Two weeks ago, we talked about rules. We said, ‘rules may hurt as much as they help’. We spoke about a rule-bound shop where everything got messed up because the manager was trying to exert control by a system of rules to which the shop assistant stuck too rigidly.
We said that rules are good, rules are fine, but following them too rigidly can harm relationships in the workplace, in church or at home.
The Apostle Paul had been bound by rules. We call his set of rules the Jewish Law and we find it in the first five books of the Old Testament. Paul was in a real predicament. The Law was good, it came from God. It showed him right from wrong. But by obeying the Law, he ended up doing harm in quite a spectacular way when he persecuted the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. He discovered that we can set off to do the right thing, but if all we do is follow the rules we can’t be sure we’ll achieve the good we set out to do.
The truth is, if we want to live well, the answer isn’t in rules and laws. The power of sin is too great. It taints our best efforts.
So, if following rules isn’t the way, what is?
Let’s look at Romans chapter 8 for an answer. Here, Paul says:
So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear…
Paul has been on a journey of the spirit.
- He has stopped living ‘according to the flesh’.
- He has ‘put to death the deeds of the body’.
- He will not ‘fall back into ‘fear’.
It may surprise you to hear that when Paul talks about the ‘flesh’, he isn’t necessarily talking about sexual sin. When he persecuted the Church, he lived in the fear of God; and Paul says he was living ‘according to the flesh’ at that time.