set us free from the guilt of our past, from the curse of the law, and from the tyranny of our former sins (Galatians 1:3–4; 3:13; 5:24)? He set us free to serve.
Go Low to Go High
Paul’s words sound like nonsense to our sinful flesh. In our natural state, we associate the word freedom with all sorts of ideas — independence, self-expression, personal choice — but rarely with service. Unbelief, however, always separates what God has joined together. And in the kingdom of God, freedom and service belong together like Adam and Eve, like heaven and earth, like grace and peace.
We need look no further than our Lord Jesus. No one has ever been freer than God himself. Yet what did the Son of God do with such freedom? He took “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). He said to the twelve, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). He wrapped a towel around his waist, bent to his disciples’ feet, and served them to the end (John 13:1–5). In the story of Jesus’s serving, suffering, and saving, we see the freest man who ever lived.
We need not fear losing our freedom, then, when we follow Jesus in taking the lowest place in the room. As he told his disciples, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26). When we bend our necks to this yoke, we walk straighter. When we kneel upon this ground, we stand taller.
True freedom is never found in serving ourselves. True freedom is found in being like him.
Bound to a Thousand Souls
Few have expressed this path of true freedom more beautifully than B.B. Warfield did over a century ago. Preaching on the self-sacrificing love of Jesus from Philippians 2:5–8, Warfield said,
Self-sacrifice brought Christ into the world. And self-sacrifice will lead us, his followers, not away from but into the midst of men. Wherever men suffer, there will we be to comfort. Wherever men strive, there will we be to help. Wherever men fail, there will we be to uplift. Wherever men succeed, there will we be to rejoice.
Self-sacrifice means not indifference to our times and our fellows: it means absorption in them. . . . It means not that we should live one life, but a thousand lives — binding ourselves to a thousand souls by the filaments of so loving a sympathy that their lives become ours.
The glory of Christian freedom is not that we can finally reach our full potential, but that we can finally help others reach theirs. Not that we can finally discover ourselves, but, freed from self-absorption, that we can finally lift our eyes and discover others. Not that we can finally follow our dreams, but that we can finally fill our dreams with the good of those around us.
True freedom, in other words, gives a man the mind of Christ, who bound himself — and who goes on binding himself — to thousands upon thousands of souls. As Paul goes on to write in Galatians 5, true freedom teaches a man to love his neighbor as himself (Galatians 5:14).
Freedom Will Not Feel Easy
As long as we are in this world, of course, we are not yet free as we one day will be. One day, no selfishness will tempt us to forsake the path of service. Our hearts will beat as one with our Lord, and giving to others will be our gladness.
Until then, we should not be surprised when we regularly (even daily) find ourselves simply not wanting to serve. Perhaps when we come from work to a toddler’s wail and the afternoon snack strewn across the floor. Or when a February storm piles snow onto our driveway in heaps, and we have already shoveled three times this week. Or when we see a socially taxing church member sitting off by himself, and we know we should approach him.
What do we do in such moments? How do we “through love serve one another” when we would much prefer to serve our own comfort? We begin by banishing the thought that the service in front of us is somehow slavery. We go on to remember that “for freedom Christ has set us free.” And then we trust that the same Christ who delivered us from our sins is zealous to take us in to deeper levels of freedom — not in spite of or around the service in front of us, but through it.
Trust and Step
When we do move forward in these moments, trusting our Lord to provide what we need, we will find that he does not, as Pharaoh did of old, demand that we make bricks without straw. Rather, he “supplies the Spirit,” who leads us in the ways of love (Galatians 3:5; 5:16–24). When the tasks in front of us feel beyond our strength to carry out, they are not beyond the Spirit’s.
If Christ has freed us from our sins, will he not also free us from today’s selfishness? If he has given us his Spirit, will he not also give us everything we need as we seek to imitate him in his service? He surely will. For freedom he has set us free. So trust his promise, draw a deep breath, and keep stepping into his freedom.