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 that pierced his hands and feet were the keys that unlocked our shackles. The cry “It is finished!” (John 19:30) was his command for our release. And Sunday’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, we celebrate only half a freedom. We sing of all that Christ has set us free from, without also singing of what he has set us free for. We rejoice in our freedom from guilt, the devil, and the power of our former sins — and, to be sure, these deliverances are wonderful enough to furnish us with songs for all eternity. But unless we also rejoice in what Christ has set us free for, we have misunderstood our freedom.
What, then, has Christ set us free for? He has set us free to serve. “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).
Go Low to Go High
If any of us read these words of Paul before we knew Jesus, we likely would have been confused. In our natural, sinful state, we associate the word freedom with all sorts of words — independence, personal fulfillment, individual choice — but never with the word 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. The more we give ourselves to others’ welfare, the more we discover, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, that “[God’s] service is perfect freedom.”
We need look no further than the 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 his disciples, “I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). He laid down his life for the sins of people like us (John 10:18), people too self-important to concern ourselves with others’ needs. In the story of his serving, suffering, and saving, we see the freest man who ever lived (John 8:31–32).
Since we are made in the image of this Savior who served us, we need not fear losing our freedom when we, like him, wrap the servant’s towel around our waist (John 13:1–20). When we bend our necks to this yoke, we walk straighter. When we kneel upon this ground, we stand taller. Freedom is not found in serving ourselves. Freedom is found in being like him.
Trust and Step
We should not be surprised, of course, when we regularly (even daily) find ourselves simply not wanting to serve. Perhaps we come home from work to a toddler’s wail and the afternoon snack strewn across the floor. Or another February day piles snow onto our driveway in heaps, after we have already shoveled three times this week. Or we see a socially taxing church member sitting off by himself.
What do we do in such moments? How do we “through love serve one another” when service is the last thing on our minds? We banish the thought that the service in front of us is somehow slavery. We remember that “for freedom Christ has set us free.” And we believe that the same Christ who delivered us from our sins is zealous to take us into deeper levels of freedom — not in spite of or around the service in front of us, but through it.
The great missionary Hudson Taylor once wrote,
It little matters to my servant whether I send him to buy a few cash worth of things, or the most expensive articles. In either case he looks to me for the money, and brings me his purchases. So, if God places me in great perplexity, must He not give me much guidance; in positions of great difficulty, much grace; in circumstances of great pressure and trial, much strength? No fear that His resources will be unequal to the emergency! (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 168)
If Christ has freed us from our sins, will he not also free us from today’s selfishness (Galatians 2:20)? If he has given us his Spirit, will he not also give us everything we need as we seek to serve his people (Galatians 3:5)? He surely will. For freedom he has set us free. We need only trust him, draw a deep breath, and keep stepping into his freedom.