Yet Another Discussion of Law and Grace

My religion is Christian Mysticism. I’m sure you’ll associate all kinds of ideas with that, and most of them will be wrong, but it’s the closest I can get for you, because I am not part of the mainstream.

That’s pretty much my answer when folks ask about my religion conversationally. It gives them a convenient mental reference point so they know to expect something different from me. It signals that I take faith very seriously, and if they really want to know, there will be some long conversations in store.

Part of what makes it difficult for folks likely to ask me that question is a raft of assumptions they have that folks never had in New Testament times. By the same token, they bore an approach to reality that never made it into our civilization. I suppose it helps if you understand that the common Greek-speaking person in the First Century Mediterranean Basin was hardly Aristotelian. Only a handful of highly educated folks even heard of Aristotle; the common Grecophone was likely to bear any number of pagan mystical influences and precious little rationalism. Indeed, so near as anyone can tell, almost everyone in that region and time were some kind of mystic.

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians was addressed to churches he planted within the Roman Province of Galatia — Derbe, Lystra, Pisidian Antioch and Iconium. There were relatively few actual Galatian people there; the Romans had taken the name for the province from a unique kingdom farther north populated by Celts who had entered the region as mercenaries and remained to form a ruling class over a native population. The actual population where Paul ministered was Lycaonian in Derbe and Lystra with no synagogues, so far as we can tell. Iconium was largely Phrygian, and there was a mixture of Phrygian and Lydians in Antioch, but both had a substantial Jewish population with synagogues.

Paul wrote this letter quite close in time to the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. The letter reflects his frame of mind in dealing with the question of how Jewish the gospel message should be. His letter to Galatians reflects his strong emphasis on breaking with Judaism in general, in part because of the hostility from the Jews in that area. So there is almost nothing about how the Law of Moses was a manifestation of grace. Saying anything like that would simply give the Judaizers an opening, and his whole point was keeping them out.

Yet this is the same Paul who commanded the churches in later letters to study the Old Testament as their only scriptures at that time and apply the Sword of the Spirit to discern what the Covenant of Moses should mean to the followers of Christ (2 Timothy 2:15). And we cannot forget that Jesus Himself taught the Law, and all His miracles took place under the Law as valid expressions of the restoration of divine justice. The Lord’s emphasis in His ministry was just how far the Jews were from the actual Covenant, and how to get back to it.

The Jews rejected that message and doubled-down on their own perverted version of the Law. Jesus portrayed the Law as bringing fallen humanity back into harmony with Creation and His Father’s design for us. It was the one hope for making life better after the Fall. The Jews had made the Law into a pile of nit-picking rules that made life more difficult than it had to be, completely missing the whole point of the Law. They portrayed God as a capricious trickster, largely because it was their own character.

This was what Paul was facing when he wrote the Galatian letter, and it was part of the bigger set of problems he addressed in his Roman letter. In the latter he used the phrase, “not under Law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14-15). But in that same passage he is hammering his readers for running off with a fake grace that was lawless. The problem was the false dichotomy between a false “law” and a false “grace.” In your conduct, grace looks an awful lot like reverence for Law.

This is the basis behind my dispute with Reformation Christian doctrine, for example. The Lutherans maintain a legalistic opposition between grace and law, as if the Jews were actually right in their teaching of the Covenant. Most Christian religion founded during and after the Reformation get this wrong. I’ve taken a lot of senseless grief from American believers on this point. They seem to have forgotten that there is a phrase, “the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2 and 1 Corinthians 9:21).

So here we go again: A heart-led Christian walk is consistent with Biblical Law (AKA the Law of Christ). And there is no significant difference between the terms “Law of Christ” and “Law of Noah.” The latter is much narrowly expressed and more like a traditional law covenant, but the conduct is the same either way. The Law of Moses died on the Cross, but the Law of Noah stands as long as there are rainbows on the earth.

The whole point of mysticism is seeing through the Law Covenants to the heart of God’s divine moral character. Your fallen mind could begin to grasp the moral character of God, but only if your heart is ascendant. Even then it will surely take some time moving in that direction. We emphasize Biblical Law as the pathway to Christ. As it was in the ancient days when God called Moses, the customary way of getting to know your feudal master and owner was to engage his law covenant with your mind and heart until you could draw close enough to his will to become family.

The Law is not a barrier; sin is the barrier. Law is the path through the barrier. This is what’s behind our use of the label “Christian Mysticism.”

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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