If a book of the Bible could stalk you, Galatians has been following me around lately. Everywhere I go, it seems they are studying Galatians and particularly what Paul has to say about freedom. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the concept of freedom taught in Galatians is a vital lesson for our kids to learn and understand.
First, let’s take a look at how Galatians defines the freedom Christians have. “My brothers and sisters, you were chosen to be free. But don’t use your freedom as an excuse to live under the power of sin. Instead, serve one another in love. The whole law is fulfilled by obeying this one command. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If you say or do things that harm one another, watch out! You could end up destroying one another.”
“So I say, live by the Holy Spirit’s power. Then you will not do what your desires controlled by sin want you to do. The desires controlled by sin do not want what the Spirit delights in. And the Spirit does not want what the desires controlled by sin delight in. The two are at war with each other. That’s why you are not supposed to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the authority of the law.” (Galatians 5:13-18 NIrV)
Notice what Paul writes in that first verse quoted. Christians have freedom, but not the freedom to go around sinning. Your kids need to have this verse so deeply imprinted on their hearts, it becomes part of their identity. The world and even many Christians today promote quite the opposite life philosophy. They will tell your kids they need to do what makes them happy or that God wants them to be happy. They may even be told all they need to do as a Christian is to “love like Jesus”.
The reality is your children’s freedom in Christ means “loving like Jesus” also means avoiding the sins listed later in this chapter and repenting if they do sin. Keep reading our passage for an interesting twist, though. Notice Paul moves quite smoothly from the idea freedom is not an excuse to engage in sin to the idea of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
Why? Could it be because there is really no such thing as a “victimless” sin. Our sins hurt others in a variety of ways. For your kids, start with the topic of lying – a popular sin for all of us, but especially kids and teens in the avoidance of consequences stage. Let’s say your child wanted to see a movie you thought was too violent and had told him was off limits. He goes to a friend’s house, sees the movie and then lies about it to you.
In your child’s mind, this was a victimless sin. He got to do what he wanted to do and you weren’t hurt by not knowing what happened. What he doesn’t realize is that you were indeed hurt, even if you never find out about what he did. Your relationship with him has been damaged. He showed disrespect for you as a parent and violated your trust that he would honor your wishes.
As your children disobey and begin to sin (once they reach the age of accountability), you need to help them understand how others are hurt by their sins. They need to understand that there are no victimless sins – even if they are the lone obvious victim. Yet, there is still another piece to the freedom puzzle we rarely discuss with kids and teens.
Look at the rest of the passage. Christians receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism. Notice how Paul spends quite a bit of time talking about the Holy Spirit’s role in freedom. He counsels the Galatians (and us) to tap into the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has the power to help your kids live the way God wants them to live. The desires that cause them to want to sin can’t hold them prisoner if they are leaning on the Holy Spirit to help them make godly choices.
That freedom from being enslaved by sin – not freedom to do whatever sins make us “happy” – is real freedom. That’s where the fruit of the Spirit, joy can be found. It is where the fulfilling and peaceful life your kids really want is found. Yes, there will still be bad days because we live in a fallen world, but there will be freedom from many of the cares and consequences created by those sins.
Give your children the gift of understanding what freedom really is – not American political ideals, not being able to do whatever they want, but freedom in Christ. If they can learn to embrace that true freedom, then they will indeed live lives that will give them joy and peace.