Here’s the bottom line. Even if you’re the heir to a fortune, if you’re still a minor, you have to do as you’re told. You have a guardian looking after you until you grow up. God’s promise works the same way. It doesn’t do you any good until you grow up.
By “grow up” I mean, take responsibility. Make your own decisions. Take action.
Some children I know do this better than some adults I know. (You can probably think of a few instances of this, too!)
The bottom line (and I think Paul is essentially right on this one) is that you can’t truly experience “salvation” (human life in all it’s fullness) so long as others are calling the shots for you.
For some, there really is someone who’s exercising power and control over their lives. (Exercising inappropriate power and control over someone is a classic definition of abuse.) For some, it may be co-dependency of some kind or another. For some, it may be feigned helplessness. For still others, it may be an addiction. We can hide behind an awful lot of things to keep from having to face our fears and act on our own.
In any case, as with addiction, recognition is the first step to overcoming it.
Who (or what) is your “guardian”? Are you happy with this guardianship arrangement? Or is it time to grow up?
So, what are rules for, then? Rules were made up because people were walking all over each other. Until the arrival of the designated heir, it was given by messengers, via a middleman.
A middleman implies that more than one person was involved, but God is one person. So the question is, do the rules contradict God? Of course, they don’t.
If rules could bring someone to life, then you could be right by just following the rules. But writing down all those rules only ended up trapping everything in a rat race of wrong. So it ends up that embracing the practice of Jesus is the way out of this mess.
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t need rules. In an ideal world, people would treat each other with dignity and respect and love without having to legislate people’s behavior. But it’s not an ideal world.
Paul’s saying that the law cannot give life is like saying you can’t legislate the heart. You can’t always change someone’s mind, but you can (most of the time) limit someone’s bad behavior.
The trouble with legislation, though, is that it quite often has unintended consequences. People who are bent on doing wrong will find a way to use the letter of the law to their advantage, and even use the law to aid and abet them in their wrongdoing. Remember, just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.
On the positive side, though, if your heart is in the right place, chances are you don’t need many rules to do the right thing. In fact, you may find that to do the right thing you’ll have to break a few. At least, that’s what Jesus found.
Take this real-life example, friends. Nobody makes corrections to or ignores someone’s will once it’s been notarized. The promises God made to Abraham and to his heir. It doesn’t say “heirs,” as in many heirs. It says “heir.” One person. That person is Jesus.
Here’s my point. The laws of Moses came 430 years later. That law can’t annul a deal that God had already notarized. It can’t cancel the promise already in effect. If the inheritance were based on Mosaic law, it wouldn’t have any relation to the earlier promise. But as it is, God notarized it with Abraham.
Paul is desperately grasping at straws here. None of this logic makes any sense.
The promise to Abraham is pretty clear (Genesis 15:5) that God is promising a lot of descendents to be Abraham’s heirs, not just one person.
People contest wills all the time. And it’s certainly not uncommon for provisions in wills to be declared invalid, or for them to be over-ruled in court.
Laws change over time. So do terms of agreements. Even notarized agreements.
If God is the one of the parties to the agreement, it’s God’s prerogative to change the agreement.
Besides, it’s sheer folly to use a legal argument when the whole point you’re trying to make is that the law doesn’t apply.
As much as Paul wants to make a case for Christ superseding the old Mosaic law, he’s still so ingrained in and bound by legalism that he himself can’t escape it.
Better to recognize that Jesus was indeed an heir to Abraham’s promise, and that so is everyone else. It’s just that Jesus realized the freedom of that promise in a way that the vast majority of the rest of us haven’t.
Better to recognize that if everyone is the heir to Abraham’s promise, then all of us have the capacity to be blessed and to be a blessing to many.
Better to recognize that declaring faith in Jesus isn’t a magical key that unlocks the pearly gates, but it is a way to realize and live into the freedom that is available to anyone who wants it.
Alas, for many, like Paul, that much freedom is too much to think possible without trying to make more rules about it.
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.