law of liberty

Thomas Aquinas wrote about the Gospel as the New Law in his Summa Theologica (I-II, Q.108, 1):

“There are works which are not necessarily opposed to, or in keeping with faith that works through love. Such works are not prescribed or forbidden in the New Law, by virtue of its primitive institution; but have been left by the Lawgiver, i.e., Christ, to the discretion of each individual. And so to each one it is free to decide what he should do or avoid; and to each superior, to direct his subjects in such matters as regards what they must do or avoid. Wherefore also in this respect the Gospel is called the law of liberty: since the Old Law decided many points and left few to man to decide as he chose.”

This means that what is not specifically commanded or forbidden by the teachings of Jesus are left up to the individual or the individual community to decide. They are not referred back to the Old Law, because the New does not fill in the gaps left by the Old or appeal to the Old where it remains silent. Silence in the New Law means freedom for those in Christ.

Aquinas goes on:

“He acts freely who acts of his own accord. Now man does of his own accord that which he does from a habit that is suitable to his nature: since a habit inclines one as a second nature. If, however, a habit be in opposition to nature, man would not act according to his nature, but according to some corruption affecting that nature. Since then the grace of the Holy Spirit is like an interior habit bestowed on us and inclining us to act aright, it makes us do freely those things that are becoming to grace, and shun what is opposed to it.”

Our own nature is corrupted (by the Fall) and the habits that we live by incline us accordingly. The Holy Spirit dwells in us though, directing our habits, not toward our nature, but toward grace. The Holy Spirit does not repair the old human by the old law. The Holy Spirit creates a New Human by the New Law. The New Person lives by “the perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1.25).

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Let us live only by his law of liberty.

Red Letter Year: 7/10

Luke 6:39-49

39 Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? 40 Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.

41 And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 42 How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

43 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 44 A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. 45 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

46 So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? 47 I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. 48 It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. 49 But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

Comments

After telling us not to judge, Luke’s version of the sermon talks about blind guides and then moves to discuss good fruit versus bad fruit. This can seem like it contradicts or balances out the prohibition on judging, but that really misses the point here. Judging is the bad fruit. If you find yourself in a habit of judging others, then you are producing bad fruit. This is a really hard teaching in its own right because we all do this. It’s near impossible to think about these things and compare different interpretations (and the lifestyles that come out of those) without deciding what is good fruit and what is bad fruit. This is a good thing to do with regard to ourselves, but not with regard to others. Those we have entrusted spiritual authority to can also help us examine our fruit, but only carefully and only with permission. If we can’t see the danger of judging others, then we really are blind and have no business trying to guide others.

I think v.46 is one of the most important in this whole sermon. Jesus makes it clear that he is still addressing  disciples – people who are calling him Lord and thus claiming to be his disciple. He says in no uncertain terms we have not made him Lord until we do what he says. Until we give to everyone who begs from us. Until we love our enemies and do good things for them. Until we are compassionate and forgiving and kind – especially to selfish and ungrateful people. If we can do this, we will build lives that are secure against any hardship. If we can’t, it would be better if we had never heard his teachings to begin with. But we have heard. So, let us produce good fruit as Jesus emables us.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.