The Spirit of Freedom
Living Under Influence
This message series is called “Living Under Influence” because we are going to explore what it means to live a life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Of course, this phrase may make you think of being under influence of alcohol or narcotics. That is why the subline to the series is this short verse from Ephesians: Don’t be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.
As Christians, we are called to live a life full of the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit enables us to live life differently. To live a life of freedom and impact. Too many Christians stay uninformed about the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. They understand God the Father. They understand that Jesus is the Son of God – but the person of the Holy Spirit is one big question mark, or a very boxed in view of what He does. Yet, the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is absolutely essential.
The Holy Spirit plays an essential role in every part of our Christian life.
He leads us to conversion, He guides our prayer and understanding of the Bible, changes us from the inside out to live like Jesus and empowers our testimony and ministry through supernatural gifts. There is no Christian life without the work of the Holy Spirit. And therefore, I believe it is essential for us to understand what the Bible says about His work in those who believe and that we seek to also see this manifested in our lives.
What is Freedom?
I’m privileged to live in the Netherlands, a country where I can live in freedom. Keeping up with the news from around the world I realize that not everyone is as privileged as I am. In many places, freedom is limited through slavery, censorship, occupation and oppression.
Yet, we also live in a time where this freedom is idolized. There is a radical individualistic approach to the concept of freedom, where we turn the human right to live freedom into a mantra saying: “do whatever you want” and “be whoever you want to be”. In fact, many have come to believe that any limitation or correction of these freedoms will prevent us from being our true selves. Happiness and fulfilment are achieved when we live unbound to rules, other people’s opinions and restrictions.
It is in this environment of the idolization of the self and the right to do whatever you want to do, where so many fall into destructive lifestyles that all end up looking the same: sexual immorality, addiction, selfishness and self-righteousness.
Idolized freedom becomes slavery, because you have to do whatever your heart tells you to do. But Christ has truly set us free, not to do whatever we want, but to be who He has created us to be!
Galatians 5:1 (NIV)
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
In Jesus, there is a new reality. The grace of Jesus Christ has set you free from sin, so that you could live a life of freedom. Yet, Paul warns; be careful not to put yourself under a new burden again!
We used to be enchained by two chains. Firstly, the chain of the law saying: "You will never be good enough. You can try your best, but you will always fail". It is a heavy burden to carry. Secondly, the chain of sin saying: "You are bound to follow your desires, even when they lead you to do things that harm yourself and others". This is making you a slave!
Christ has broken both of these chains when He died and rose from the grave! He has paid the price that the law demanded, and broken the power of sin over our lives – so that we can live in freedom. He has set us free so that we could live the life He intended for us all along! And that is a life through the Holy Spirit.
And so, Paul continues:
Galatians 5:16-18 (NIV)
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
When we walk with the Spirit, then we are truly free. We are no longer bound to follow our own desires. Freedom is not doing whatever you want, but the ability to do what is right and walk away from what is wrong. Paul describes this whole thing in terms of a conflict. There are two competing forces within us. Maybe this is how you experience life sometimes as well. Am I going to respond with love or in anger? In faith or rebellion? In fear or in trust? With bitterness or with forgiveness? It's like a tug-of-war!
But Christ came to give us victory in that battle. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we are not bound to the flesh anymore, but released, so that we can live according to the example of Christ. It is still a battle, we will not always get it right, but we enter the battle from a position of victory. In my own power I can’t. But in the power of the Holy Spirit, I can!
The Fruit of Our Own Desires
And just to paint the contrast between the two ways to live very clearly, Paul starts to describe the fruit of both lives, starting with a life in the flesh first.
Galatians 5:19 (NIV)
the acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;
When we follow every thought and urge or desire that comes up in our hearts, this is the end result. We exchange temporary pleasure for wisdom and end up hurting ourselves and others. Isn’t it ‘funny’ how sin makes everyone around the world look exactly the same?
Galatians 5:20 (NIV)
idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
These are all sins that come forth from prioritizing the self. Self-justification, self-centredness, wanting to control the future, wanting for yourself what belongs to someone else – gosh, this must be so tiring! This doesn’t sound like freedom at all! It sounds more like bondage!
Galatians 5:21 (NIV)
I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
This is an interesting sentence. Because the story that post-modernity is telling us, is that if we keep on progressing in this pursuit of ultimate freedom, being able to do what you want, we will reach utopia. And you’ll hear people say: “A better world is possible if we all just love each other”. It sounds true, but the fact is that we will never be able to reach that without Christ on the throne.
We cannot have the Kingdom of God without the King. And we cannot have true freedom, unless Christ sets us free through His Spirit.
See & reflect the glory of the Lord
Before we continue with this passage in Galatians, I want to take a quick sidestep to another one of Paul’s letters.
2 Cor 3:16-17 (NLT)
But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Paul is using an Old Testament image of the veil that Moses put over his face to make sure the Israelites weren’t blinded by the radiance on his face. He reflected the glory of God. Paul uses the image of that veil to explain how our understanding and experience of who God truly is was covered. But the Holy Spirit lifts that veil.
2 Corinthians 3:18a (NLT)
So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord.
We can SEE and REFLECT the glory of the Lord. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to SEE who God truly is. And so, we are free to enter into His presence and see Hi face to face like Moses did and to live in relationship with God. And through that seeing, we can start to REFLECT the glory of God. Moses met God face-to-face and his face became so radiant that it blinded the eyes of the people. When we meet our Lord face-to-face, our lives will start to reflect His glory more and more.
2 Corinthians 3:18b (NLT)
And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.
Three truths about holiness
In some way, we understand the term holiness as unreachable, unreal and even undesirable. Holiness and freedom, though, are closely related. You were created to live a holy life, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, you are liberated to actually live it.
1) Holiness is a work of the Holy Spirit in us
Holiness is a work of the Holy Spirit deep within us. As the Holy Spirit helps us to read and interpret Scripture, pray and listen, He starts to move our hearts in the direction God wants us to move into. As a result, our lives will become more and more like Jesus and we will reflect the glory of God into this broken world.
What we need to understand about holiness, is that this is not only a result of the will. Too often we have approached holiness as a result of disciplining yourself and denying yourself. Yes, part of holiness is absolutely that we break with old habits and that we step away from those sinful desires. I always say: junk in, junk out. If you keep on feeding yourself with music and stories and books that have nothing to do with God, then that is going to form your thinking and lead you away from the life God has for you.
Holiness without the Holy Spirit is striving.
But it is a mistake to see holiness solely as a result of a strong will. Holiness without the Holy Spirit is striving. Paul says that this is like putting on a new yoke of slavery again. But it is for freedom that you were set free!
Romans 8:11-14 (NLT)
Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
It is through the power of the Holy Spirit in us that we can break away from the burden of the law and the slavery to sin, to be formed to the image of Christ.
2) Holiness is not loftiness
Do you feel this pressure sometimes that as a Christian you need to be better than everybody else to set an example? I believe this is a mix between a good desire to be a testimony of what the Holy Spirit has done in you, and the arrogant idea that they may believe because of our own righteousness.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t make me better than you, He makes me better than me!
May I just invite you to release yourself from that pressure and self-righteousness? The Holy Spirit doesn’t make me better than you, He makes me better than me! That’s all the testimony you need.
3) Holiness is more about what you do, than about what you avoid
As we return to the passage where we started, we see that Paul goes on to describe the life of freedom that God has for us. He helps us to understand that the life the Spirit is leading us to is not just away from some things, but towards some other things.
I love the next couple of verses in Galatians 5. They show the characteristics of a life in the power of the Holy Spirit, a life of freedom and holiness.
Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)
But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives:
love, not as a circumstantial emotion, but unconditional love that goes beyond our understanding. A love that has led pastors in Sri Lanka to forgive the attackers, for example.
joy, this is more than just happiness. True joy does not depend on circumstances but a work of the Spirit deep within us based in the truth of God.
peace, again, not depending on circumstances but an inner status of the soul that knows that God is in control.
These are three things that the Holy Spirit works deep within us, which reflect the character of God. This then completely changes the way we think, speak and act.
patience, we don’t need to be short-fused anymore, but can have love and respect for the tempo and choices of others.
kindness, we are called to be kind, not judgmental
goodness, the Spirit changes our hearts to naturally want good things for ourselves and others, even when they don’t deserve it!
faithfulness, through the Holy Spirit we can have an unshakable faith and be voice of hope in the lives of others.
gentleness, which is so needed in our society which is becoming so harsh
and self-control. Our emotions don’t get to take the upper hand and direct our decisions, but our spirit can follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5:24-25 (NLT)
There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.