Saturday, October 27, 2012

Galatians 5:18

"If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law." Someone today catching just that snatch of conversation is very likely to hear it in terms of the strong implicit debate between those who think you should order your life by "rules" and those who think that what matters is "doing what comes naturally," living "spontaneously" or "authentically." And it isn't just our cultural climate that makes us assume that's the sort of conversation we're overhearing. For four hundred years the religious and theological climate has conditioned us to hear a religious version of the same point. Ever since the Reformation at least, a large number of Christians have assumed that the foundation of Paul's thinking goes like this: He spent the first part of his life trying to keep the rules of his religion, and then discovered not only that he couldn't but that rules weren't the point. God didn't want rule-keeping; he wanted "spontaneity." God had forgiven him all his rule-breaking, in and through Jesus Christ, and was now giving him his Spirit, who would produce the "fruit" without all that horrible moral striving.  
But is that what the conversation at the next table was really all about? 
In this way of interpreting... Paul's message, within this way of thinking, is, "You're free from all that! The Spirit will guide you from within, and you don't need to bother about all those rules that come at you from somewhere else, from tradition or philosophy or the Old Testament! Stop worrying about all that moralism; lighten up and be spontaneous. You don't have to try!1

Shortly thereafter, N.T. Wright describes what Paul really meant:
"If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Mosaic Law." This has nothing whatever to do with preferring spontaneity to rules. It has everything to do with the new covenant in which God is pouring out his Spirit upon those who are "in Christ" so that in them the life which the Law wanted to produce, but could not, will at last be fulfilled (see Romans 8:1-11). ...In other words, you do not have to become a Jew... to be a flourishing and fruitful member of God's people.2

1.  N.T Wright, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters [Harper One: New York, NY; 2010] pp. 190-191
2.  Ibid.,  p. 193

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