“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” from the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians.
St. Paul begins this section of the letter to the Galatians informing his readers that they have been set free. Freedom, in this case, is from slavery to sin and death.
He urges the Galatian Christians to stand firm, and not to use their freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. He wants them to live by the Holy Spirit, and not to gratify the desires of the flesh, because the works of the flesh are contrary to the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul then lists the works of the flesh, which he says, are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.
The main idea here is that these things can drive one away from life in the Holy Spirit. Sadly, in our modern days of permissiveness, more people seem to be living this way, and what used to be taboo in polite society no longer raises eyebrows. What seems to be harmless fun to the young easily becomes addiction, then sickness, and death, and no amount of advice from parents seems to make a difference.
The other thing that happens is that people start to justify their bad behavior, and they want to force others to accept it as normal, no amount of preaching from clergy makes a difference.
In fact many clergy have just decided to go along with the flow, and have begun to justify the behavior themselves, despite the warning from St. Paul, “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24)
St. Paul wrote that, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal 5:24)
A follower of Christ practices self-denial, not self-pride or self-love, or self anything. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” James 4:6
St. Paul emphasizes the fruit of the Holy Spirit in his admonition. He writes, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.”
He goes on to say that those who belong to Christ Jesus have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
What does it mean to live by the Spirit? Does it mean we can quit work and stop worrying about the bills? I wish! No, I’m afraid you kids still have to go to school, and the adults still have to go to work, but what is different is the purpose of your life. Think of it this way; we are alive by the Spirit. We have eternal life as a gift from our heavenly Father, by the grace of our Lord Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
If we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul has advised, our lives will serve a greater purpose. Some people, and you might know them, live for some future reward.
A song comes to mind! Everybody’s working for the weekend.
It’s the classic carrot on a stick! Just like that donkey, the goal is always just beyond reach, and if you keep chasing it you will run out of energy and never get close.
And sometimes when we do catch some goal, the afterglow is short-lived. Then it’s back to chasing some new goal, and on and on. How can we work on goals that satisfy our spiritual selves instead of our physical selves? Perhaps we can look to the words of Jesus to his followers, “Follow me.”
Did they really want to follow him? It seems that they wanted to, but they had other concerns that held them back. It may seem harsh that Jesus told one to let the dead bury the dead, and to another, if he put his hand to the plow, then looked back, he was not fit for the kingdom.
What he was saying was this; the need is so great that there is no time to wait. There are people who are lost and who are dying, and who will tell them about the Kingdom of God?
Who will be concerned about their souls? Who will tell them that to be really alive is to be alive in the Holy Spirit? That, my brothers and sisters, is our job. Let’s go forth and do the work that He has given us to do. Amen.