Paul vs the World

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin,seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

I’ve heard a few explanations for this passage. The first and most obvious is that the law creates in us rebellion, we want something simply because we are forbidden it. This does relate, but I think that Paul is talking about something different as well.

When we examine the law, certainly the law as Paul the Pharisee would have observed it was horribly hard to follow. Look at how much of first few books of the Bible are laws; laws which are expected to be followed. Yet how much harder is it for us Christians, who commit murder whenever we are angry, and adultery whenever we are lustful.

What was Paul’s sin? Well, for starters he was a murderer; executing those he believed to be heretics and blasphemers. What led him to this? Adherence to the law. He identified worth as following the law, and those he felt broke it (namely Christians) were worthy of death.
We look to the law for morality, look to achieve goodness by following code; and we fail. We then look to justify ourselves, to prove that our failures do not make us worthless. So we look around, and see the sins of others. We see other failing, putting themselves ahead of others, being thoughtless and careless and oh so unholy. And then we try to justify ourselves by comparing ourselves to others, by judging them, and by deciding that their sins are the truly bad ones while ours are merely minor indiscretions. We look to other’s sins, and decide we are holy not just because we don’t commit them, but because we are actively working protesting those sins. This leads us nowhere though, we are still surrounded and convicted by our own sin; the more we become obsessed with sin, the more we become aware of it and the more we need to justify ourselves by comparing ourselves to others.

I can summarize this in one sentence; Paul made an idol of the law. He didn’t seek to follow the law, he sought to worship it. In worshiping the law instead of the law-giver, he perverted the law. Its not so much that he broke the law as that he broke himself upon the law.

Looking to ourselves to fulfill the law is a losing battle, in best case scenario we give up and live with imperfection. In worse case scenario, we become monstrously evil, picketing funerals with “God Hates Fags” signs.

I wrote a while ago about sin from Heaven’s perspective. Consider this essay sin from Earth’s perspective, attempting to avoid sin leads us to become sinful, hating sin leads us to hate and eventually destroy ourselves.  Our world cannot handle sin, it corrodes in the worst way; both embracing sin and struggling against it lead to the same place, becoming hateful, hurtful and demonic.  As great as the evils committed by those who seek only to enrich themselves, aren’t the evils much worse of those trying to fix the world?   The very nature of socialism is to fix some evil in the world, to provide for the poor and to ensure equality among all.  Yet look at the monstrous ways this can be enacted: decimation of political oppositions, gulags, the Stasi, re-education, the millions dead in the Great Leap Forward.  Look at the evil committed in the name of God: the Crusades, the treatment of homosexuals, even Paul’s aforementioned .  Look at the Crucifixion, it wasn’t the Romans who wanted Jesus dead, it was the Sanhedrin.  I could go on and on about the truly evil people in the world thinking they were good.

This is why we need Jesus; we are sinners.  The more we struggle against sin, the more it ensnares us.  But in embracing Jesus, in looking to Him to fix us, in praying that God should replace our sinful nature with a better nature, we can win against sin, we can become a reflection of God’s perfection.  Not a projection, but a foreshadowing of the Kingdom of Heaven.  When we embrace Jesus, we look to work not just for God, but with God, and we learn to imitate Jesus.

Jesus did, on occasion, get angry and started flipping over tables, for there are times we should be angry.  But for the most part, Jesus was meek.  Surely in dying on the cross he was the master of practicing what he preached, turning the other cheek times 1000.  Paul asks the Church at Corinth, why not rather be wronged?  Surely, nobody has ever been a better follower of that passage than Jesus, wronged not just by Pilate and Herod and Judas but by Peter who denied him and by James and John who were not even able to stay awake for him; yet instead of destroying those who crucified him, he asked that the “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  This is not just our model, it is our method as well, God will not just forgive our sins, he will help us overcome them as well.

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