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The Grace Project

Freedom from the Law

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Freedom from the Law and laws is the immutable premise upon which the New Covenant is conveyed. Yet few Christians in succeeding generations ever experience true freedom and consequently alienate themselves from the immediate benefits of Divine Life.

Unlike Räisänen and Sanders, the author does not take the view that Paul had no coherent view of the law . In Galatians, there is a perfect continuity of thought. For Paul, the believer is beyond the Law's jurisdiction. Paul considered the Law retired and decommissioned [Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:15]. The defibrillating activities of the "recidivist" Agitators had to be refuted because any reviving of the Law in the heart of the Galatians would cause spiritual and communal angina. In anticipating their response that a law-free gospel is tantamount to a law-less gospel, Paul shows that the threat to morality lies in the Law, not freedom.

In demonstrating that a theology of freedom does not translate into a "theology of irresponsibility" , the author argues with equal alacrity that neither must it translate into a "theology of responsibility". However, in the works reviewed during the compilation of this paper, the enjoining of "responsibility" and "obligation" was never far from the surface. It is submitted that such enjoinment insinuates Torah, whether inadvertently or deliberately. To impose "responsibilities" is to perpetuate Torah. Responsibility is an encoded way of dictating, "What must we do?" and rises out of self-effort. The burden of responsibility falls on Jesus [1 Thes. 5:23-24]. In Galatians 5, Paul describes the outcomes of lives lived in the respective realms of the flesh (Law) and the Spirit with his solemn warning being that you will "reap what you sow" [6:7; Rom. 8:5,12-13].

The propensity of the flesh is empowered to gravitate towards Law, encouraged as it is by our "restless activity" and "boundless self-confidence" . In addition, the problem is compounded by a combination of a morphed view of the role of the Spirit together with regular pastoral guidance that concentrates on redirecting behaviour instead of refocusing identity; all of which virtually ensures the neglect of God's immanence and the universal perpetuation of the self-defeating patterns of Torah. The Galatian Agitators advocated reliance upon Torah as a means of attaining or maintaining righteousness. Torah ought generally to be understood as the mechanism of choice for "finding God and salvation" , although this view is not without its detractors . Nonetheless, Torah must not be allowed to usurp "the presence of God" as the community's identity marker .

In spite of Paul's emphatic exhortations, many Christians remain uncertain as to their relationship to the Law so much so that Galatianism remains a prevalent condition among moderns. Paul's treatment of both the Law and the Spirit is informative:
 

  • The entire law has been collapsed into the love command [5:14];
  • A Spirit-led person is not under the Law [5:18];
  • Love is its own self-regulator [5:23];
  • The Torah of Moses is, ironically or mystically, outclassed by the Torah (law) of Christ [6:3], perhaps anticipating Rom. 10:4 and reflecting Jn. 1:17.
  • It is apparent that Paul substitutes the word "law" for the word "flesh" and juxtaposes the flesh and the Spirit [3:1-5; 4:29; 5:13-26].


The general approach to the subject Galatian passage is that it is Paul's rejoinder to the charge that his law-free Gospel would result in a collapsed morality as the removal of Torah created an ethics vacuum. Conversely, Torah was, for Paul, an adjunct to the flesh and not an antidote against it [1 Cor. 15:56]. Yet, whether induced through fear of the Jews or a personal affection for Torah, Paul was at one time isolated, a Jew in a minority of one in Galatia [2:13]. Yet, rather than dampen his ardour, it served to further inflame his commitment to freedom. He was determined to rid the Galatians of the perverse notion that the purpose of Torah was to "lead God's people to obedience" . Torah was an aphrodisiac, not a " prophylactic" , promoting religious disobedience and not compliance. Paul's radical solution was not intensification of Torah but rather, its abrogation.

Now that we are free, when Paul says that we must not use our freedom "as an opportunity for self-indulgence (the flesh)" [5:13], it is automatically assumed that he is speaking about exploiting freedom as a license to sin. However, rather than placing limits upon freedom by "drawing lines around his converts and only little by little, allowing them to expand into new areas of experience" , Paul abandoned them to the Spirit without any apparent concern that they might suffer from "emancipation re-feeding syndrome".

Barrett's observation that "flesh" can express itself in non-material, indeed in religious, ways is also a factor here as "religious self-indulgence" appears to have been the greater threat to the harmony of the community than any anticipated moral lapse. The flesh will recruit any opportunity to flourish, be it in self-effort or self-abasement. Paul is insistent that neither be given hospitality.

 


The writer of this Research Paper will refer to himself as "the author" throughout.

See Räisänen, Paul's Conversion and the Development of His View of the Law (NTS 33, 1987), pp. 404-419. Eaton notes that Sanders is "even more severe"; see Eaton, p. 240.

James D Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians, Black's NT Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), p. 285.

Dunn, The Epistle to the Galatians , p. 287.

Ronald Y K Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1988), p. 244.

Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St Paul's or Ours? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 6.

George Montague, Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1976), p. 111.

NT Wright's view is that the greater aspiration for Torah was attached to its promise of blessings. "The Torah offered promises about the land, the blessing which would be given in and through it, and the detailed instructions as to the behaviour necessary for the blessing to be maintained." NT Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (London: SPCK, 2002), p. 405.

Even under the Old Covenant, the presence of God (and not Torah) was the identity marker [Ex. 33:14-16]. If that was true in the old aeon of "God with us", how much more true would that be in the new aeon of "Christ in us" [Col. 1:27].

The admixture of Law and Grace is known as Galatianism.

For Paul's treatment of the role of the Spirit, see page 14 of this Research Paper.

Throughout this paper, "the subject Galatian passage" refers to Galatians 5:13-26 through 6:1-3 which is the subject scripture in discussion.

Gordon Fee, God's Empowering Presence (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), p. 422.

FF Bruce, New International Greek Testament Commentary on Galatians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), p. 243.

Robert Banks, Paul's Idea of Community (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), p. 180.

Barret, p. 73.
 
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