Counseling Galatians: Why Does It Appear We Experience So Little Freedom In the Christian Life?

October 11, 2017

David Robinson

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David Robinson

“Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1, HCSB).

Freedom is a powerful word which evokes great hope and joy in the heart of the believer. Imagine, we are freed to be free! We imagine our freedom will be experienced in the same way God’s people experienced deliverance from Egypt. We hope for the same ‘walk through the sea on dry ground’ moment, leaving behind our enemies of addiction, shame, guilt, and suffering.

However, at least experientially, freedom seems to promise so much but deliver so little. We know we are free, but we don’t seem to enjoy our freedom. If God has the power to lead over a million people out of Egypt, why do I still feel enslaved to darkness or sin? In Galatians 5:16-18, Paul teaches freedom experienced and enjoyed.

Walk By the Spirit

“I say then, walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).

Paul begins with a simple life moment in our experience of freedom – going for a walk. He encourages us to engage in a journey with and by the Spirit. One of the daily events that immediately ceased in the life of Adam and Eve when they sinned was their walks with God. Fellowship with God was broken.

However, in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, Jesus began to walk with his disciples. His walks provided moments of instruction, protection, care, and compassion. The disciples often said the wrong words and became anxious as the storms hit, but Jesus showed compassion towards them in their physical and spiritual weakness.

Freedom is experienced in a very similar way as we walk by the Spirit. Upon ascending to glory, Jesus promised the presence, power, and comfort of the Holy Spirit for every believer. Believers now desire to walk by the Spirit. We walk in fellowship with the Spirit as we experience His compassion, conversation, and words of encouragement. Freedom is not found in the moments of great victory, but in the small moments of fellowship. It is most often experienced in the normal places believers find themselves: reading His Word, prayer, celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and honest fellowship.

You Don’t Do What You Want

“For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want” (Gal. 5:17).

Paul brings an unpleasant image to mind. Instead of walking by the Spirit in a nice garden on a beautiful day we often find that our walks take place in the trenches when it is dark and rainy.

Our flesh battles with the Spirit and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh, so often times we find ourselves torn. In fact, Paul says in our moments of honesty and confession, we will often say: I didn’t do what I wanted.

Realistically, Paul says we do not experience the fullness of freedom here on earth. There will always be a level of pain and frustration. On our walks with the Spirit, we will grow silent, we will stumble, or even worse, we will wander.

Believers Are Led as They Walk

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18).

You may be thinking, “Well, that was not very encouraging.”

You’re right. But as always, the last words are not given to the battle of our hearts but to the victory of the resurrected Jesus. While we may let go of the Spirit’s hand, the Spirit hangs on tightly to our hand. He searches us out and finds us just as that one lost sheep was found by the great Shepherd. While our walking by the Spirit may be messy, the leading of the Spirit is precious to us and, in fact, where we experience true and vibrant freedom.

In many ways, as believers, we are toddlers learning to walk again and again. But our walk does not depend on the strength of our legs but on the strength and compassion of the work of the Spirit. Scripture paints the picture of a father or mother taking a toddler for a walk – leading, sometimes carrying, always in control, and always knowing where we are and where we are going. The mysterious presence of the Spirit leads “through the valley of darkness” – never leaving, always present, always growing us.

Experience of Freedom

Freedom is experienced in the small moments.
Freedom is experienced in the trenches of life.
Freedom is experienced as we are led by the Spirit.

Are you just living life? Freedom. Are you battling? Freedom. Why? Because of the Spirit’s leading.

Our freedom is not always found in mountaintop experiences but often in deep, messy life conversations with God. It is not a giant step but a small step of obedience. Ultimately, our freedom is found in knowing we are greatly loved as the Spirit walks us in the truth of the gospel of Jesus and journeys with us through life. And if we are loved, that truth sets us free.

Question for Reflection

How has the book of Galatians impacted your understanding and experience of freedom?

David Robinson has been pastor of Grace Bible Church in Cambridge, Canada for the past 22 years. He is also chair of the board of the Canadian Biblical Counseling Coalition and Director of the Biblical Counseling Certificate Program at Heritage College and Seminary in Cambridge.