In the “land of the free,” we often confuse the true nature of freedom. For many of us, freedom has become synonymous with personal independence — the ability to make our own decisions and choose our own path in life, to do whatever we want, whenever we want–which is prideful. But this is not the freedom that Jesus promised us. When Jesus revealed Himself as the Messiah, He said that He had come to Earth to “proclaim freedom” (Luke 4:18). And on another occasion, He said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

“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. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” (Gal. 5:13-15 ESV)

Jesus was not setting us free to do whatever we wanted; He was freeing us to do what we ought to do. He was liberating us to walk in relationship with God and to be the kind of people He created us to be–those who “through love serve one another”. This spiritual freedom is the ability to obey God and choose His will for our lives. And this is the freedom that sin had long denied us. The command to love (which should be seen as a summons to have the obedience which faith produces), is a command to have the kind of free and confident heart that by its very nature has to love.

Jesus shocked the Pharisees, the spiritual leaders of His day, when He stated, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Jesus was asserting that we are all under the power and control of a natural tendency to sin; we can’t get away from it by ourselves. Sin brings a penalty that, by ourselves, we can’t escape either: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

When we live according to the flesh, we are in slavery. But when we serve each other in love, we are in freedom. Love is motivated by the joy of sharing our fullness, but the works of the flesh are motivated by the desire to fill our emptiness. When Paul says “don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature”, he means, don’t surrender the freedom that we have in the all-satisfying Christ to return to the unsatisfying desires for mere physical pleasures or vain glory.

When we love, we are not enslaved to use things or people to fill our emptiness. Love is the overflow of our fullness. “Love does not seek its own” (1 Cor 13:5). When God frees us from guilt and fear and greed and fills us with His all-satisfying presence, the only motive left is the joy of sharing our fullness. When God fills the emptiness of our heart with forgiveness and help and guidance and hope, He frees us from the bondage to accumulate things and manipulate people.

How do we find freedom from the penalty and power of sin? That comes through accepting Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross as the payment for our sin. As we submit to Christ, sin loses its power — Christ’s power takes over. As we choose to trust and follow Him, our sinful habits, thoughts and attitudes lose their control. Guilt disappears, and peace of mind dominates. Right habits become the norm. That’s freedom — true freedom!

There is no more fulfilling way to live than to draw daily on God’s all-satisfying grace and let it flow through us to meet the needs of others. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not a command to love yourself. It is a command to take your natural, already existing love of self and make it the measuring rod of your love for others.

If we don’t, we see the tragic alternative: “If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another.” Is it a coincidence this verse describes what wild animals do when they are starving, not when they are filled (empty instead of content)?

God has called us to the freedom of fullness which overflows in love, not to the slavery of emptiness which bites and devours and is never satisfied. In Jesus Christ, God offers us forgiveness, daily help and guidance, and hope for the greatest future imaginable. And it is all free, purchased by the death of Jesus, received by faith alone.

It is only the Lord who can fill us with His fullness that overflows in love, because God IS love (1 John 4:7-8). And Paul shows us how in his prayer: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:14-19) The secret of love is freedom, and the secret of freedom is utter confidence in the love of God.

I pray that God will apply His Word to your mind and heart in such a way that love comes much more naturally and freely than it has before.