An odd thing about people who have spent large amounts of time in imprisonment is that they become institutionalized. Meaning that, they have gotten so used to having a strict schedule, someone to tell them when and where to eat, how to dress, and pretty much dictate every aspect of their lives that they cannot take care of themselves. Like an animal who has for a long time in a zoo they have no way to live in the wild again. This phenomenon often leads to greater destruction in world outside of the prison and many times the one who was set free will do wrong to go back to the prison they had just left.
In our captivity to sin institutionalization is a big problem as well. People spend so much of their lives enslaved to sin and selfish desires that when they are set free through belief in Christ they do not know how to live in their new environment. They were so used to the order of the carnal man that they cannot fully grasp how great life is on the outside. Many times they will even be disobedient to God just to go back to their former comfort zone.
How does one combat such a problem? How do we allow ourselves to bask in our new freedom and no longer be held captive by our selfish desires? The key is balance. We must balance between too much freedom and too much captivity. Either extreme is a crutch. If we go too far to the freedom end we can be a stumbling block to other followers of Christ. However, if we stay too close to our sin nature we are liable to fall off the cliff and back into the pit of selfish disobedience.
Today’s chapter is Galatians chapter 5. As per usual, I want you to read the entire chapter for context and clarity. There are many other great gems of information in the chapter but I wanted to direct our focus to these verses:
Galatians 5 (NLT)
 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.  For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.
 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.  The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.  But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
Here Paul is directing followers of Christ to live in balance. Too much freedom makes us seek after sin thinking we are doing what is right and too little makes us a slave once more. So either extreme can lead to disobedience. We must be careful to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. When we seek God through prayer, reading of his Word and community with other believers we can clearly see the proper way to live. In this way we won’t twist our beliefs and lives to selfishness but to God’s parameters.
Let me begin to conclude today with an example. When I was working with our Church’s college group many years ago we had a clique of young students who were trying to find their place in the new free world away from their families. They were pressured by their normal (lost) college friends to do what many college kiddos do: party, sleep late, skip class, and put off their studies. However, they were followers of Christ and did not want to lose their community with us and feel guilty.
They began to play dangerously close to the cliff of disobedience to God. They looked for loopholes in the Scriptures to justify their own desires. At first it was skipping out on our Bible study meetings because, after all, you don’t have to go to a building to go to church. They wanted to do their own Bible study at a coffee shop where their other non-believing friends met. After a while they began to do much more hanging out than Bible study and eventually they quit being a part of anything Christian.
In fact, they were so heavily influenced by their non-believing friends that they thought we were the enemy to their fun and ridiculed us for not experiencing the “freedom” they had found in Christ. They said that since Jesus drank wine they could drink as well. They felt that since Jesus did not talk at all about studying hard they could goof off. They twisted the Scriptures to justify their poor behavior and fell away from Christ and back into sin.
I want to be clear here: these students were not doing anything wrong at first. They were correct in that the Church is a community and not a building. And they had many freedoms in Christ that they were using. But they used it to their own selfish desires. Spending time with those who do not have a relationship with Christ is very important! In fact, Jesus spent much of his time ministering to those who were lost in their sins. But he also balanced it by spending quality time with his followers as well.
Like I said before, the key is balance. Do not stay enslaved to your past sins. Live free! But don’t get so far away from God in your freedom that you put yourself in danger. Like a child who has the ability to stay up late do not neglect your rest. Like an older child who is allowed to cross the street on their own do not play in traffic. Do not place yourself in danger to fall back into sin. Instead find balance through regular time in prayer, study, community, and ministry. Make sure you set aside time every day to do these things and you will find life to the max.