The brief look at Galatians, in the last part of this series, can serve to focus our concepts on the relationship of the Kingdom of Heaven to ethics. Are ethics important? Of course, but failure does not change your status.
All humans recognize that many behaviors are wrong and must be stopped, because we all reason according to the elemental foundations of this world, the knowledge of Good and Evil. The more time a group has to think about a particular issue, the more ways it becomes clear that wrongs are being done. Intrinsic human ethics require retribution for wrongs done – justice. And intrinsic human logic asserts that fear of punishment reduces the propensity to do wrong – deterrence. Clearly, the power of deterrence exists only in the presence of retributive justice. If there is to be no retribution, fear based deterrence can not exist. Our clear logic continues with the observation that if deterrence is not powerful, wrong behavior will occur as a direct result of the lack of deterrence. Wrong behavior inevitably is the cause of harm to persons and society. Therefore the well-being of an individual and society is dependent on retributive justice.
So, elemental wisdom impels the person reading the scriptures to isolate the statements that support those 2 principles: retributive justice and fear deterrence. In the New Testament, the elemental person sees many new rules for which justice must be required otherwise deterrence loses its strength. One source I read has counted much more than 1000 new rules in the New Testament.
But Jesus said “Come to me all you who carry overwhelming loads, for I will give you rest. I will not make you drag huge loads (my yoke is easy) or put huge demands on you (my burden is light)”.
If we keep in focus Jesus words and teachings throughout his crowd immersed ministry, and keep in focus our inherited propensity to view all things from our elemental wisdom, we have the opportunity to see with our new spiritual eyes and hear with our new spiritual ears. When we trusted Jesus, the CHRIST, we were Born Again, of Spirit. We continually face the choice to listen to the voice of the elemental forces of this world, full of clear wisdom from one perspective, or to listen to the voice of the Spirit whom Jesus gave us to guide us to follow his wisdom. John 16: three things the Spirit teaches us: Sin=not believing Jesus, righteousness=focused on Jesus- not you, judgment=Satan HAS BEEN judged – not you. Jesus said several times that eternal life, salvation, is only by believing IN him. Jesus taught almost continuously that righteousness through obedience to the rules will result in retributive justice – condemnation – for all. And then he consistently taught salvation can only be obtained through belief. Judgment, retributive justice, was executed against the Kingdom of Satan, the father of lies, at the Cross. Where did Satan lie? At the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the elemental force of his kingdom, the inheritance of the slave (in Paul’s Galatians analogy).
If we hold those concepts as the foundation to understanding, we can see that Paul is not using retributive justice as a deterrence against bad behavior – sin. But instead, Paul is focusing people on the Glory of God, the majesty of his perfection in Love and Mercy. After focusing our attention on the nature of salvation, Paul brings up issues of bad behavior – sin. With a renewed focus on our salvation based on the forgiveness of all our sins at the cross, a renewed focus on our salvation based on the identity of Jesus the Christ, we are ready to hear behavioral wisdom in the correct context. Paul gives a different list of sins for different groups of people in the different Letters of Paul. But the subject has not changed. The subject is Jesus, the Lamb of God that took away the sins of the world. Paul is not using Heaven as a fear based deterrence to prevent bad behavior. Paul uses Love and Mercy as the focus. Galatians is so clear with eyes to see: after listing the sins that cloud the Glory of God in the Kingdom of Heaven, Paul ties it all back in. “If someone is caught in ANY sin, take action you people, you who have ears to hear, you who understand the Kingdom of Heaven, you who are listening to the Holy Spirit teach as Jesus said in John 16, you who see Jesus enthroned in the Glory of God. Take action and RESTORE the Evil sinner deserving of retributive justice. Do it gently. Watch out because you will be tempted to revert to the elemental thinking yourself (how can we deter further sin without threat?) but rather imitate Christ who forgave the humans killing God while they were in the middle of the action. They were completely without repentance at that time. His mercy enabled him to restore them when they would turn to him.
So this is the model I see in Paul’s Letters. Like the model of Jesus, teaching that sin is far more encompassing that any of us can face. Like the model of Jesus, teaching that salvation is far more encompassing than sin. Fear based Deterrence is the wrong subject. The Kingdom of Heaven is the right subject.
At the time of Paul, the church, the body of the Christ, is growing rapidly with many thousands of people turning to belief in Jesus the Christ. They turn for all the various reasons that people turn, but they should be held together by one common belief – that Jesus of Nazareth, was the Christ, the redeemer come from God to reconcile individuals to himself. Not all who attend group meetings would have come to that belief, not all would not be associated to that belief. Some would associate themselves with the group at a physical level, but hold themselves apart in belief about salvation through the Christ. But even among those who hold the belief in Jesus, the other concepts with which they live would vary greatly. And in many ways would not be in conformation to the basic concepts of Love and Mercy. Those who endure in the belief in Jesus will eventually learn as they focus on His Love and began to desire to be like their savior. But that process can be accelerated by the teachers, assuming the teachers understand. Paul certainly understands. These teachers would exactly fit the description presented by Jesus in his statement “the scribe trained in the Kingdom of Heaven brings out treasure both new and old.” And these teachers would understand the parable known as the Shrewd Steward or similar, the parable of Luke 16 where Jesus is bringing to light the Kingdom of Heaven principles that must guide teachers.
The principles of the Kingdom of Heaven with a necessary focus on Jesus the Christ will result in individuals who exude beautiful behavior naturally, not through fear based deterrence. So the wisdom of Paul and similar teachers is clear that the salvation provided by Jesus the Christ is not at risk because of bad behavior. Something like this: “My precious people that I love, rejoice that Jesus has saved you. Don’t ever lose focus on that. While focusing on the master of Love, be aware that your behavior goes against the principles of Love. When that happens forgive each other and move on toward that goal to which Christ is calling us Heavenward.”
For the purpose of understanding Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians, we can see that, in Galatians, Paul lists offenses as areas that should be avoided, both as devotees and as judges. Living in dedication to those offenses, either in commission or in condemnation, is participating in the law of the flesh. Do not associate with the Law of the flesh.