As some of you know, I’m swearing off social media for the summer, or maybe forever. I never knew the stronghold the platform had over me until I gave it up. That compulsion to check my newsfeed was hard to get rid of. A few months ago, I decided to leave my cell phone charging downstairs instead of by my bed (amazingly, I found myself not just on it before I hit the sack, but also in the middle of the night!). It was a good change. The same goes for getting off Facebook and Twitter (and Instagram). My computer monitor doesn’t flicker with Twitter posts anymore and that gives me a clear space to think and work. I’m not worried about missing something my friends wanted me to see because I’m not even scrolling through the thousands of posts. It’s been a major upgrade to my life!
This freedom has been so helpful, I thought about all of the other things in my life and pondered what else I am attached to. Usually these are innocent things: for me, it might be my sometimes-more-than-daily cup of English breakfast or Earl Grey. For others, it’s a different morning beverage: coffee. The pastors were talking all about coffee the other day. Apparently 83 percent of Americans drink coffee. 33 percent of the tap water North Americans use for drinking goes to brewing coffee to boot. Moreover, it perpetuates problems in South America (even fair trade coffee), which the World Bank and the U.S.’s free trade policies exploit even further. This isn’t an issue of holiness, it’s an issue of justice.
The question is this: why should we be enslaved to anything? For some, the pursuit of pleasure is so important because life is so short. I don’t think all of the things we are habitually consuming are wrong nor do I think deprivation is always the healthiest choice. Sometimes asceticism is pretty unrelatable. But the addiction itself could be, and moreover, the industries that many of the addictive substances support could be evil too. The big ones for us are often hard drugs and alcohol, but there are more sinister, seemingly innocent, addictions that can take hold of our lives. There are many daily entanglements that can encumber Christians. Paul tells Timothy to rid himself of those.
It’s important to note that when we are analyzing the things in our lives that could be addictive, we might come up with personal and social reasons to develop a new legalism that we force onto other people. As our proverb says, “Words of wisdom and knowledge are given in many ways, but always within accountable relationships.” Let’s be sure we have agreement with which we can hold our friends to, and not just judgment.
We have made some basic agreements as Christians though. There is a universality to the law of Christ—Mission Year sums it up like Jesus does: love God, love people. Paul’s charge to the Galatians is to set themselves free themselves of the shackles of slavery. Jesus sets us free from the bondage we have to ourselves, but also to the law as a way of saving us.
It’s an amazing story. Jesus sets us free to love God and love people fully, as they main vocation of our lives. Paul reinforces that and says that we shouldn’t enslaved to anything: including the law. What enslaves us? Coffee? Tea? Is it Netflix? Candy Crush? Facebook? It might even be rules that we are addicted to! It might be pious depravation! Say what you will about addictions, but if they turn into legalisms, Paul says we are doomed anyway. Jesus has to set us free, not our righteousness.
But this new freedom isn’t just a license to sin. Paul asks, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” Of course not! The beauty of this is that we are free from sinning; we are not just fighting our sin nature, we are regenerated into new beings that don’t just overcome temptations, we are compelled to do be righteous. Compelled to love God, to love people. When we make that the purpose of our lives, I think God will give us the strength to live simply, without the entanglements of the world. For us, in our new vocation, we create an alternative community that gives us the freedom of Jesus. True freedom that’s both free of addiction and the oppression of the law.