Thursday, November 18, 2010

"we have been delivered from the law"

In chapter seven of his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul summarizes succinctly the freedom Christians have from the law through Jesus Christ: "For when you were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused through the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death" (v. 5). This is a way of saying that obeying God in a negative, rule-bound, way arouses human rebellion, which goes back to our being weak-willed as a result of the Fall. The law with its 613 prescriptions and proscriptions, according to Paul, does show us what it means to be righteous. But to be truly righteous, that is, holy, goes deeper than merely keeping the rules. After all, there is the what as well as the how and the why of what we do or don't do. Everything must be grounded in the positivity of loving God with our whole being and loving our neighbor as ourselves, with the caveat that everyone I encounter, especially the one in need, is my neighbor. It bears noting that in this verse the word "flesh" is a translation of the Greek word sarki, which is derived from the root word sarx, which refers, not to the physical body in particular, as does the Greek word soma, but, in Paul's writings, "to the whole unredeemed [person] under the power of sin and death" (Orthodox Study Bible, footnote to Romans 7:5).

Paul goes on to point out that "we have been delivered from the law" by Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the law in His own person, thus doing what Israel, to whom the law was given, was unable to do (v. 6). In and through Christ we have "died to what we were held by," namely sin and death, in order to "serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter" (v. 6). What is important about this is not that what we do no longer matters, though it change significantly, but how we go about doing it and why we do it totally changes. The relationship between faith and works, to put it another way, is reversed, with faith gaining the upper hand. We are only able to do it because the Holy Spirit, who is the mode of Christ's resurrection presence in us and among us, to use an Eastern Christian term, energizes us with God's power, which is power unto (to sound a bit archaic) eternal life.

As Christ himself taught us, we cannot serve two masters. Echoing this teaching in chapter six of Romans, St. Paul points out that you either serve sin or serve God and that only by serving God do you experience true freedom. This certainly has a lot of bearing on fasting in its various forms. After all practicing the spiritual disciplines "is not bondage. It is a rejection of bondage, a pursuit of holiness while gaining freedom from legalism and sinful passions. The freedom of grace is known through the discipline of being bound to God the Father, to Christ, and to the Holy Spirit. Christ fulfilled the law with its demands that we might be free in Him, justified by faith, to live fruitful and righteous lives, obeying the truth." (Orthodox Study Bible Introduction to The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians).

All holy men and women, pray for us


  1. Beautiful, Scott. Although I don't envy the task, I can imagine you teaching about mortal and venial sin in a very refreshing and illuminating way this coming Sunday. God bless. See you then.

  2. Tami:

    As always, thanks. Teaching about sin is easy. Teaching about God's mercy and love given in Christ Jesus, which grace is given us in and through the sacraments is always a bigger challenge. However, if we were not sinful we would need a Savior.


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