Commenting on St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (Chapter 5), scripture scholar Elliott Maloney notes that “freedom” has a very particular meaning to it in the epistles of St. Paul because he clearly connects all notions of personal liberty with Christ’s teachings on love.
“Paul cleverly combines his explanation on the proper use of freedom with an instruction on the new principle for right action, the Spirit. He starts off with a positive note, ‘You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters,‘ and then wisely cautions, ‘only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence’ (5:13). The only way to be sure of your behavior is to make sure that it is oriented in love for the good of others. Two points are made here: righteous living always serves, and acting justly is always done not for the sake of being ‘right,’ but out of authentic love. Those who continue to gratify the flesh, that is, those who look to their own advancement (as if there were nothing else to guarantee their own survival), will in fact perish. They ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’ (5:21), since they do not live as its heirs. Paul contrasts life in the flesh to the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23), the various facets of behaving with the good of the community in mind.” (Saint Paul, Kindle Loc. 3006-3012)
God gifts us with free will, and we are indeed free to act as we wish. St. Paul’s teaching is that to use the gift of free will merely to satisfy our personal physical desires is in fact to enslave ourselves to desire. What we are gifted by God for is to love one another. Freedom is a gift given to us to enable to love and serve others. Self indulgence is something we can do with our freedom, but in the end we will become slaves to selfishness and sin. Whereas, God has gifted us to aspire for the divine life of love.
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