Radical St. Paul: Romans 7

I’m reading the Epistle to the Romans and it’s going off like bombs inside me. Not every word of it, sometimes Paul goes places where I wonder what was going on. His stuff about obeying the law, respecting authority and trusting the police seems to me perhaps to have something to do with the context he was writing in. Were the early Christians debating what exactly they should be rendering unto Caesar? In my time I have known of police urinating on teenaged boys, and with my own eyes have seen them beat a mentally ill man into an epileptic seizure and then stand around him drinking coffee and laughing. I have seen welfare workers bully and terrorize people with mental illness. I have seen medical authorities turn a very young man out of the hospital at six a.m. with a roughly stitched throat wound, no analgesic, and into no one’s care but the street, where he had no money even to get home. As Canadians we all know what residential schools were, and what our own home-grown genocide looks like. There are places where one has to work with St. Paul, come to the core meaning and not get hung up. But this, for me, isn’t one of them. The man who threw government-licensed money-lenders out of the Temple and called religious authorities “whited sepulchres” was likely a supporter of civil disobedience.

On the other hand, in Romans 07 Paul lays out a framework that is, at least to me, absolutely revolutionary. Do all Christians know this? Is it a closely guarded secret? Or do many prefer not to follow it to its logical conclusion?

The quote is as follows (King James Version):

“Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law:”

This takes my breath away. No Law, no Sin. Once there is Law, Sin becomes inevitable, and we will do those things we will not to do, and vice versa. The Enemy uses the Law against us, and it becomes death.

It follows from this that our preoccupation with sin, with rules, with governing our sinful natures and fearing God, all of it just becomes a bulwark between us and the love of God and the freedom of living in Christ. Paul is saying that it’s no longer necessary, or even sane, to obsess over what we should and shouldn’t do. All the laws are subsumed into two: love God and love each other.

This is, relatively speaking, easy to say, but terrifying to do. It suggests that I can’t even know for sure what the rules are. It calls for a different kind of obedience, and absolute trust. As I do this, things I haven’t much liked about myself seem to disappear, and desires to do things that are, in important ways, really not good for me, just stop being there. It’s an astonishing (to me) concept: don’t be struggling to do what’s right, or fighting with desires to do what’s wrong. If you do, you’re working with the wrong road-map. Really there is no road-map, just the compass of God’s love.

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