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"Badges of Membership": Part III

The Spirit does not simply inspire Christian confession. Rather, the Spirit becomes a fundamental identity marker of Paul’s communities in its own right because it inspires all areas of Christian life and faith.[21] Hence, Christian existence is lived according to the Spirit and is distinguished from pagan life which is lived according to the flesh, and Jewish life which is lived according to the law.[22] Consequently, the outward signs that demarcate membership within each of these communities are the fruit of the Spirit, the works of the flesh, and the works of the law.
Pagan existence, according to Paul, is lived according to the flesh.[23] Therefore, the flesh becomes the motivating force behind the actions of the pagans. Life in the flesh is lived in accordance to the flesh and is defined by works of the flesh. This, then, inspires a new perspective on Gal 5.12-21. Immediately following his critique of Jewish badges of membership, Paul turns the discussion to “works of the flesh.” At this point of his argument, Paul has not drifted into a tangential pastoral aside. Rather, Paul has moved naturally from discussing Jewish badges (“works of the law”) to discussing pagan badges (“works of the flesh”). Indeed, the so-called “vice lists” that recur throughout Paul’s letters should be read not as ethical asides but as references to pagan badges of identity.[24] When these lists are studied, three works stand out in particular: idolatry, sexual immorality, and covetousness.[25] Pagan existence according to the flesh is thus defined by lawlessness – pagans are those “without the law.”[26] As such, the pagans are identified as licentious “sinners,” “rebels,” and “enemies of God.”[27]
Over against the pagans, members of the Jewish communities are those who live according to the law and are thus demarcated by “works of the law.”[28] The “works of the law” are an essential badge of Jewish identity, and one that reinforces the separation of ethnic Israel from the pagan nations.[29] As with the “works of the flesh,” there are three works that are especially visible expressions of this badge: circumcision, food laws, and the Jewish calendar.[30]
However, just as Paul argues that Jewish worship has become compromised with idolatry, so also Paul argues that Jewish “works of the law” have become compromised with “works of the flesh.”[31] Consequently, life that is lived according to the law is, for Paul, just as unacceptable as life lived according to the flesh. Therefore, clinging to “works of the law” as a fundamental badge of one’s identity is a grave mistake; to try and live this way, after Jesus and the Spirit, would be to reduce one’s lived existence to the level of paganism.[32]
Over against life lived according to the flesh or the law, Paul argues that Christians are defined by life according to the Spirit. This life is identified by the “fruit of the Spirit” and the “works of faith,” which contrast both the works of the flesh and the works of the law.[33] Once again, there are three outward expressions of this lifestyle: freedom, fruit, and faith(fullness).
Over against the pagans who are enslaved to sin and death, and over against the Jews who are enslaved to the law and its punishments, Christians are defined by their freedom from sin, death, the law, and the condemnation of the law.[34] Freedom is an essential mark of Christian existence as Paul makes clear in 2 Cor 7.23: “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”[35]
This Christian freedom is distinct from both pagan lawlessness and Jewish lawfulness; life lived according to the Spirit is lived as the third alternative to licentiousness and legalism.[36] This becomes clear when the fruit of the Spirit is seen as another essential expression of the badge of the Spirit. In Gal 5.22-23, after describing Jewish and pagan badges, Paul goes on to describe a Christian badge: the fruit of the Spirit, which is love.[37] Through the Spirit, Christians are freed to love, which is what it means to fulfill the “law of Christ.”[38] However, while Paul gives priority to love there are at least two more expressions of the Spirit-badge within Christians: faith(fullness) and hope.[39]
Dunn, Wright, and others, have correctly emphasized that Paul’s references to faith generally belong within Paul’s discussion of Christian badges.[40] Of course, it is only the Spirit that produces this faith (just as the Spirit produces the confession of faith), and it is this faith that defines, and unites, the people of God as one people.[41] However, this faith is not only expressed through public confession, it is also expressed through public action. Hence, the praxis of faithfulness cannot be divorced from the profession of faith. This is why, in 1 Cor 12.5, Paul demands that the Corinthians prove whether they are indeed in the faith.[42] Thus, Christian freedom is not only expressed in love, it is also expressed in obedience to God.[43] Life in the Holy Spirit is demarcated by holy living.[44] This separates the Christians from pagan disobedience and rebellion, but it also separates Christians from Jewish compromised obedience. This is so because the Spirit accomplishes the circumcision of the heart which enables the fulfillment of the law, and Jewish circumcision becomes an expression of life lived in the flesh.[45]
Therefore, over against the pagans who bear the badge of the flesh, which is expressed through idolatry, covetousness and sexual immorality, and over against the Jews who bear the badge of the law, which is expressed through circumcision, food laws, and the Jewish calendar, Christians bear the badge of the Spirit, which is expressed through freedom, fruit, and faith(fullness).
[21] Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 425; Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, 87-89, 103; Ernst Kasemann, Perspectives on Paul (The New Testament Library Series; London: SCM Press, 1971), 122; Wolfgang Schrage, The Ethics of the New Testament (trans. David E. Green; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988), 178.
[22] Cf. Ro 8.1-13.
[23] F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 203-206; Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 817.
[24] Cf. Ro 1.21-31; 13.12-14; 1 Cor 5.11; 6.9-10; 2 Cor 12.2; Eph 4.31; 5.3; Col 3.5-8. Also significant in this regard is the way in which Paul uses the expression “works of the darkness” in Ro 13.12 in a parallel way to his usage of “works of the flesh” in Gal 5.19.
[25] On Paul’s focus on these three works in particular cf. Lindsay Dewar, An Outline of New Testament Ethics (London: University of London Press, 1949), 147-49; Frank J. Matera, New Testament Ethics: The Legacies of Jesus and Paul (Louisville: WJKP, 1996), 148-50. Idolatry was studied in Section II of this article. Sexual immorality and covetousness will be explored in more detail in Sections IV and V respectively.
[26] Cf. Ro 2.12, 14.
[27] Cf. Ro 1.21-31; 5.8, 10; 2 Cor 5.18-19; Eph 2.3; Col 1.21.
[28] The contested passages on “works of the law” are Ro 3.20, 27-30; 4; 9.11, 30-10.4; 11.6; Gal 2.16; 3.2, 5, 10-20.
[29] Cf. Terence L. Donaldson, Paul and the Gentiles: Remapping the Apostle’s Convictional World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997), 120-31; Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 355-63; Richard B. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation. A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (San Francisco: HarpersSanFrancisco, 1996), 33; N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Christian Origins and the Question of God Series Vol 1; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 237-38; The Climax of the Covenant, 150, 163-65, 173; What Saint Paul Really Said, 112; Matera, 156.
[30] On circumcision cf. Ro 2.25-29; 4; 1 Cor 7-18-19; Gal 2.3-4, 11-16; 5.1-16; 6.12;-13; Eph 2.10-13; Phil 3.2-3; Col 2.11; on calendar cf. Ro 14.5-6; Gal 2.11-16; 4.9-11; Col 216; on food cf. Ro 14.14-15; 1 Cor 8-10; Gal 2.11-16; Col 2.16.
[31] Cf. Ro 2; 7.5-8.13; Gal 2.16; 6.13.
[32] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 144; cf. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 143-59.
[33] Cf. Gal 5.22-23; 1 Thes 1.3.
[34] Cf. Ro 2.28-29; 6.12-23; 8; 1 Cor 7.23; 2 Cor 3.17; Gal 2.4; Gal 4.1-11, 22-5.1; Phil 3; Rudolph Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament: Volume 1 (trans. Kendrick Grobel; London: SCM Press, 1955), 330-52; James D. G. Dunn, Christian Liberty: A New Testament Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 66, 71-73 et passim; The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 388, 434-35.
[35] Cf. Gal 5.1. Thus, Allen Verhey concludes that, for Paul freedom is probably the “most fundamental” of Christian values (The Great Reversal: Ethics in the New Testament [Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 1984], 107-108). While the language of values is useful, this article argues that it is better to define freedom as one of the badges of Christian identity.
[36] Cf Bornkamm, 185-86. Bornkamm calls Christian freedom “the middle ground” between legalism and licentiousness, but it is better to understand Christian freedom as an altogether distinct alternative, and not as some sort of mediating position. This is so, in part, because this article understands “legalism” to be a lifestyle that is law-inspired (as opposed to understanding “legalism” as a form of works’ righteousness).
[37] It is significant that the word “fruit” is singular. Paul is not talking about the “fruits” of the Spirit, but the singular fruit of love, which finds expression in the other attributes mentioned in this passage (hence, Gal 5.22-23 is comparable to 1 Cor 13, in that they both explain what love is). It should be noted that the reading of Gal 5 provided in this article drastically contradicts the conclusions of those who assert that Paul’s paraenetic material in Gal (and in Paul’s epistles in general) has little or nothing to do with Paul’s theology (cf. Hans Dieter Betz, Galatians: A Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Churches in Galatia [Hermeneia Series; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979], 254, 292; Martin Dibelius, A Fresh Approach to the New Testament and Early Christian Literature [The International Library of Christian Knowledge; London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1949], 217-20).
[38] Cf. Ro 8; 1 Cor 9.21; Gal 6.2; J. Christiaan Becker, Paul the Apostle: The Triumph of God in Life and Thought (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), 270; Bruce, 210-11; Gorman, Cruciformity, 55; Albert Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle (trans. William Montgomery; New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1931), 298-99, 303; Verhey, 108.
[39] Faith, hope, and love are repeatedly mentioned together in Paul’s epistles; cf. Ro 5.1-5; 1 Cor 13.2, 13; 2 Cor 8.7; Gal 2.20; 5.5-6, 22-23; Eph 1.15; 3.16-19; 6.23; Col 1.4-5; 1 Thes 1.3; 3.6, 13; 5.8, 32-33; 2 Thes 2.16-17. On hope see Section IV; for a further exposition on love see Section V.
[40] Cf. Donaldson, 162; Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 371-72; Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 815-15; Wright, The Climax of the Covenant, 3, 36, 156; “Putting Paul Together Again: Towards a Synthesis of Pauline Theology (1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, and Philemon)” in Pauline Theology Vol 1: Thessalonians, Philippians, Galatians, Philemon. Ed. Jouette M. Bassler (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991) 185, 195; What Saint Paul Really Said, 113-33; Paul, 30-32.
[41] Cf. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 635-38; Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, 86.
[42] Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of his Theology (trans. John Richard De Witt; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 232.
[43] As Schrage says, “those who are free are those who are obedient, and those who are obedient are those who are free” (176).
[44] Cf. Dewar, 99-101; Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle, 634-58; Fee, Paul, the Spirit and the People of God, 105, 108-109; God’s Empowering Presence, 880-81; Gorman, Cruciformity, 102; Kasemann, Perspectives on Paul, 124; Marshall, 270; Matera, 141; Ridderbos 237; Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 143-44, 160; Paul, 124. This, then, makes good sense of the places where Paul speak quite positively of good works, cf. Ro 2.6-7; 1 Cor 3.13-15; 15.58; 2 Cor 9.8; 11.15; Gal 6.4; Eph 2.10; 2 Thes 2.17.
[45] Cf. Deut 10.16; Jer 4.4, 9.25f, Ez 44.9; Ro 2.28-29; 5.5; 2 Cor 1.22; 3.3, 6; 4.6; Gal 4.6; Eph 1.18; 3.17; Phil 4.7; Col 3.15; 1 Thes 3.13; 2 Thes 3.5.

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