When I was a child, my relationship with my brother was rocky at best. Wrapped in our own me-centered worlds, we cared little for what the other preferred—whether he wanted me to share the phone or I wanted him to turn down the hard rock coming through the bedroom walls. We spent several years at odds with one another because we each held tightly to the premise of “me first.” We were free, by golly, to express ourselves as we wished, and if it came at the other’s expense, then that was just the breaks.
I’m grateful to have outgrown that pattern with my brother, but unfortunately the sense of entitlement remains prevalent in my life. I am, after all, a mother! With each passing year and each additional child, my job of raising four children who grow up without an entitlement mentality is more challenging. It is human nature to focus on our own desires instead of focusing on our neighbors’ well-being. Even the foundational themes of our country remind us that we live in “the land of the free”—that we possess “certain unalienable Rights … Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” As long as the courts deem something legal, we think we can live according to our own preferences. “Disapprove of my foul language? It’s a free country.” “Offended by my Facebook rant? Get over it.”
This sort of behavior doesn’t surprise me, since selfishness pretty much defines the nature in which we are born. But Christians are born again—with a new nature. So using Scripture, such as Galatians 5:1—“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free”—to justify our sense of entitlement reflects a poor understanding of God’s Word.
If we look closely at this passage, we discover that Paul has a different meaning. In his letter to the Galatians, he urges his audience—and, by extension, us—to live in the spiritual freedom made possible by Christ. False teachers had wooed Jewish believers to return to Moses’s Law to ensure their right standing before God. But, Paul reminds them, Christ’s death fulfilled the Law once and for all. The offering of Christ brought salvation through grace. Because of his sacrifice, those who believe are no longer bound to the Law. Instead, they are obligated only to grace.
Paul dispels any idea that such grace gives believers the kind of freedom that includes an attitude of entitlement. He warns, “Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (5:13).
Before coming to faith, we served sin as its slaves. Christ set us free from such slavery, but that doesn’t mean he intended us to become slaves to ourselves. Rather than freeing us to serve ourselves, he has freed us to serve others. Such freedom rejects the spirit of entitlement; rather, it looks like holiness in action—love, joy, peace, patience, and the other fruits of the Spirit (5:22–23).
Jesus Christ set us free for freedom. And Paul encourages us to pursue that freedom by living free from enslavement to the Law and sin. We are free to serve those around us by turning down the music, sharing the phone, and loving our neighbors on Facebook. Embracing true freedom means promoting others above ourselves, thereby reflecting the nature of the one who laid down his life for his friends.