Not Under the Law

Galatians 5:18

Common English Bible (CEB)

18 But if you are being led by the Spirit, you aren’t under the Law.

If you do a concordance study of the phrase “under the law” you’ll find Paul using it numerous times in contrast to being guided by the Spirit, living according to love, etc.  I found 10 references in the KJV.  This is a prominent Pauline theme and since he was a devout follower of the law for so many years before being becoming a follower of Jesus Christ he was well qualified to address the topic.

The best way to understand the expression “under the law” would be to substitute some kind of religion in place of “law.”  For example we might say, “not under the Baptist religion,” “not under the Catholic religion,” “not under the Buddhist religion,” “not under the Adventist religion,” etc.  You can put any kind of religion there and better understand the impact of what Paul is teaching.  True Christian liberty is not found in following the whims of the human ego which only brings suffering and at the same time having freedom from feeling obligated to follow the dictates, rules, and regulations of some particular religion.  Every religion that could be mentioned has some very positive and helpful teachings but each one also has a “dark side” for at least some folks who simply can never fit into, nor obey all of the many “religious” codes and thus feel constant guilt and condemnation.  One person’s blessing can be another person’s poison.  So we have freedom in Christ to accept or let go of all the rules and beliefs that don’t fit our situation and yet to not look down upon nor judge others that find security in following them.  The two most important teachings of Paul are to “live in love” and “be guided by the Spirit” and a particular religion may or may not work for us.

A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

GEMS OF TRUTH #10 is now posted to my personal website.  Click on the link below:

Comment by Bob Brinsmead

I think your article is great. So “break every yoke: let the captives go free.”

If one reads Galatians carefully, one will see: (1) first, the meaning of nomos (law): It was NT scholar Sanders who pointed out that in the Greek of that age, nomos had the same meaning as the Latin word religio (religion).  But even Paul tells us that in the first chapter when he speaks of his devotion to the Jewish religion (KJV)  (2) In Galatians 3 and 4 you can see that Paul uses nomos (law) interchangeably with the word graphe (scripture).  Scripture was nomos and nomos was Scripture.  Now Paul could draw out good things from Scripture or the law and take what was useful from that, but he had an even higher vision and ultimate source of authority.  He was free from Scripture or free from law – same thing.

What would he have thought of the Church rejecting the old law and turning around and using his writings as a new law – say for instance, what he said about women in church (which I really don’t think it was Paul who said such things, but that is beside the point) or human sexuality – or what about his advise that it was too late to marry because the end was so near??!!  And look what he said about slaves and masters.  You can’t use that today.  So Paul would agree with me, “If you are led by the spirit you are not under Paul either.”  Paul would be the first one to be cheering me on.  So I once pointed out to a Presbyterian minister, “If you are led by the spirit you are not under the Westminster Confession.”  To an Adventist this means  “You are not under the 27 Fundamentals” – or whatever they call them.

(3) The third word Paul uses in other places is gramma – meaning written code, text, letter.  2 Corinthians 3 is a marvellous passage on that – here it says that letter kills, the spirit gives life! This is where I get up and start cheering Paul on, because he tells us that the NT is not a book —  what he tells the congregations is that you people, you who are led by the spirit are God’s living NT letter to be seen and read of all men. The Word of God is not a book, it is a life led by the Spirit, it is this spirit of faith and love seen supremely in Jesus, but not just him because he said, “You are the light of the world…let men see (read as in a book) your good works and know what the Abba is really like, etc etc.”

I won’t get negative to support my thesis, but this is the positive side of it: God is Love, and the only book in which the story of love can be seen/read is a human life, not doing super-human things, but just doing ordinary human things.  I just happen to believe what these NDE people have been saying: we are only on this earth to serve and care for people and there is nothing else that really matters.  It’s all too simple.  Love is God’s life and light – it is the Logos, the meaning, the plan, the purpose, the reason, the foundation and the goal of everything; and that love is so big, so generous, so scandalously free that it swallows up everything else and conquers everything else because it is eternal -without beginning or end – and it is without discrimination (like the rain it falls on the just and the unjust alike), it has no favourites, it is Unconditional.  It is Robert Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven” – “still with majestic haste and unperturbed pace” coming relentlessly after me, never letting me go.  If I ascend up to heaven or make my bed in the grave or if I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost ends of earth, Love follows me, and when I awake is still with me… with mercies new every morning, “Great is Thy faithfulness.”  Here is a love, that to use Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 13, keeps no score of wrongs, thinks the best of me, sees me as I already am and as I am yet to be in the divine plan, and so thinks of me as totally faultless no matter what I think of the Giver or whether I have a good frame of mind of a bad frame of mind (as Bunyan said), or whether my opinions/doctines/theology/ are commendable or complete nonsense, it makes no difference to the way God thinks of me – or you.

As I approach the end of my journey, I see all this with ever more clarity.  I was always driven by a vision of the grace of God that just had to be so much bigger and so much better than we could possibly conceive.  When the best worldview that I had was the Adventist one about the 2300 days and the investigative judgment,  the looming close of human probation, the need for the translated generation to be perfect and all that, then I found somewhere in there the good news of God’s grace giving us the fearlessness to go through that Open Door. It was to be shere gift and not on the basis of any human achievement.  And when those old Awakening wineskins could no longer hold the expanding vision of grace, I turned to the Reformation insights and to the Pauline doctrine of JBF.  But then that earthen vessel became inadequate as I realized that all these doctrines and legal notions of payback justice (for that is exactly what atonement means) could not and did not do justice to God’s kind of justice first articulated by the OT prophets and then announced by Jesus.  His vision of God’s loving justice was so without limit, so beyond the bounds of the law or what we today call “political correctness,” that it appeared to “the keepers of the law” that it was so free and scandalously generous that it had to be both dangerous and blasphemous. At the end of the day religion must take its stand against  Unconditional love/forgiveness- because religion, in order to maintain its hold, has to hedge it in with all kinds of conditions, making our security in God’s love all very “iffy.”

Perhaps the NT comes to its highest human consciousness when it declares that because God is love, everyone who loves (is there such a thing as a human being who does not have a spark of love for anybody?) lives in God and God lives in him.  This gift and this calling of God is without repentance – it is God’s Logos that will not return unto God void – it will not fail to accomplish God’s eternal purpose of love. This is God’s safety net. No one will fall through the cracks.  If we get only a little peek of this (and this is all I claim to see), then we can live freely, we can live generously, we can live forgivingly, we can live non-judgmentally, and we can live daringly as those who have nothing to lose. And no matter what, the best is always ahead.