People who rely on following rules are living a stunted life. The ancient writings say, “Anyone who doesn’t keep these rules in their entirety is cursed.” And, since nobody can keep up with all those rules, it’s clear that the only way to live right is by commitment. The rules don’t care whether you’re committed or not, only if you’re following them to the letter. Jesus, who hung on a tree, contrary to the rule that says people who do that are damned, rescued us from having to follow those kinds of rules. He rescued us so that Abraham’s reward could be for everyone – everyone can see in Jesus that it’s not the rules, but the commitment to the right spirit that counts.
Paul is onto something. You can’t be perfect. If perfection is the standard, there’s no way anybody can make it. It doesn’t matter whose set of rules you’re playing by. You can’t be perfectly consistent with them all the time. And keeping up with all the rules laid out in the Law of Moses, along with all the laws and rules that had been piled on top of those over years of interpretation made it all the more impossible. There has to be a better way.
Paul’s assertion is that Jesus is that way. His logic is flawed, of course. Just because one person runs afoul of the rules doesn’t make any difference whether anybody else does or not. “Rules is rules.” If we follow the rules of Paul’s transactional theology, we’re still sunk. We substitute one set of impossibilities for another.
Or, we can observe that Jesus’ spirit of action on behalf of others was exactly what led to his being on the wrong side of the rules and “hung on a tree.” In which case, it really does become clear that, given the choice between following the rules and doing the right thing, doing the right thing is the right thing. It doesn’t matter whether the rules you have to break to get there are Moses’, or the traditions Mosaic Law collected over the years. It doesn’t matter if the rules are Paul’s, or the traditions Christians have collected over the years.
Rules is rules. And doing the right thing is still doing the right thing.