Living outside the law

One of my interests lies in following politics. I have a lot of friends who range the political spectrum from left to right and there’s nothing I enjoy more than a conversation about where they’re coming from or the appropriate size and reach of American government. Should the law govern everything in our lives or as little as possible?

In his day, Saint Paul would have shrugged his shoulders and said the question didn’t apply to him. But not because he was a lawbreaker. The law of St. Paul was Jewish Law, the Torah as it was laid down by Moses. Paul claimed that all he needed was Jesus’ law to love one another.

Paul wrote a letter to the new Christians in Galatia, an ancient land that lies in Asia minor; where we now see the country of Turkey. This famous letter focused on the obligations that non-Jewish Christians had to follow the letter of Jewish law. One of the key sticking points of the day was the Jewish requirement that men be circumcised. As he was explaining to the Galatians that adherence to the Law was not required, Paul makes an important statement about Christians. In Galatians 5:18 Paul says, “But if you are led by the spirit, you are not under the law.” Paul was telling the new Christians that they did not have to follow the law, including the law requiring circumcision, if they were living the lives of Christians; that is, if they were loving one another as themselves. Later in that same chapter he points out that the fruits of this law of love are joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. “Against such there is no law.”

As I read these words, it struck me how appropriate that statement remains today. What need would we have of laws if our every act was subject to just one test: are we doing this out of love for our neighbor? What difference would laws make to a person who acted only in his neighbor’s best interest? We surely would never harm our neighbor, and even if we did so by accident we would be quick to make it right. All of the laws that we create to govern how we behave toward one another would be superfluous; there would be no point in them. 

Furthermore, there can be no law against good behavior. How do you write a law limiting joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? The law doesn’t exist to limit good behavior but to prevent bad behavior. Be as good as you want; the law won’t stop you.

Saint Paul is not an anarchist, advocating for a world of lawbreakers. He’s simply pointing out that, for Christians, the world is a very simple place because there’s really only one rule that we need to worry about. Love one another and everything else takes care of itself.


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