Freedom

June 28, 2006

Danny made an interesting comment to me in a discussion that we were having the other day, on the nature of the New Covenant. I said, “The conflict of the judaizers against Paul in the Book of Acts illustrates that the break with the Old Law is also a break with culturally-based law, and the Law of the Spirit is not a replacement, but a new kind of law that is grace-based and less specific.” Although I didn’t say it that concisely. He disagreed, saying that the commands in the New Testament are a replacement or update of the Old Law, for instance those regarding the place of women in the church (feel free to post your arguments, Danny … obviously I’m not going to be able to do them justice).

I thought I might illustrate my idea/theory with a brief look at Galatians Ch. 5 (NASB). Actually, I was thinking of supporting my argument with v.1 and then I said to myself, “Um, maybe I should actually read the whole passage to try and make sure it really says what I think it’s saying, rather than just using it to support my theory.” I’m posting my process of study here.

1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
2 Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.

Ok, what is the freedom he’s talking about? Freedom from circumcision first of all, and the Law by extension. What does he mean when he says they don’t have to keep the law? He probably talks about it later — I don’t imagine that he means, “Hey, go ahead and start stealing and killing and etc.”

4 You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.

So, now maybe he’s talking about justification, putting your hope of salvation in the law? Here he warns of the danger of trusting the Law rather than grace, but we’ve still got to wonder what the freedom he’s talking about is. Maybe, freedom from obligation to the Law? But which parts? Just circumcision is probably not what he’s talking about.

6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.
7 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?
8 This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.

Ok, so now he says “faith working through love” is the means of salvation. But it’s not just that following the Law is unnecessary: he says that they are being “hindered from obeying the truth”.

9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.
10
I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
11
But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.

What is the stumbling block of the cross? It is that salvation is received not through following the law, but by grace. He’s being persecuted because he encourages Gentiles to seek Christ without adopting the Jewish Law.

12 I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.

Read this one in NIV for a good laugh. This is coming from the same guy who admonishes against “coarse joking” in Ephesians. For everything there is a season, eh?

13 For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
14
For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.”

Interesting that he doesn’t mention the precursor “Love God” component. This may be the part where we can really start answering my question, “Is it a replacement law, or a new kind of law?” If, following on the heels of a declamation of putting your trust in following the letter of the law, he comments “The whole law is fullfiled in this” … perhaps he might be pointing to a new principle that replaces the old rules, because it transcends them? Not as a libertinous opportunity to do all sorts of bad things (“don’t turn to opportunity for the flesh”). But maybe something like the speed limit in Montana? There’s no speed limit, they just expect you to drive no faster than is safe. 🙂

15 But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Hm. Indeed.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.
17
For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Well, that is something interesting. “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” That, if anything, justifies my “Spirit of the Law” = “Law of the Spirit” idea. This is not mere knowledge of the correct set of beliefs and practices. This is an injunction to “walk by the Spirit”. Of course, I’m sure all of us can call up images of some adulterous husband saying, “Well it felt right to have an affair. I’m sure God wanted me to.” Etc. I guess we can only deduce they are mistaken … ?

19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality,
20
idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions,
21
envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Yikes … try to find anyone who doesn’t show up in that list somewhere. I know that it’s orthodox to take passages like this in the context of other “grace-oriented” passages, but I still always feel a little uncomfortable reading them.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

How often can mere study produce these? The fruit of the Spirit requires the Spirit.

24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Now, that’s another interesting thing. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. A command and a separation of the two concepts. Basically saying that we all live by the Spirit (if we are saved, I guess), but we need to take it a step further and walk by the Spirit. Interesting.

26 Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

Haha! I’ve got to watch out for that one too.

So did the passage support my idea? I think so, but you’re welcome to disagree. Later on I may delve more into what I think my idea actually consists of … that may not even be entirely clear. I came up with it while studying the Jerusalem Council in Acts, and also passages about eating meat sacrificed to idols, etc. More to follow.

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