There is this never ending dance that revolves around the matter of the Law. (A dance in the way that Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art, is a dance). The first thrust is the suggestion that we no longer need the Law, that Jesus’ sacrifice has taken care of that. This is quickly parried, followed by a riposte from scripture in which Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law, but fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) A split decision.
We require a ruling, so we turn to our foremost referee, St. Paul, who speaks eloquently (if at times obtusely) on the subject. Variously he chastises those who fall into legalism, like the Galatians, while other times he creates new laws for us to worry about, as he does for the Corinthians.
But rather than listening exclusively to what Paul has to say about the Law I think we can learn more by focusing on his personal testimony. Even prior to his spectacular conversion on the Damascus Road he was a very devout and religious man. He rigidly adhered to the Mosaic Law and firmly believed that he was demonstrating loyal obedience to God. During this same time he also religiously pursued the persecution and murder of his fellow Jews.
After being exposed to the love and forgiveness of Jesus, Paul cast off his hateful nature like a badly stained yet expensive suit of clothes. He was able to do this not by following an old, abridged or new set of rules. It was done by identifying with the Messiah, putting his entire hope and trust in him. He expressed terrible remorse for the horrible things that he had done while under the Law just as he expressed grateful amazement at his salvation. Ironically, this salvation was made possible by the sacrifice of the only person to ever obey that Law, a sinless carpenter’s son from Nazareth.
Throughout the Bible we hear the stories of great men that God has chosen to lead his people. They diligently strived to be obedient and they likely did well at holding to the letter of the Law. Even so, they committed horrible crimes and practiced customs that stood in opposition to the Spirit of the Law. (Genesis 20: 1-13, 2 Samuel 11:14, 1 Kings 11: 1-10).
If Solomon is, in fact, the author of Ecclesiastes, he realizes too late that even a tremendously full and rich life serving God could still ring hollow at the end of the day. Unlike Saul of Tarsus, there was no conversion experience, no point early in their lives in which these men ‘repented’ of their ways and turned back to God, at least not in the way that we have been blessed through Christ Jesus.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
2 Corinthian 3:6