The question Paul is wrestling with is this.
He has had a revelation that faith is the only thing that matters, and this revelation came through his Damascus road experience.
But if faith is all that matters how come God revealed himself through the law?
What satisfies him intellectually is the notion that although faith is all that matters, the world needed to be nannied and led towards this revelation – the the experience of the Israelites and the ten commandments and the reams of prohibitions that came after was a necessary precursor to this final and best revelation that faith is what really matters.
Actually when you read Paul some more he rationalises that much more to his satisfaction by noting that Abraham, who operated by faith, pre-dates Moses. So in fact, faith did come first, but the law was a necessary part of the plan.
All very well, but what difference does it make? Well in Paul’s case, as I noted last week, this discovery means Freedom.
He feels set free. If knowing Christ through faith means freedom, then his lifetime as a Pharisee, his religious life was lived as if in a prison, bounded by rules, regulations, rituals, creeds.
In his experience, God circumvented all of those conventional religious means of making contact and contacted Paul direct. If you remember his conversion story, he was struck blind, and through the intervention of another Christian “the scales fell from his eyes.” This is a metaphor forthe profound change that had occurred in his life – he had gone from darkness to light – from a prison to freedom.
But freedom can be a dangerous thing. In fact Paul has to spend some time in his letters trying to tell people that Christian Freedom doesn’t mean you can do just whatever you like whenever you like, disregarding all around you. This freedom exists within the law of love. As he writes, “All things are possible for me but not everything is profitable, not everything edifies”.
This difference between licence and freedom, and the difficulty is discerning which is which is the reason that for most of its history the church has disregarded Freedom and preferred to fall back into being a religion of rules and laws. Grace, the fundamental gift of Christianity to the world - unmerited love – is not most Christian’s experience of the church and its ways. The word Grace is spoken of, but the message most often received is that you need to be good to get into heaven.
Something to think about for yourself. What is Christianity for me? A source of freedom, or a written moral code? If it is essentially freedom – can I handle that freedom, or do I prefer the safety of the guilded cage?