Freedom from the Law by Paul Anderson-Walsh
By Paul Anderson-Walsh
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.
Our Relationship to the Law
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
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
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.
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