Reflection & Dialogue: Free from the Law, but under the Law of Christ.
A question that has been with Christianity from the beginning, and is still with it, is the place which external laws and norms have, or should not have, in Christian life and conscience. The apostle Paul could say to the Galatians that he had cast aside the Jewish Law, the Law of Moses, had died to it, without making distinctions as to the different elements in this law. Both Paul, and Christianity in general, laid great emphasis on the necessity and the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers. There was a danger that from this a belief could arise the view that there were no longer any moral restrictions on human behaviour. And in Church history this temptation was occasionally succumbed to.
Paul, of course, and the Church stress the fruits of the Spirit. But together with this, there was Jesus’ teaching on the need of self denial, of taking up one’s cross and following him on the road to suffering and glory. But the question always remained as to the connection between the internal working of the Holy Spirit, Christian freedom, and external laws and norms. Paul once (1 Corinthians 9:21) spoke of being as one outside the law (of Moses) but under Christ’s law. Christ’s law, however, is not a code, not spelled out in detail. It is in the Gospels, in the Eight Beatitudes, in the Sermon on the Mount, and in Church tradition.There is, however, a great difference in time and culture between the days of Christ and of the early Church and our own, differences to be borne in mind. When we seek today, as in Paul’s day, to discover the will of God, to know what God wants, what is the right and perfect thing to do, many factors have to be borne in mind, not least what Paul has advised the Romans – not to model oneself on current secular views or mindsets but to pay central attention to a new mind modelled by one’s new Christian mind.