Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down (NLT)
Paul’s words here are subtle but very pointed. He links sinfulness not with a propensity to engage the licentious acts of the flesh (which he does bring up in other texts), but with a bizarre, masochistic dedication to shunning the freedom we are offered in Christ. His implication is that we are prone to rebuild the “walls of the law” that once surrounded us prior to our redemption. He even says that we had to tear those walls down, a violent metaphor, to fully engage the salvation of Christ.
I think what is wrapped up here is the human tendency toward subtle desires for bondage. We feel so much safer when we have very well defined boundaries and markers that hem us in. What we do not do very well is live in true liberty. But just because we aren’t comfortable with it doesn’t mean that our hearts don’t long for it. We were built free. We were designed in a state of perfect liberation, which is to say that we were unfettered in all the right ways. God’s creation of Adam was the birth of human liberty It was our sin that birthed human slavery, not the other way around as modern thought seems to suggest.
In fact, it seems possible that since our original nature as humans was to love freedom and liberty (in their God-given states), then our sin-nature would be what longs for strict and stiff boundaries. This flies in the face of much fundamentalist teaching, where strict-ness for the sake of strict-ness is esteemed. There is another side, we don’t always swing toward incarceration, the other extreme is not freedom but autonomy, and that is as evil as confinement, but that isn’t what this text is about. Paul specifically highlights the tendency toward our desires to be handcuffed by rules.
So it stands that for mature Christians, people who have tasted the grace and goodness of God through Christ, one of our greatest and most cunning adversaries will be our own struggle against our unnatural tendency to want to be confined. We will likely always do battle with a propensity to want very black and white rules defined in neat theological ways for a clear and concise understanding. But God didn’t say He was transforming us into good citizens, He made us His kids. We are reborn into His family, and the reality of life is this: relationship is much messier than citizenship. Though, as children of God, we are fellow citizens of the kingdom of Heaven the new life is even more intense than that. We are actually members of the same family, with God as our Father. To say that “good citizens” are the same as “good kids” would be a gross misunderstanding of both citizenship and childhood. In citizenship we have the security of the law to protect and comfort us, in relationship we have the security of love.