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. (Galatians 5:13)
When we truly understand the depth and richness of the gospel, we naturally feel joy, delight, and freedom because of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
But as this verse teaches, it’s possible to use even our freedom as “an opportunity for the flesh.”
Our sinful hearts can take the good benefits of the gospel and use them for selfish purposes.
Nowhere is this more evident than in our tendency to make the gospel a private reality.
When we hear words like transformation, renewal, or growth, we conceive of those benefits as being primarily personal and internal–my transformation, my growth, the gospel’s renewal of my heart.
And the gospel is personal and internal.
But it’s also much more than that.
When God’s grace is working on us and in us, it will also work itself out through us.
The internal renewal of our minds and hearts creates external propulsion that moves us out in love and service to others.
God’s grace is the driving force of all change.
This illustration reminds us that God’s grace has both an inward and an outward movement that mirrors each other.
Internally, the grace of God moves me to see my sin, respond in repentance and faith, and then experience the joy of transformation.
Externally, the grace of God moves me to see opportunities for love and service, respond in repentance and faith, and experience joy as I see God work through me.
Here’s an illustration of this concept –
In other words, the gospel is not just the answer to your internal sins, struggles, and heart idols.
It is also the answer to your failure to love others, engage the culture, and live missionally.
If the gospel is renewing you internally, it will also be propelling you externally.
It must do so, for it is “the good news of the kingdom” (Matt. 9:35), and the kingdom of God is not personal and private! Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
When we pray for the coming of God’s kingdom, we are praying both that Jesus would reign in the hearts of people (internal) and that his will would be done everywhere just as it is in heaven (external).
What does this external movement of the gospel look like in practice?
Let me give an example. I know that I should love my neighbors. Jesus commanded it.
In fact, he said it was the fulfillment of the law (Gal. 5:14).
But my next-door neighbor and I just don’t have a lot in common. He is much older and has different tastes in everything – music, movies, food, cars, lifestyle.
While I enjoy talking about a new musician I’ve discovered or a good book I’ve read recently, he’d rather reminisce about the old days when he served with the Marines in Vietnam.
For months I labored under guilt in my relationship with my neighbor. I knew I should reach out and befriend him.
But that sense of “should” had no motivational power.
It was law, not gospel.
It could show me what I ought to be doing, but it could not change my heart so that I actually wanted to do it.
I was faced with a dilemma: either force myself to love and serve my neighbor even though I did want to, or ignore him and do nothing at all. I knew that ignoring him was sin, but the first option didn’t feel much better.
Was joyless, mechanical obedience really honoring to Jesus?
Did God intend his commands to feel like drudgery?
Adapted from The Gospel-Centered Life by Bob Thune and Will Walker.