(Galatians 5: 1, 13-25)


If asked, in my old age, what was the most rewarding thing I ever did as a police officer, defense attorney, or prosecutor, it wouldn’t be any particular case, and there were many, it would be the four years I served as the Prosecuting Attorney over the Jefferson County Drug Court program.  In order to get into Drug Court, the person would had to have broken the law.  A felony law to be exact.  Some were first-time offenders that we were lucky enough to catch early before they could slide any further into the abyss of the unforgiving drug life.  But most of our participants had amassed quite an impressive criminal resume’ and they were either ready to accept our help or face a significant prison sentence.  Mostly they took it to forestall the inevitable trip to prison.  Because of their drug-seeking behavior these folks had done some pretty significant damage not only to themselves but to almost anyone who ever cared about them.  Most had left quite a bit of pain and misery in their wake as they continually hurt the ones who loved them the most.  Some of the things they had done shocked even me with all my experience as a police officer and defense attorney who had pretty much seen it all and heard it all.  Our 12 Step program took up to 24 months to complete and we did have a few that took a bit longer if we could see a light at the end of the tunnel.  We began by helping them realize that they were powerless over their addiction and that their lives had become unmanageable and that if they were going to change, they had to get their “higher power” involved.  Their freedom was not free.  They were going to have to work for it, and they were going to need help, lots of help.


And it’s that freedom we have through Jesus Christ that the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for today.  Christ has set us free for freedom, but we must stand fast and guard against relapsing.  Paul’s concern with the Galatians was that they wouldn’t make a clean break with the law and base their grace relationship on Christ alone.  Aligning themselves with the law of Moses, as good and righteous as it was, would be a gross devaluation of the Holy Spirit and the promised inheritance won at such a personal cost to Jesus Christ.  He says: You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love.  He’s not talking to non-believers.  He’s talking primarily to the new Gentile converts who have come to accept Christ.  They were called to freedom in Christ, and he was warning against seeing this freedom as an opportunity to indulge their selfish impulses.  As the former Drug Court prosecutor, that really resonated with me.  We would see the participants and many of the graduates come to a point in their recovery when they thought they had it under control and convince themselves that they could go back and try it again, take a drink, do some drugs just once or twice, thinking they could stop anytime, and if it got bad, they could always rework the steps.  They weren’t ready to accept the fact that they couldn’t have it both ways.  And we can’t have it both ways either.


Paul tells his readers that all of the law has been fulfilled in a single statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.  And that was the problem we had in Drug Court.  Many of these participants, in their past life, loved their neighbors as they loved themselves.  The problem was that they didn’t love themselves and had no love for others, even those who held out hope for a miracle.  The love they had had been pushed out of their hearts by their drug seeking behavior.  They were consumed by their selfish desires which is what Paul is talking about when he says: But if you bite and devour each other, be careful that you don’t get eaten up by each other!  That was a problem I faced as the Drug Court prosecutor.  Before placing someone in Drug Court I would contact the victim who, more often than not, was a loved one to let them know about my plans for placing the defendant into the program.  Many times, I would be told that I was wasting my time and that the person would never change, and every once in a while, the victim would object strenuously insisting on a prison sentence just so they could get some relief from the drug-induced and fueled drama.    I’d tell them that it was worth a shot and if it didn’t take prison was still an option.  It was a lot of work with the risk of the participant relapsing and going on a destructive crime spree.  I could have given into my selfish desire to be a “tough on crime” prosecutor securing my re-election and retirement, or I could do what was risky but right.


But Paul says that we should be guided by the Spirit which will help us not to give into our selfish desires.  He says: A person’s selfish desires are set against the Spirit, and the Spirit is set against one’s selfish desires.  They are opposed to each other, so you shouldn’t do whatever you want to do.  Paul’s talking about that inner conflict we have between doing what we know is right and what feels good but is ultimately harmless to us and others in the end.  It’s that little voice that whispers in our ears that it’s not a big deal, nobody will get hurt, nobody will find out, it’s your life and you should be free to do what you want.  We saw that in drug court.  The participant would be doing well and working the steps when somebody from their past life would show up to tempt them.  “Hey man, don’t listen to those guys.  They aren’t your friends.  They don’t care about you, you’re just a statistic.  Loosen up, have some fun, you deserve it.”  And there it was, the relapse.  But we would, if we could, stick with them telling them that today was day one and to start working the steps again with us walking right beside them.


Paul says that if we are being led by the Spirit, we aren’t under the law.  He says:  The actions that are produced by selfish motives are obvious, since they include sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealously, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that.  I won’t ask for a show of hands, but I’d be willing to bet that we can all say: “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.”   Paul reminds his readers that he has previously warned them that those among them who do these sort of things will not inherit God’s kingdom.  He tells them that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against this kind of behavior.  It’s just the right thing to do, not only for yourself, but for others.  He says: If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit. 


And that’s it in a nutshell.  If we live by the Spirit, then let’s follow the Spirit.  Paul has warned us against the continuous indulging of our self-centered, self-serving impulses that are so counter to the faith that we profess in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the World.  For us to continue to breathe life into our old selves is to nullify God’s grace, God’s gift of a new life in Christ as led by the Spirit.  Christ came to set us free, not to free to do whatever we want to do because that would lead us back into the slavery of our selfish desires.  This freedom we think we have to do what feels good, to sin is no freedom at all because it is a trap, it enslaves us to our sinful nature, our “drug of choice.”  A real change must take place in the believer because God has given the believer everything needed for such a change.  And thanks to Christ, we are now free and able to do what was impossible before, to live unselfishly.  All we have to do is follow the lead of the Spirit and work the steps.  The promise of the Spirit is nothing less than entire sanctification; the eventual absence of lust, anger, malice, pride, and envy from the heart of the believer since love has so taken possession of the space within our hearts.  Love comes back into your heart.


Like working a twelve-step program of recovery the first step is in admitting we have a problem, and we do.  We all have evil desires, and we can’t ignore them.  They won’t go away on their own.  We must recognize that we are powerless to do this on our own and with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit we can deal with them decisively, moving them out of our lives.  And we must recognize that although the major sins are obvious, there are also less obvious sins such as selfish ambition, hatred, and jealousy which can fester and become uncontrollable.  If we ignore these sins or refuse to deal with them it reveals that we really haven’t received the gift of the Spirit that leads to a transformed life not enslaved to sin.  Being led by the Holy Spirit involves the desire to hear, the readiness to obey God’s Word, and the sensitivity to discern between your feelings and His promptings.  If you live each day controlled and guided by the Holy Spirit then the words of Christ will be in your mind, the love of Christ will be in your actions, and the power of Christ will help you control your selfish desire.


As Christians we still have the capacity to sin, but we have been set free from sin’s power over us and no longer have to give in to it.  The Holy Spirit is the source of our new life, so we must keep in step with his leading.  We mustn’t let anything or anyone else determine our values and standards in any area of our life.  Paul says that because we’re saved, we should live like it because our freedom came at a cost, our freedom is not free.


Let us pray.


All to Jesus I surrender; all to him I freely give; I will ever love and trust him, in his presence daily live.  Gracious and loving Father how we praise you for the freedom we have in you that was paid by your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary.  Through his sacrifice we are no longer slaves to sin as long as we live by your Spirit.  We pray that we might enjoy the fruit of the Spirit that is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Make us Savior, wholly thine; let us feel the Holy Spirit, and truly know that thou art ours.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.