Like most kids, I was subject to my parents’ rules. Even if these didn’t make sense, tough. When I grew up and paid my own way, I could do things differently. Perhaps when I had reached this point my parents had hoped that I had learned enough so that I would make sensible decisions. In this sense, turning 18 served as a door through which I would walk—everything I had learned up to that point lead me to said door.
In Galatians, Paul covers little ground he has not covered before in other books. One thing that he stresses, however, is that the Galatians should follow belief, not law (3:2). This doesn’t mean break society’s laws; no, he means shrug off that needless adherence to all those things put down in the Old Testament. Instead, people should follow Jesus’ example. Why? For one, because the law is not based on faith (3:12) and two, Jesus redeemed all those pesky Old Testament “curses” (3:13). Yet he doesn’t suggest these old laws were useless, as they were (apparently) designed to lead people to Jesus (3:16-17).
Given how few “laws” Jesus laid down, this makes life so much easier for people, and, to be honest, I am shocked this is not trotted out more often to show that people were able to put the Old Testament in context: we’ve gown past it. Therefore, when it’s used to support gay bigotry, for example, people clearly have not read the book they’re using for support. If they had, Galatians would clarify that they should, in fact, not be paying such close attention to the “rules” in the Old Testament.
But before I could applaud Paul’s stance on things, I read further. He doesn’t advocate complete freedom with regard to behavior. Lest you take his word for it that the laws of the Old Testament are outdated, he provides a list of “obvious” things to avoid now: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like (5:19-21). People who engage in anything off this list will not reach heaven, according to him.
Aside from this list not boding well for anyone in our current Congress, this sure seems like it repeats the very Old Testament laws which are to be ignored.
But contradiction aside, is this list—as written—really something to follow today? Sexual immorality is far too vague to apply to something specific—various books of the Bible apply this to everything from homosexuality, sleeping with your father’s wife, orgies, to any sex outside the context of marriage. And how about a definition of sex? Are we referring only to acts that can lead to pregnancy? In terms of impurity and debauchery, what are we talking about? Is this a cleanliness issue—in the literal sense—or a spiritual issue?
This is important, for one person’s debaucherous evening is another man’s boring Wednesday night.
Idolatry and witchcraft are pretty specific, but what about the emotions he lists? How does one always avoid discord? How could you? No dissension ever? And if drunkenness is as bad as sexual immorality—it’s in the same list, so it’s equated—then our country is in real trouble. As far as factions, would this encompass a political party? Sounds like so.
The point isn’t that these ideas aren’t useful in theory, but as Paul even mentions, people should use faith to govern their lives. This means that you should know what is correct for YOU and not some guideline to dictate what other people should be able to do. Jesus was more concerned about the quality of our character and how we treated others, especially those less fortunate. This is the rule that stands out. This is also the type of thing my parents instilled in me.