If I am dead to the Law, does that then mean I can do anything I want? After all, if I am free from the Law, then nothing is against the Law. Paul got this question a lot, it seems. The Gospel is always open to this accusation, if it is in fact the Gospel. If the Good News doesn’t sound a little too good, it’s probably not the Good News at all. I know I’ve struggled often with actually believing and then asserting that we are truly and completely free from the Law and its demands. It just sounds too simple, too good, and too open to abuse: someone might say, “Well, then, anything goes! Do whatever you want because you’re ‘free’ in Christ.”
Not so fast, Paul says.
1 What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? …
10 The death [Christ] died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires … 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
But again, what is sin if there is no Law? What is against the Law in the absence of a Law? Another way of asking this is to say, what pleases God and what does not?
I go back to what Jesus said about the Law before we died to it, before he fulfilled it perfectly. He said,
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
If the Law and the Prophets are summed up in two “simple” commands to love, then I assume God’s heart is that we love him and love people even in the absence of any Law. What this does is free me from thumbing through the Old Testament’s nearly-innumerable commands and prohibitions, trying to figure out which ones still apply and which don’t. I can simply approach each decision in my life with one question: Is the action I’m about to take loving toward God and people? Am I hurting anyone with what I’m doing? Am I offending God? And what seems to offend God most is how we mistreat people, which probably is why Paul sees the greatest commandment implied in the second:
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh [flesh here refers to a power in opposition to the Spirit of God, not literal human flesh; Paul often used the term flesh this way]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.
For Paul, there is only one command: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. If you do that, you’ll be pleasing (loving) God, so the first and greatest command is implied in the second.
He says this even more sharply in Romans, his great treatise on the Gospel.
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
“Whatever other command there may be …” The sum of the whole thing and the final word is, love.
So, can we simply cut loose now that we are free from the Law. Nope. Paul says we were called to be free, but never free from love. Love is the one command that never dies. We are under grace, thankfully, for we fail at love constantly, but love is the goal.
Again, then, I am free from picking and choosing from the Old Testament Law to please God (this never really was an option anyway; how much less so now that we are dead to the Law?). I am free now to ask myself one simple question in each and every life situation: Is this a loving action? Am I doing to my neighbor what I would want him or her to do to me? If not, it is sin, for whatever is not loving is against the Law, even in the absence of any law.
It ought to be obvious by now how I suspect Paul would answer the question, what is sexual sin, why I think gay relationships are not inherently sinful, and why I think malakoi and arsenokoitai must speak to some abusive aspect of the homosexual conduct Paul witnessed, and not simply to homosexual relationships in general. But we’ll talk more about it on the morrow. Don’t y’all go nowhur, now!