As a prerequisite most of the information on pneumatic direction that I will be sourcing is from the Gospels and Pauline thought. Having said that…
Some Christians think that what separates a/the Christian ethic from legalism is pneumatic direction. That is, the Christian life is neither established nor guided by human wisdom (those who lean towards a pneumatically directed ethic see almost all forms of external criteria as legalistic, though I would argue that they intuitively work out of a external criteria on many levels) 1 Cor 1:18-2:5, but revealed to us through the Spirit 1 Cor 2:10 (along with the idea of assessing what the most loving thing to do in any given situation would be). This pneumatic direction, for Paul, he designates as “the mind of Christ” 1 Cor 2:16. That is, the mind of Christ is applied by the Spirit. Thus, the Christian is one who lives not by the letter of the Law but is controlled by the Spirit. The “flesh” is the distinguishing feature which controls the unbeliever, but the Spirit is the distinguishing feature in the believer’s guidance and life. This is the “new Covenant.”
What the exact relation between Christ and the Spirit in terms of immediate and direct guidance is not explicit in Paul. It could be that the “mind of Christ” became operative in the life of the Christian THROUGH the activity of the Spirit (this is how I’d usually think of it personally) as in 1 Cor 2:16. However, in II Cor 3:17 Paul seems to equate the two when he says, “the Lord is the Spirit.” Either way, the Christian, it seems, has a knowledge which no human wisdom can approximate or even test. Indeed, life in the Spirit (having the mind of Christ) seems to lie implicit in Paul’s whole conception of the Christian life and of his own apostolic ministry.
However, the question to be raised is this: While there is an emphasis on pneumatic direction, does this EXCLUDE ANY TYPE OF EXTERNAL CRITERIA? Or to put it another way, is there a “morality beyond rules?” (which, by the way, seems somewhat characteristic of Kierkegaard’s “suspension of the ethical”). Well, there have been exegetical issues raised against seeing this as decidedly one sided.
First Exegetical Problem: New Lawgiver and Torah in Messianic Thought
First, in Judaism there was the EXPECTATION of a new Torah. For example, Jer 31:31-34 speaks of a new covenant wherein God’s law would be written on the heart. What should be noted is that these verses do not automatically exclude the thought of external type of direction as well. Though this passage goes beyond others in speaking of a “new covenant” it can be paralleled by Ps 37:31, 40:8, Deut 30:14, 6:6 and 11:18 in its reference to the law contained in the heart with none of these passages ruling out the presence of the external Law. Indeed, there were many expectations in both the Old Testament and Jewish literature that some type of external and divine teaching would continue to be valid in “the latter days.” In the discoveries of Qumran there is evidence that the expectation of a new lawgiver and Torah was a part of the common Messianic thought of Judaism. For example, it has been long known that the Qumran community was awaiting “him who will teach righteousness.” (Dead Sea Scrolls).
Thus, while this thought may have been contained within Judaism and influenced Paul, it is more probable, according to some scholars, that the Church was probably more influential than Judaism at this point. Secondly, we see in Peter’s sermon on Solomon’s porch and Stephen’s defence before the elders that there is some sort of providential continuity between Moses and Christ via the quote of Deut 18:15: “A prophet shall (the Lord) God raise up unto you from among your brethren like unto me.”
Lastly, we see in the gospels a new law, new lawgiver, prophet, rabbi (written under the influence of a “high” Christology) where Jesus is seen as a TEACHER with his school of disciples teaching them to keep his COMMANDMENTS and where his person is in some sense a new Torah.
Second Exegetical Problem: Law of Christ
Paul presents the “law of Christ” in two passages:
Gal 6:2 where bearing one another’s burdens the Christian is fulfilling “the law of Christ.” In 1 Cor 9:21 Paul speaks of himself as not being without law before God but as being “under the law of Christ” or “in-lawed to Christ.” So the question to be asked is this: Does the “law of Christ” exclude any thought of a standard in the Christian life which possesses an external significance and validity?
Well, there are two interpretations. One is that the “law” is understood as the old pre-Christian mode that Paul understood unintentionally and the other interpretation is referring to a law where the “law of the Spirit” refers to an inward non-propositional guidance. However, there are problems with this because there is evidence that Paul understood “law of Christ” as more than acting in a Christian spirit and to be different in some respects from “law of the Spirit” Rom 8:2.
So it seems that “the law of Christ” has to have some external validity to it. Now, some scholars have pointed out that Paul was not opposed to “tradition” (paradosis) for the instruction and teaching of Christ and the Church even though:
1. It carried the idea of external authority within Judaism and
2. Jesus strongly denounced the “tradition of the elders” as being the “tradition of men” and
3. Paul had abandoned “the tradition of the fathers.”
In Paul’s day however, pious Jews were told to “hold fast” the traditions” and Paul exhorted his converts to “hold fast the traditions which you were taught” and praised them when they did hold fast the traditions though he opposed what he called “the traditions of men.” Thus, for Paul, it does not follow that he also opposed the external validity of all traditions and principles.
C.H. Dodd said: “…maxims which formed part of the tradition of sayings of Jesus are treated as if they were in some sort elements of a new Torah.”
And we see this when Paul, in discussing marriage in 1 Cor 7 claimed for his own view the direction of the Spirit and contrasts it favourably with what Christ said on the subject. Yet, it appeared that what Christ said remains uniquely authoritative.
This also occurs with regard to the maintenance of the Christian preacher 1 Cor 9:14, Matt 10:10, Lu 10:7 the institution of the Lord’s Supper 1 Cor 11:23-25, Matt 26:26-29 and the blessedness of giving, Acs 20:35 and Lu 14:12-14 as though such words of Jesus carried a decisive validity. Lastly, in Romans, there are at least eight passages where Paul is clearly dependent upon the words of Jesus and uses them as external guidance for the Christian life–for example, Rom 12:14, 17, 21
Though Luther insisted that Christ is “no Moses, no exactor, no giver of laws, but a giver of grace, a saviour, and one that is full of mercy” that statement should be understood in its context of justification by faith alone and as a reaction to the “schoolmen” and “merit-mongers” who commercialized righteousness. So the idea that “Christ is the end of the law” for those who believe should not be understood that we receive our guidance ONLY from the Holy Spirit. Though Paul’s usage of the word “law” should not be understood as identical with Judaic usage, it is not accidental. It would be a mistake to understand “the law of Christ” as equivalent of the rabbinic Halakah or to even confine it to the teachings of Jesus. For Paul, immediate Spirit guidance for the Church (no small institution) though valid, did not exclude that which the Lord commanded and ordained.
Bringing The Two Elements Together
So let’s bringing the two apparent polar opposites together. For Paul it seems that he views the teaching of Christ as the embodiment and one true interpretation of the Old Testament, ie. 1 Cor 15:3 where the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies came about in the first instance through the instruction of Jesus. It was not only through this though but also through Jesus’ tangible portrayal and instruction of the divine standard. For Paul, “The Law of Christ” must be understood as both Christ’s teaching and the example of the person of Christ.
So Paul brings both to the table in ethical reflection–Law of Christ and Mind of Christ. However and THIS is an important point, HE NEVER REPRESENTS THE NEW TORAH AS BEING A DETAILED CODE WHICH HAS A READY MADE ANSWER FOR EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE (something my buddy Randy was questioning as he was thinking way ahead of the game. Right on Randy! Tracking me perfectly!). Paul never exchanges the Halakah of the rabbis for the Halakah of Christ. Even where Paul has a definite command of the Lord with regard to marriage (as noted above), we should not understand Paul to be speaking about “law” in the sense of a detailed code covering every conceivable exigency. Instead, this command partakes of the nature of PRINCIPLE. A principle is something that POINTS THE WAY to the solution in a particular circumstance but which must be applied anew to differing situations. And we see this with regard to marriage. Christ establishes marriage as permanent from the beginning. However, he says nothing specific about ascetic separation within the married state or how this works out when one party becomes a Christian. 1Cor 7:10, 1Cor 7:3-6, 1Cor 7:12-16.
Thus, in a negative sense, these principles will objectively pass judgement on the self-assertion and waywardness of the Christian. In their positive sense, they will give authoritative guidance. E.F. Scott is appropriate to quote at this juncture:
“Instead of framing laws he stated principles, and made them so few and broad and simple that no one could overlook them…It is true that he enounced a large number of precepts which appear to bear directly on given questions of conduct…But when we look more closely into the precepts we find that they are not so much rules as illustrations. In every instance they involve a principle on which all the stress is laid; but it is applied to a concrete example, so that we may not only grasp it as a principle but judge for ourselves how it works.”
Let me use a few examples of what I mean. Think of when Jesus tells us to “forgive seventy times seven.” Matt 18:22. This should not be interpreted so precisely such that once we reach that number then we don’t have to forgive anymore. Or the example of prayer in Matt 6:9-13 and Lu 11:2-4 . This does not mean that such a prayer was binding on us in its order and phraseology for a truly proper intercession. What about when Jesus was on trial? Did he literally turn the other cheek?” No, though we believe he was true to the principle in Matt 5:39. The fact that Jesus spoke so much in parables is evidence of the fact that principles were the vital elements while the concrete situations in which those principles were encased were meant to be only illustrative. In Eph 5:2, 25 we read, “…walk in love, even as Christ loved us and gave himself for us” or in his praise of the Thessalonians that they “become…imitators of the Lord.” Are these to mean that we should actually repeat the sacrifice of Christ or that we should punctiliously conform to the external activity of the Lord’s ministry?
Personally, I don’t think Paul, who insisted that “the written code killeth” was prepared to view the Law of Christ as more than authoritative principles set in concrete illustrations.
So, going back to Dodd, the ethical precepts of the gospels “…serve two purposes. On the one hand they help towards an intelligent and realistic act of ‘repentance,’ because they offer an objective standard of judgement on our conduct, so that we know precisely where we stand in the sight of God, and are in a position to accept His judgement upon us and thereby to partake of His forgiveness. On the other hand, they are intended to offer positive moral guidance for action, to those who have, in the words of the gospels, received the Kingdom of God.”
Paul, it seems viewed the Law of Christ as both propositional principles and personal example that stood as valid external signposts all of which are bounds for the operation of liberty and are concerned with the quality of direction of Christian liberty.
Now, up until this point, I have not mentioned anything about pneumatic guidance of the “Mind of Christ.” So what do we mean by the “Mind of Christ.” Because we have the Law of Christ, does this mean then that we don’t need ANY guidance via the Holy Spirit? It would seem that if we were to rely solely on the Law of Christ there would be nothing distinctly Christian about it. As a matter of fact, to do so would be more in line with Stocism. While, the Law of Christ is A DEFINITIVE factor in the direction of Christian liberty, it is not the most DISTINCTIVE factor which ACTUALLY produces the CHRISTIAN ethic. What is the most distinctive factor is the “Mind of Christ” through the activity of the Spirit at work in the believer without whom the principles of the Law of Christ remain remote and unattainable. If all we needed was the principles, then it would seem that all we have is religion. Thus, the Christian is ultimately guided by the Spirit if guidance and Christian life is to be truly Christian, John 16:12-15
Paul uses the word dokimazo–testing, determining, proving. Of this, Cullmann says:
“The working of the Holy Spirit shows itself chiefly in the “testing” (dokimazein), that is in the capacity of forming the correct Christian ethical judgment at each given moment, and specifically of forming it in connection with the knowledge of the redemptive process, in which indeed, the Holy Spirit is a decisive figure. This “testing” is the key to all New Testament ethics….Certainty of moral judgment in the concrete sense is in the last analysis the one great fruit that the Holy Spirit, this factor in redemptive history, produces in the individual man.”
Under the Old Covenant the individual was to “DETERMINE the things which are best being instructed out of the law” Rom 2:8, however, in the New Covenant the Christian is to “TEST all things” and “DETERMINE the things which are best” Phil 1:10 by reference to the working of the Holy Spirit in his life.” (Side note: There is a close proximity of the exhortations “test all things” 1 Thess. 5:21 and “quench not the Spirit” 1 Thess 5:19 End side note). Thus, Paul will exhort, “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may DETERMINE what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
So guidance for Paul, will involve both “the Law of Christ” and “the Mind of Christ.” It is not productive of the Christian life if one is to stand alone. It is significant that both the Law of Christ and Spirit directed testing are joined together in the opening verses of Gal 6 and are subsumed under the broader heading of “walking in the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians stresses the Mind of Christ, but it also contains the reference to being “in-lawed” to Christ.” Thus, the “spiritual man” ie. the man who not only notes the principles and example of the Law of Christ but who also allows the Mind of Christ to make application to his ethical judgment at each given moment, “judges all things” 1 Cor 2:15. Such a person realizes that as he is guided by both the Law of Christ and the Mind of Christ” he need not worry about what men say for it is the “Lord who judges” 1 Cor 4:3-4, 1 Cor 2:15, 2 Cor 10:7, Col 2:16. At the same time he will allow the same freedom of ethical decision for his fellow Christian. He may see his brother taking a different course of action, but as his brother so desires to act within the bounds of the Law of Christ and be guided by the Mind of Christ, he ultimately recognizes that it is “before his own Lord that he stands or falls” Rom 14:4, Rom 14 1Cor 2:5 and 2 Cor 5:10.
So. All of this, it seems, goes to show that we are not totally without guidance when it comes to ethical decision making. We have SOME EXTERNAL CRITERIA in helping to guide us in these things. This does not mean that we have to have complete exhaustive knowledge to cover every possible situation. But neither should it mean that those who hold to a “more principled” Christian ethic should be seen as either claiming exhaustive knowledge or being legalistic. What I’m seeking to do is to counter the pendulum swinging in the OTHER, OPPOSITE direction of merely Spirit guidance (along with an ethic of love) which can lead (though not necessarily so) into ethical relativism. Given this, I hope it is starting to shape up as to how one could be a Pharisee with a genuine heartfelt faith and in turn how Christians can follow a new Torah with a genuine heartfelt faith as well.