October 25, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Galatians 5)

Submitted by John L. from Gracepoint Davis Church

Galatians 5:13-15

  • How is the use of freedom for Christians radically different from the way of the world?
  • Reflect on how I’ve been using my God-given freedom.  In what ways can I increase in loving my neighbor as myself?  How will this lead to greater freedom?

The freedom that I now have as a Christian is radically different from the way of the world.  Today’s understanding of freedom follows the logic that ultimately no one can tell you what to do or how you ought to live or what to believe–because you are free.  To be free is to live it up regardless of the consequences upon yourself or others around you, freely breaking any moral standards, and certainly without any regard towards a God to whom they must give account.  It’s the freedom to be “tolerant” towards any else’s beliefs, except when another’s freedom impinges upon yours.  But looking at the consequences of the world’s freedom it’s clearly evident that it’s broken and something is drastically wrong about that way of life.  What has happened as a result of people exercising their freedom is that people have become isolated and lonely, disillusioned about life, hopeless, in despair, and even occasionally brought to the point where some have even taken their own life.  Basically, the world’s freedom has led to sin and death.  It says in 2 Timothy 3:2-5a, “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”  This kind of pain and suffering and needless heartache is the result of people’s exercise of freedom today.  But because people are blind to these things they remain in that condition being deceived that their lives are still truly free when they are under no other authority but their own wishes and desires.

Clearly this is different from the freedom that Christians understand.  Our understanding of freedom leads to knowing God, to bringing hope in the midst of despair and hopelessness, and most importantly to eternal life with God.  Our freedom is to no longer think only of ourselves, but upon God and other people so that love characterizes our motivation and interaction with others.  What a stark contrast that is from this world’s notion of freedom this is only about comparison and competition with others, about exalting the self rather than celebrating with others, and things like biting and devouring one other so that people are left hurt and damaged.  That was evident from the freedom I experienced before God to now where I see my life being elevated as I learn to have care and concern for others.  I went from a life of competing with even those I considered my best friends, to where even strangers are those I now want to love by sharing the gospel and God’s love with them.  I can say that is one of the most significant changes that I’ve experienced in my newfound freedom as a Christian.  These days I’ve had the privilege of being used by God to be a blessing to those we are serving through our church:  one afternoon at a sports time with our InterHigh youth, and the next morning with residents at a local nursing home.  In that short hour or so that I have with those people, I see my heart expanding as I long for them to receive the only worthwhile thing I can give them–God’s love.  I have concern for how they are doing, how their home life or health is, and if they are learning more about the gospel.  At the same time God is also continuing to give me ways to love those He’s placed in my life from my family to the older and younger brothers and sisters at church.  As God places more and more people in my life, I feel Him leading me to grow in my love for people in deeper ways as well, not remaining superficial and shallow but desiring deeper connection with those around me so that my thoughts are not how I can love myself, but in how to love others.  I’ve come to realize that this new usage of my freedom to serve God and others is the most glorious and transcendent thing that I could have ever found myself doing in life.  I can testify that nothing else compares to it.

  • Reflect once again on the call to love from the passages below:

Galatians 5:6, 13-15 (ESV)

6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Romans 13:8–10 (ESV)

8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

John 13:34–35 (ESV)

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Each of these passages provides a strong exhortation on how I am called to live a life of love.  All at the same time these are reminders to love because this is the proper response in light of God’s love for me, because this is the possible only way that I might fulfill the law, and because through loving others they will come to see that Christians are indeed Christ’s disciples.  The last set of verses in John 13:34-35 stand out to me the most because it was indeed as I saw the love and peace in my Christian high school friends that first piqued my interest in Christianity.  Only after I became a Christian did I identify that I experienced what was written here, that I noticed their love for one another as being something that helped to point me to want to know Christ more.  That is the kind of powerful impact God shows that believers can have on others today because of their love for one another.  Because of the sacrificial and servant-like love that I show others whom I have no other connection to except that we belong in the body of Christ, that’s able to bring others (like me before) to seeing that God is real, that following Him makes a huge difference in our lives, and that this kind of love is such a rare thing that even money cannot buy.  In fact, on many occasions I’ve heard how the relatives of our family members were able to witness the love we expressed for one another at a time of a wedding or other difficult situation that they commented, “money cannot buy the kind of friends you have.”  So it’s no wonder God calls us to live this way because it is the most meaningful life we were created to live as opposed to the world’s notion of being free to live however you want.  So I am inspired and compelled again to live a life of love for my own sake, but also for all those around me who can have that much greater opportunity to testify that God is real because they have seen such a rare kind of love expressed from His followers.

Personal Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for revealing this newfound freedom for me which is no longer defined by serving myself and following my desires, but to love and obey You and to love others around me.  I have been personally impacted by Your love demonstrated to me on the cross as well as the love of other Christians who have shown me such love that I could not have imagined happening in a life without God.  That’s because this kind of love is not expressed through one’s freedom to do whatever he wants, but in desiring the very best for someone else even if it comes at a personal cost.  As I have been a witness of such love, I pray that I can also live a life of love so that others may be pointed towards You.  Please give me the persistent and loving heart for others You have placed in my life that is the result of knowing Your personal love for me.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

Submitted by Bo C. from Gracepoint Davis Church

Galatians 5:13-15

· How is the use of freedom for Christians radically different from the way of the world? How does the world use their freedom?

The world uses their freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, to do whatever they want, to please their own desires, to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, to gain and benefit for self. The worldly view towards freedom is self-centered, that freedom is something that one is entitled to enjoy, as a personal right to do whatever I want to do with the freedom that I have.

But for Christians, the use of freedom is radically different in that, through love, we are to use our freedom to serve one another. It is God-centered and other-centered. Freedom is not something that we keep and hoard to enjoy ourselves.

·  Reflect on how I’ve been using my God-given freedom.  In what ways can I increase in loving my neighbor as myself?  How will this lead to greater freedom?

What is the God-given freedom that I have in Christ? Through Christ, God has set me free from the penalty and power of sins. I am free from guilt, shame, fear, addiction and enslavement from sins, and I am given a clean slate and a new start to live my life for God.

In more ways than before, I have been using my God-given freedom to serve Him. I see how God has filled my life with so much meaningful work to engage in and many people to love. I’ve been set free from a sense of guilt, shame, inward-focused life, and God opens my eyes to see various needs around me and my life becomes occupied with people and relationships. I’ve been set free from greed and love of money, and God has used the monetary resources that He blessed me with for His ministry. As God dealt with my selfishness and I experienced freedom and release from a sense that I had to tightly grip onto my own life and control over my time and schedule, God brought more opportunities for me to love and give myself for others, that I experience peace and joy as I spend my time doing His work. And now, there are some struggles that God had helped me to overcome, and I’ve been able to use this freedom from sins and enslavement to help others go through similar struggles. Rather than simply being satisfied with me doing well spiritually or only taking care of my spiritual life, I’ve used this freedom to help lead others through the process of repentance or personal struggles. God has set me free from some of the worldly desires that strongly gripped me such as worldliness, materialism, human approval or competitiveness, and I have been able to use the roominess in my life to carry on additional burdens of praying and struggling along side with others who are going through difficult times.

But there are also many times when I still use this freedom for myself–to take care of my own life first. Now that I am a mom, I can feel the temptation to look out for the well-being not only of myself but also of my child to the point where this can become consuming and I begin to ignore the needs of others God places in my life. There is no end to meeting my self-centered needs first, and that becomes more urgent and pressing than to care for others. When I use God-given freedom to look out for and take care of myself first, I have less room for others. When I love less and care less, I find that my heart is less interested, less concerned and less burdened about others.

Ways that I can increase in loving my neighbor as myself?

–          Oftentimes, I want to set a limit of how much I can love and serve others. My desire to control my life to keep it manageable often causes me to not use my freedom to love but to protect my life rather than to spend it to love. To increase in love, I need to embrace a surrendered life of a servant and respond to the needs around me. I am reminded of Romans 12:2 that to increase in loving others, it starts with the renewing of my mind. I am called to not conform to the worldly pattern of seeing freedom as for mine to hoard selfishly, but to renew my mind and see that my life and freedom is to be surrendered and given freely to God. It starts with the attitude that this life and freedom is not mine but God’s.

–          I can increase in loving by broadening my scope of concerns, and that is by knowing what is going on. To know little about others means to be less burdened by others. As I live my life each day, it is easy to be wrapped up and become narrowly focused with just my life. So in my relationships, I need to invest time. To love requires knowledge–I cannot love if I don’t know what’s going on in different people’s lives starting with my leaders, spouse, peers and the students I am ministering to. In my relationships with leaders/spouse/peers, I cannot allow busyness to get in the way of connecting, building relationship and praying for one another. In my relationship with those I minister to, I cannot be simply satisfied with them coming out to our events and just letting them be, but to find out more, keep pushing the relationship along, and help lead them closer to God.

–          Loving my neighbor as myself–because I am selfish, I am so good at looking out for myself and taking care of my needs. One way that I can love people in my life as myself is to start looking out for their needs also. Each time I think of something that I can benefit from, I want to start a habit of thinking of one other person who can also benefit from this as much as me.

Love leads to greater freedom–it is so paradoxical because when you love, you limit your options. You would think that a person would become less free, and yet a person is actually more free. Because love limits your options and your life become simplified, life can take on a clearer focus. What brings enslavement is the tension of what my selfish desire wants to do versus what love calls me to do.  But when I increase in loving, I have less room to be selfish and less room to sin, which leads to greater freedom and deliverance from the black hole of selfishness, self-centeredness, greed, pride, ego-craving ways. The more I engage in labor of love, the more my heart can expand, and the less control/grip the enslaving power of selfishness can have on me.

Submitted by Cindy C. from Gracepoint Davis Church

Galatians 5:1-15 (ESV)

  • How is the use of freedom for Christians radically different from the way of the world?

The world tells us that freedom is to be able to do whatever you want to do. The world tells us to go and satisfy our cravings, lusts, and desires. Freedom is to be free of boundaries and authority. The pursuit of these dreams and desire sound so good at first and at first it may give temporary satisfaction but that sense of satisfaction quickly fades away. Instead of giving allowing us to experience real freedom, ironically this kind of living leads to being enslaved by sin. For instance, in college campuses, so many students are enslaved to success, such that it causes them to be highly competitive people. The result? They cannot stand anyone who does better than them. They also want to spend more time pursuing their success so they need to spend more time studying, taking up more internships/jobs in order to create a better resume. They may have an impressive resume but in the end they are left feeling unsatisfied because there are more things to achieve and more people to outdo, and they are also left feeling lonely because they pushed everyone away.

This is in stark contrast to the real freedom that Christ wants to give us. For Christians, freedom comes from being able to live as Christ intended us to live, which comes from being freed from our sins. This is the freedom that Apostle Paul speaks on in verse 5—“For freedom Christ has set us free.” Christ set us free from selfishness so that we can be free to give ourselves to serve others. Christ set us free from greediness and stinginess so that we can be free to be generous with others. Christ set us free from lust so that we can be free to view and love others in the pure and holy way that God intended us to view and love others. Christ set us free from insecurity so that we can be free to be ourselves around others and be paranoid about how we appear or worry about whether or not we’re accepted by others. When listed out this way, the freedom for Christians sounds great, so why is it that many Christians don’t experience the level of freedom that was intended for them? Simply put, its hard work fighting against our sins. It requires denying myself, going against the default ways of going back to the sins that I’m so familiar and accustomed to. It may require times of going away to pray and fast so that God’s Word can take root in my heart. I know for myself that this process is long and hard and sometimes there are periods of time when it feels like I’m struggling in vain because there is so change. However, when I look back on the years which I struggled, I can testify that the struggling has not been in vain because throughout the years there have been freedoms that I am experiencing now that I would have never experienced had it not been for Christ. For instance, one thing I can say I’m experiencing now is the freedom to relate to others the way that Christ intended me to.  Before Christ I had a really hard time genuinely relating with other people because I thought that if I revealed an ugly truth about myself the other person wouldn’t like me anymore and reject me. I would even go the extreme with lying to the person about my favorite food or color, in fear that if my preferences didn’t match my friends then they would reject me. Though it’s still not always easy to be vulnerable I find it easier to let others know about the dark side of me because I know that ultimately I will not be rejected by my sisters in Christ because our relationship is based on unconditional love for one another and the covenantal relationship we have through Christ.

As I’m reminded of the stark contrast between the freedoms that this life offers and the freedoms that Christ offers, I want to recommit myself to fighting against sin so that I can experience genuine freedom. I confess there are still so many voices of the world that call me to be more comfortable and to settle down and focus on my family instead, but I know that if I really pursue that kind of life I will be someone enslaved to my family. I will end up like the many paranoid helicopter parents out there whose extent of their lives are their kids. In contrast in Christ, God tells me that I don’t need to be so worried and paranoid about my child or my family because He loves them more than I can and He can take care of them in ways that I cannot, which gives me the freedom to use my time/energy/emotions to love others, and in so doing enrich and elevate my life with more relationships and purpose.

  • Reflect on how I’ve been using my God-given freedom.  In what ways can I increase in loving my neighbor as myself?  How will this lead to greater freedom?

I confess I haven’t been using my God-given freedom to the extent or capacity that God has intended me to use it.  What gets in the way is my own selfishness. In my day to day life this looks like considering my own errands and things to do more important than other people. I confess how I’ve allowed my puny concerns about wanting to get home in time to clean up or to rest a little earlier to get in the way of being fully there with a conversation with someone. Or how I’ve allowed the worry about getting a task done take away from caring enough about someone and approaching them to see how they are doing.    Verse 13 tells me that a clear sign of using my God-given freedom in the way that He intended me to use it is through love to serve one another. Or in conversations just getting straight to business and staying focused on the task all the while ignoring some pretty stressful things I know that the person is going through. At the moment these things don’t seem like a big deal to me but when I zoom out the picture that emerges is a really cold person who only cares about getting what I want done, done.  God did not free me from my life of sin so that I can do things. He freed me from my sins so that I can love others…

One way I can increase in loving my neighbor as myself is to remind myself that the focus is people, not task, so that even when I am engaging in some kind of work with another person I can remember to ask about things I know that are going on in their lives or to simply ask them about how their day is going. Another way I can increase in loving my neighbor as myself is to just take time out to think about the needs of the people around me. I know this was a practice that my spiritual leaders taught me that was helpful in being more mindful about others, and that’s something I want to start again. I can also pray for greater love, greater awareness, and greater curiosity for others. My experience has been when I do pray that, God does prompt my heart to praying specifically for others which has led me to loving someone concretely.

In these ways I am able to experience greater freedom in the sense that my life has added value and meaning to my life, especially when I know that engaging myself in God’s work can affect people eternally. I recall some of my fondest times in my life are times when I get to work hard for God whether it is preparing for a big event or serving on the mission field. Those are times I stop thinking about myself and lose myself in God’s work. I love those times because I’m completely free from thoughts like self-pity, discontentment, or jealousy that I would otherwise easily fall prey to.  Sometimes doing God’s work is sometimes tiring, but it’s not a tiredness that makes me never want to do this again, but a tiredness that says: this is how life is meant to be spent, and with that a sense of joy.

Reflect once again on the call to love from the passages below:

Galatians 5:6, 13-15 (ESV)

6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Romans 13:8–10 (ESV)

8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

John 13:34–35 (ESV)

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

These verses reveal God’s heart for us. He didn’t save us and call us into a relationship with Him so that we can just follow rules or laws or do His work. Galatians 5:6 says the only thing that counts is faith working through love. Even if I can follow God’s laws and complete all my tasks for God, but yet lack love, then what I did counts for nothing.  The laws God gave us are also out of his heart for us to love one another, as Romans 13:9 says that the commandments can be summed up as loving our neighbor as ourselves. Again, loving others is the main focus.

God also didn’t intend the freedom He granted me should not be used as an opportunity for the flesh. This means God did not intend me to use my freedoms to accumulate more time for myself or more comforts. He designed my freedoms to be use to love and serve one another, and to love my neighbor as myself. This truth is so simple but requires such a big paradigm shift on my part in times when I think that I need to take care of myself first or in times when I think that finishing and carrying out a task with efficiency is more important than considering the person right in front of me as most important. This is the kind of life I that should and that I want to live because love was what Jesus was all about. His life of love was so radical; it cut across all boundaries people knew at that time. He loved the outcasts, the lepers, the demon-possessed, the prostitutes, the women, the children, the tax-collectors…He also didn’t know a distance too far to travel in order to reach these people. He willingly gave his time, energy, and emotions to love. Even in his dying breath he forgave the man hanging on the cross next to Him. In a time in life now as a mom where commodities of time, energy, and emotion are more precious to me, the life of Jesus and the lives of brothers and sisters around me who live this kind of selfless life challenges me. It’s been 10 years since I first stepped foot on the UCD campus as a freshman and because of people who had jobs and families sacrificed their comforts, time and money, I was able to receive the Gospel. Looking back I feel so indebted to those who took these verses seriously and didn’t limit their boundaries to truly love me so that I could come to know God. It’s my commitment, once again to pass one that same kind of sacrificial love to those in my midst.

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