Earlier today, in God without religion?, I referenced a book which warns us that religion can lead to us getting “caught up in obeying Old Testament laws instead of experiencing New Testament freedom.”
In a comment, Julie suggested otherwise:
“The biggest problem with religion is that Christians can get caught up in experiencing New Testament freedom and fall into the heresy of antinomianism and ethical permissiveness.”
It’s a valid concern. But is she right?
I have argued (in Should christians obey the Old Testament Law?) that the New Testament is very clear – the old covenant described in the Old Testament has finished, and in the new covenant, our obedience to God is based on love and the freedom of the Spirit, not on obeying the law. One way the New Testament describes this is “walking in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16).
But this freedom can be easily abused, and the ‘right’ course of action in any situation isn’t so clear as when we have rules. Indeed Paul is clear about this danger and warns us not to continue to sin because we know God will forgive is (Romans 6:1).
What is the remedy?
The way that has failed
Rules do not achieve the desired result, for a whole range of reasons:
- Rules do not motivate people to obey them (except out of fear).
- Obeying rules with a hard heart or a wrong attitude is not pleasing to God (Matthew 15:8).
- Rules do not necessarily produce right behaviour and can simply constitute a challenge for rebellious people to break them.
- The law has been shown to be ineffective in making people good, so something new is needed (Galatians 3:21-22).
- In the end, I believe God is more interested in our character (who we are) than our behaviour (what we do). If our character is right, our behaviour will follow (Matthew 12:33-35).
God’s new way
God says he is our father and calls us his children. He doesn’t treat us like servants but considers us to be friends (John 15:15). Why? Because a friend understands and obeys God’s wishes out of love, whereas a servant can only obey out of duty. It is those who love him who will keep his commands (John 14:15).
So God’s way is no longer the way of law and legalism, as detailed in The Old Testament Law and Christians. He motivates us through love, and empowers us through his Spirit – and if the Spirit leads us, we will obey him and live rightly (Galatians 5:16).
Of course this way can be abused, but love is a greater motivator than duty or fear. So let us avoid both the dead orthodoxy of rules and the wild abandoning of God’s ways, and “walk by the Spirit”.