“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal.5:13-15).
The above statement is found in a passage that must be understood as pertaining to reliance upon an external religious routine (in this case Judaism) as the basis of one’s relationship (or restored relationship) with God. Therefore, the nature of the freedom spoken of is freedom from such external routines as the basis of one’s relationship with God. The intention, therefore, is to encourage people to realize that such freedom comes with appropriate parameters.
Verse one of this passage stating, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery,” is not to be viewed, through 21st century eyes and seen as referring to some form of absolute freedom of every conceivable nature nor as freedom from moral obligation. In verse seven, Paul reveals that one who is free is not free “from obeying the truth.”
With these qualifying remarks, I would like to consider the statement, “do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh.” Recognizing that this statement has a specific application in the context of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, I am suggesting and proceeding on the premise that it is applicable in a broader sense. This can involve the religious routines of other ages and cultures as well as a cultural significance in general.
Liberty (freedom) is highly valued. However, not all measures or usages of liberty are healthy. Many 21st century, westerners operate as though liberty is a right they deserve regardless of character issues or other factors associated with the wellbeing of the community. In fact, the concept of duty related to a community, whatever form such a corporate entity might take, as well as the idea of corporate character is something to which many, if not most, no longer relate. This is due to an overwhelming emphasis on personal freedom. The atmosphere that prevails is much like that recorded in the book of Judges where we are told “…everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg.17:6 & 21:25). What people do in such a scenario does not always consist of acts we generally associate with sin, though at times it does, but is often a manifest attitude that senses no accountability to others, especially authority structures. I am relatively certain that healthy attitudes about authority, by both those in and those under authority, is so significantly lacking in the thinking of this current generation that considerations of this sort are, at best, difficult to entertain. People are largely inclined to respond positively to authority only if 1) they receive payment to do so (and then it is questionable) or 2) the “authority” is requiring them to do something that already lines up with their personal preference.
The principle behind turning one’s freedom into an opportunity for the flesh can be manifest in a wide variety of ways. On an individual level, it might relate to the teenager who indulges in alcohol or drugs when parents entrust them with time spent with friends or an employee embezzling money when given certain unsupervised financial responsibilities. Of greater interest to this article is the cultural attitude of people who want advantage and privilege without appropriate character and maturity. We can observe that the hard-earned liberty that our society has possessed to this point, coming to us by way of the significant labors, responsible behavior and the suffering of many progenitors is being used, very often, in thoughtless, self-serving, destructive ways. Surely, there is a need to have a social structure in place to assist the needy. However, when this social category is characterized by entitlement thinking, they have turned liberty into an opportunity for the flesh. Those who use the freedom to demonstrate against injustice as an occasion to loot and destroy the properties and labors of small business owners have turned their liberty into an opportunity for the flesh. Engaging in increasingly blatant expressions of immorality and moaning about discrimination when facing opposition is turning liberty into an opportunity for the flesh. Immorality that was once practiced in darkness by a limited number of people has moved into the light with a slightly increased number and, further, is now demanding to be celebrated by social “progressives” who major in turning liberty into an opportunity for the flesh. Such a situation now produces the result that anyone wanting to appreciate, guard and use liberty in a respectful, proper manner is portrayed as an abusive hate-monger, wanting to eradicate the freedom of poor, innocent victims who are being bullied to the point of suicide.
In conclusion, I would like to draw our attention to three words in the opening quote; love, serve and law. First, a self-serving people who abuse freedom quickly lose sight of a proper concept of law. Law is viewed and represented as either oppressive or as a tool to further advance turning freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, as demonstrated in a recent SCOTUS decision regarding the licensing of same-sex marriages. Further, the definition of love becomes increasingly distorted and eventually used as a banner to encourage turning freedom into an opportunity for the flesh. Finally, the idea that we are to “serve one another,” is completely incomprehensible in such a cultural atmosphere. If one opens their eyes and looks closely, we can observe the creation of the Frankenstein that will soon turn and deliver the destruction of its creators.