“However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you…So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh…For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”1
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”2
The ideas of freedom and obligation (duty) seem antithetical. Yet both are mentioned in scripture as aspects of the life of a believer. This deserves a closer look with reliance on God’s spirit to enlighten us.
First of all, while obligation/duty is rarely mentioned in scripture, the idea of freedom is common and is central to the mission of Jesus. This isn’t my focus here, but scripture declares Jesus came to set the captives free, we have been called to be free, God desires we take care to remain free, we will be judged by the law of freedom, all children of God are free, and more. However, this is not speaking of freedom as the world understands it, which is essentially a license to do whatever your SELF wants. This freedom is pertaining to believers, who are in Christ. There’s surely more to this, but in part I believe this is a freedom from fear and law, and a freedom to love and a genuine spiritual walk with God (hallelujah!).
Love only exists where there’s freedom and no fear. I’m talking about self-focused, natural fear. There is no fear in love and no love in fear; they are opposing forces.3 Think about that statement. Serving out of fear means I’m very aware of my self and what I could lose. Fear fuels this sense of obligation and ultimately it’s self-serving. There’s no love in that. The obligation and service of love is totally different – it’s spirit-driven and totally without self-awareness or fear of loss. It’s an obligation to honor and edify another, not to preserve self, and it’s produced naturally by the new nature of God’s spirit within. That is love – God is love!
In the passage from Romans above, Paul says true believers are “not in the flesh but in the spirit” and are “under obligation not to the flesh.” As believers, our primary obligation is to NOT live according to the flesh – our own desires, understandings, and will – regardless of how good or logical they may seem. This is the flip side of our other legitimate obligation to live according to the spirit. These obligations are legitimate because our freedom is only in the spirit and is only possible through Christ’s atonement which reconciled believers to God and made our new “natural” state of being as “in the spirit” and to “live according to the spirit.” This is what Christ came and suffered to make real, and what true salvation is all about. The flesh/self is, and is to always be regarded as, old, obsolete, unnatural, deceitful, and dead. It is something to be shunned and forsaken. To live according to a blind and dead nature is to be dead in God’s eyes.4
As a second part to my “Alienated from Life” post, I plan to look at more closely at the following scripture: “…that, in reference to your former manner of life (led by the fleshly mind and nature), you lay aside the old self (the flesh), which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit (desires that deceive – seeming godly but aren’t), and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind (grow in spiritual perception), and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (the God-given spirit within you becoming the controlling force and very life of your whole being).5 Amen.
- Romans 8:9, 12, 14
- Galatians 5:13
- 1 John 4:18
- See Romans 6:6 and 8:5, for starters.
- Ephesians 4:22-24