Normal Orthodoxy Produces Wisdom, Not Laws

It took me a long time to finally get my mind and heart around the profound difference between wisdom and legislation. For most of my life, I spent most of my time being a rule-keeper. After all, I was the firstborn son. I was responsible to obey the rules. I was supposed to be the “good boy” that would grow up to be a “good leader” who taught everyone to obey the rules.

It was a painful lesson when I learned that I wasn’t strong enough or “good” enough to be “right.” In fact, it shook my faith in God and myself when I discovered that the “rule-keeping” wasn’t strong enough to truly change me. I needed to develop wisdom for that kind of life change! And wisdom required a much more intimate relationship with Jesus than merely keeping His rules!

Don’t get me wrong! Rules were really important when I was 3 years old. But when I entered my teens and 20-somethings I discovered that there was going to be something much more profound that was needed if I was to be more than just a “rule-keeper.” I needed the deeper “why” behind the rules if I was ever going to see my life truly transformed by love for God and neighbor. I discovered the weakness of rigidity and the power of firmness based on love rather than merely being “correct.”

Look at our lesson today in Galatians 3:23-29; 4:1-5:

Brethren, before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no better than a slave, though he is the owner of all the estate; but he is under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father. So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe. But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

So, St. Paul is trying to get these Galatians, most of which were not raised in Jewish homes, to not buy into the heresy that they had to be Jewish before they could be Christian. It’s kind of like the false notion that you have to be Greek, or Russian, or Serbian, or Romanian, or (fill in the blank of your favorite ethnicity) before you can become Orthodox. That notion is, has always, and will forever be, false.

And yet…

St. Paul refuses to call the Jewish practices of the Law that had actually become second nature to the Jews, bad. In fact, St. Paul insists that the Law, the ritual rules, and regulations, were our “custodians” until Christ came.

This means that the “rules and regulations” serve a vital purpose in our maturity and development, and always will. There is a great benefit in the humble honesty of realizing you need boundaries to not just keep you safe (that’s too small a motivation to produce anything else but slavery) but to train your inner self to recognize the dangers in life when they come. Most of my biggest mistakes in my life have come when I was asleep to the “cliffs” of my own intoxicated actions devoid of the wisdom of maturity. I bet you can see that in your life as well.

So, the purpose of the “rules and regs” is to train you, form you, and teach you to recognize when your passions are out of control. They serve as the “custodian” until we grow up enough to value our relationship with Jesus ABOVE our own immediate desires! And that “grown-up” place isn’t some “magic moment” when “poof” “I’m saved” as much as it is a day-by-day choosing, from my freedom, to realize the treasure the Faith gives me in giving me, Jesus! That treasure is nothing less than actually “putting on” Christ at my baptism, becoming “Abraham’s offspring,” and “heirs” of the promise of new life in Christ. The Treasure is when rules become wisdom and my motivation to follow them flows from that stronger motivation of love rather than my ego’s desire to be “correct.”

Today, don’t despise or dismiss the wisdom of the rules and regulations.” You do so at your own peril. Embrace them as the valuable tools they are to show you the dangers of undisciplined desires. Then, don’t stop! Keep growing up until you realize the unspeakable joy of a Normal Orthodoxy that leads you to be Orthodox on Purpose!

P.S. Dear Lord Jesus, I don’t like rules! I don’t like discipline. But I need these boundaries to shape and form me into a man who has his passions under control. When I forget Your Wisdom, I see my desires and passions become my masters and they always lead me in the wrong direction. It is only Your wisdom that places my passions and desires as my servant so that I become by grace what You are by nature. Amen.

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