Thursday, May 03, 2007

Paul: Controversies and Commitment Part Two
Paul and the Law

If I were to try to find the most basic thought in Pauline theology I would say it is was his insistence that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was made available to both the Jews and the Gentiles. In his letter to the Romans, he writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” For Paul, this insistence meant that Gentiles could become Christians without becoming a Jew first.

In what may have been his first letter that we have, Galatians Paul lays out an argument for this very thing. In Galatians 1:6-10, Paul writes that his issue with the Galatians is that they have abandoned their faith in Christ for another gospel. This other gospel seems to be the teaching that the Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised in order to be a Christian. After defending his own apostleship, Paul launches into a two-step argument in Galatians 3 and 4.

In chapter 3 Paul begins by quoting two passages in Genesis about the life of Abraham. He says that God promised to bless the nations through Abraham and that Abraham believed this by faith and was righteous because of his belief. Paul’s conclusion is that anyone who has faith in God is blessed through Abraham. Paul then quotes several more OT passages and uses them to conclude that the law brings the opposite of faith. The law brings a curse.

In Pauline fashion or in the style of rhetorical writing, Paul handles two objections. First, why the law if it brings curses. Paul says that the law was an intermediary between the promise made to Abraham and the time of Jesus due to human sin. Secondly, Paul handles the objection that the law is then contrary to the promise. He responds by saying that it is not a contradiction, but a guide to Christ.

In Galatians 4, Paul adds the second step to the argument by comparing the law to a slave and the promise to a child.

Slave= Hagar = law
Child= Sarah= promise

The point Paul is trying to make is the both slaves and children are born under guardians, but one day, the child will be set free. We are all born as slaves to those things that we are not really gods until the day that we are set free because Jesus has made it so. We are now adopted as sons of God. Accepting the law is to go back into slavery.

Paul concludes that a Gentile should not be circumcised for two reasons. (1) The Jewish law is not necessary for salvation because of Jesus. (2) Being circumcised would mean going backwards from where you already are. The law was pointing ahead to Jesus and therefore is not necessary.

In the letter to the Romans, Paul makes a very similar argument. It is more in depth this time so I will only point out the things that he seems to add to the argument that he made in Galatians.

Before Paul gets to Abraham has an illustration of belief in the promise, he points out the both Jews and Gentiles are guilty of sin. In Romans 3 Paul equals the playing field by saying “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” Paul then gives a different reason for the law and that reason was to reveal to humanity that they had indeed fallen short.

Paul then goes on to say that apart from the law, faith in Jesus will bring righteousness to people. Everyone has sinned and death is the result. However, everyone can be righteous because of Jesus Christ.

For Paul it seems the law had a three part function. (1) The law distinguished between Jews and Gentiles. (2) The law brought condemnation on the world. (3) Finally, and most importantly, the law pointed ahead to Jesus.

Just as Paul wrote and taught that Gentile Christians do not need the Jewish law to have salvation in Jesus, he did believe that behavior mattered. In both Galatians and Romans, the letters which primarily address the law verses grace, Paul goes on to explain the character in which a believer in Christ should have. We generally talk about these things as the fruit of the Spirit. In Galatians 5 Paul says that we should live by the Spirit and by doing so the spirit will produce love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. In the same vein, Romans explains that we are to live by the spirit rather than by our sinful nature.

It seems that although Paul truly believed that we were saved apart from the law, when we live by the Spirit of God we will instinctively follow the law. We will do this not by obeying the Old Testament rules and regulations, but by having a character changed by God.

Paul’s insistence upon an ethic of “love” also must play an important role in dealing with Paul and the law. Notice in Galatians, after the discussion about circumcision, Paul tells the Galatians to exercise their faith in love and not to use their new found freedom for selfishness, but to love their neighbor. In 1 Corinthians before dealing with a food dispute, Paul reminds the Corinthians that love builds up. He then goes on later to say that all things done without love amounts to nothing. In Romans Paul says that they should not own anyone anything accept love because love fulfills the entire law.

Although Paul may have had a small disagreement over what Gentile Christians needed to do in order to have salvation in Christ, he by no means believed behavior did not matter. Over and over again, we see Paul stressing the importance of obeying Christ. As a matter of fact, Paul continually reminds the Gentile Christians of how they were before they found Christ and how they should not act as a result of Christ.

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