Paul urges his readers not to waste their freedom in Christ by merely serve themselves. “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Gal 5:13) We can’t just do whatever comes naturally. Paul has made clear that God calls us to use our freedom to serve each other in love under the power of His Holy Spirit with us.
According to Paul, we are able to allow God’s Spirit to lead our thoughts, words, and actions instead of following our own sinful desires. “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” (Gal 5:16–18)
The flesh is human achievement, and a form of self-righteousness. To walk after the flesh is to seek life in terms of what man can accomplish himself. We can choose to do all kinds of religious things in the flesh, but if we haven’t given our lives to Christ, humbled ourselves to His will, and allow Him to perform those through us, it is living to the flesh and not the Spirit.
Jesus is clear what He thinks about such living: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matt 7:21-23) Walking in the flesh takes no effort on our part – it comes quite naturally.
In the book of Amos, we catch up with the Israelites who sang to the Lord, sacrificed to the Lord and worshiped Him, but they did so without repenting from their sin, so God didn’t accept their sacrifices. God judges false worship (Amos 3:14-4:5). Until righteousness comes down as a stream and cleanses everything in it’s way–until we allow our hearts to be open to that stream of righteousness–we aren’t giving God a true sacrifice of praise and worship (Amos 5:18-24). Instead, we are “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:5).
We shouldn’t be surprised if Jesus doesn’t know us if we only play one of His followers on Sundays. We can quote Scripture and call Him the Way (John 14:6), the Truth (1 Jn 3:19-20) and the Light (Eph 5:8), but if we don’t follow Him, believe in Him or see Him, it means nothing. We can call Him Lord or Teacher, but if we don’t serve Him (Luke 9:23–25) or listen to Him (Matt 11:15), then isn’t it just words?
We are clearly to serve one another: “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Gal 5:13) The Son of God did not come to be served, but instead to serve (Matt 20:28). And “a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master” (Matt 10:24), so it is even more important that we serve one another in love in order to glorify our Lord. The only way we are able to love others like that is because Jesus saved us from our sinful selves, and gave us His love of others: “We love, because He first loved us.” (1 Jn 4:19)