For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13).
To this point in Galatians, Paul has been addressing the error of legalism, the practice of trying to gain right standing with God by being good. In the above verse, Paul switches to the opposite error: libertinism. This is the view that since we are no longer under the God’s law, we are free from certain moral obligations.
Paul writes to people who were formerly gentiles. They lived in a licentious culture, like our own, and many of them once indulged desires of the flesh. They still would be pressured from without and tempted from within to continue to follow such desires. Thus there was and is a temptation to use our freedom from legalism as an excuse for transgressions.
In Romans 6, Paul describes the logic of very crass libertines. They say, “Let us sin that Grace may abound.” That is, “We love to sin, and God loves to exercise grace and show forgiveness. So let’s do what we love to do, so that God can do what He loves to do. Let us sin, so that he may forgive Romans” (6:1). I have never come across anyone so crass. Probably the most common and subtle form is simply to use the promise of forgiveness as an excuse to sin. When tempted to sin, one simply says, “Well, God will forgive me.” Whatever the underlying logic, Christ is being made the agent of sin. In Christ, says the libertine, we are free to indulge natural desires.
However, when we are indulge our natural desires we are not free, but slaves. The Bible describes people outside of Christ, as living in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mindand thus by nature children of wrath. To follow sinful desires is not freedom but slavery.
Christians are called to live carefully before God, to watch over their lives, to guard ourselves from ourselves. We misuse our freedom from the law (in the legalistic sense) to rationalize sin. So here are some areas where we might be prone to misuse our liberty in Christ.
Movies: Christians may and should go to the movies. There are good reasons to do so. But we may watch movies that we really can’t handle and use freedom as an excuse.
Alcohol: Because we are free to consume alcohol does not mean that one is free to drink until one is drunk. Yet one can do just and feel justified on the basis of freedom.
Spending money: We can spend money on this or that because God doesn’t explicitly forbid such expenditures. But actually you are indulging natural desires, and when you serve natural desires, you are not in control. They control you.
Eating: Food, like alcohol, movies, and money are gifts of God. We should enjoy food. But we can turn food into an idol. What we eat, and with whom we, can be a status symbol even. We should enjoy food and even feast from time to time. But freedoms here can also lead to self-indulgence and slavery.
When the Corinthian Christians used their freedom to justify sin, Paul responded saying “Everything is permissible, but I will be enslaved by nothing.”
Don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. If you can’t handle a movie because watching will leads you to sin, then make the thoughtful choice and abstain. If you’re getting drunk, stop. Don’t justify it on the basis of freedom. Call it what it is: Sin. If you’re buying items to consume on yourself, you are not free but a slave. If your eating is about self-indulgence, know that gluttony is idolatry.
Yield yourself, if you are believer, to the leading of the Spirit. If you walk in the Spirit you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).