Frustration must have shown on my face. Marshall reads people well. He sure read me.
It had been a long evening. Marshall and I, along with hundreds of students and dozens of InterVarsity Staff, were in the middle of a week at Rockbridge. I had just narrowly survived a question and answer session. And I was fuming.
My frustration probably had as much to do with my inability to explain what I was trying to explain than anything else. But I was frustrated. As I talked to Marshall about what happened, he said something that was so brilliant and wise that I forgot he was an alumnus of UNC:
"It sounds like they want a new law."
Little did I know that Marshall was about to introduce me to Derek Webb's "New Law" off of the Mockingbird album and a major theme in Paul's epistles.
For generations, the law - with its commandments and regulations - was a source of great happiness in the ancient Jewish community (no, not Florida). Sure, it was at times guilt-inducing, but it created an easily defined circle, an in-group, to which you could belong. The folks on the in in that in-group could connect with God. The outsiders couldn't. And you could use the law to tell the insiders from the outsiders.
Jesus has changed this. Insiders and outsiders are now determined by connection first. You're in if you're united to Christ. If you're not united to Christ, you're out...at least for the moment.
Ephesians deals with this topic well. Read chapters 2 and 3. Paul's mysterious revelation is that the Gentiles connect with God while remaining Gentiles. They are brought near, included. The law is rendered inactive. Christ destroyed all the walls. Amazing!
Colossians follows Ephesians in this.
Galatians deals with this topic in its own way. Folks are trying to reassert the law. This conflicts with the gospel. The gospel that Paul taught won't endure legal boundary-markers and obedience-based justification. Rules around eating: discard them. Angelic sermons: ignore them. Circumcision: might as well go the whole way. Paul is wildly resisting this attempt to reengage the law.
Romans deals with this topic in a way that almost always gets ignored. For most of my life, I've read Romans as being Gospel (ch. 1-8), Confusing stuff (ch. 9-11) and Encouraging/application (ch. 12ff). But why is it that Paul feels necessary to remind them of the gospel? I think the answer has to do with chapters 9-11 and the relationships between Jews and Gentiles. The gospel levels the ground between Jew and Gentile and provides both with beautiful access to Christ.
Philippians deals with this topic offensively, at least it would have been perceived as such in the ancient world. The Hymn in Phil 2 depicts the deity shedding himself of all sorts of privilege in order to connect with humanity. It is echoed in chapter 3 with Paul's casting aside of all of his law-credentials, poking at "the mutilators of the flesh" as he does so. Paul won't boast in his living in such a way that would earn him access. He will only boast in Christ.
This is just a sample of this major, major theme in Paul. What might it mean for us?