Pro-Choice God (Oct 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Scott Simpson

What’s the difference between one who is a slave and one who is free? A slave acts out of command, coercion, because to do otherwise might end in punishment or even death. A free human being operates out of personal choice.

Certain things are only attainable by choice; faith and love are chief among them.

Paul makes it clear that he isn’t making an argument to the church in Galatia that uncircumcision is better than circumcision. He makes it clear that, in Christ, neither has any value. Is Paul here trying to drive a final nail in the Judaic coffin? Is Paul trying to establish a new required “sign” that is uniquely Christian instead of Jewish? Is Paul saying, as I’ve heard many in my tradition argue, that the “law” Paul is turning the Galatians away from is simply the “Jewish Law” of the Torah?

For the bulk of the circumcised, circumcision was not a choice. In the typical experience, a boy was circumcised at an age in which he would never remember the occurrence, much less choose it. Women, of course, had no choice in the matter. In the Jewish world of the first century, a woman just hoped she found a man to be attached to and that she had some children (hopefully at least one or two males). For a few male “converts” circumcision was certainly an adult choice— and not an easy one. That’s fine. To choose something difficult in disciplined service to God (even if it’s based on faulty assumptions) is an honorable thing. Paul, however, is addressing an issue of coercion: someone is using fear as leverage to get uncircumcised Greek men who want to follow Christ to go under the knife, and Paul’s downright angry about it: “I wish they’d emasculate themselves.”

hat’s he so upset about? He’s convinced that God is adamantly pro-choice.

Oh, he warns them not to make bad choices, to make choices that lead to life, not death. He knows they know what God’s kingdom looks like, how the people of His kingdom treat each other—they don’t use other people for their own pleasure, they don’t visit their own rage and hatred and violence on others or waste the precious time they have in selfishness or mindlessness. Paul also points out WHY they don’t do these things: they are “led by the Spirit” not operating “under the law.”

See, laws are made to keep people in line from the outside. Laws keep people in line by threat of punishment or promise of reward. But there’s a real problem with this approach, and Paul addressed it very clearly with the church in Colossi:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. ~ Colossians 2:20-23

Following external rules gives an appearance of wisdom, but it can’t change the inside. The inside is changed from the inside. Transformation comes from the daily renewing of the mind (Romans 12:1-2) and that happens by choice, not by coercion. It happens because I have chosen submission, not because I am a slave under threat.

Paul is angry in his letter to the Galatians because someone has undercut the freedom and choice that God has given His people. Someone is making God out to be a small-minded taskmaster who wants what He wants and will cut you out of His favor on a technicality (and WHO KNOWS how many of those there might be!)

This is not the image of God displayed in Christ. This is not the image of the God who has sent His very spirit to dwell with and within his people. That God is seen in the fruit that is produced when a willing soul chooses to collaborate with the spirit the father freely pours onto His people. Paul reminds the people of Galatia of that fruit: “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” and he tells them, “Against such things there is no law.”

What a strange thing to say. “Against such things there is no law.”

Is Paul just stating the utterly obvious? No nation has ever existed on earth that outlawed any of these things. They aren’t things that can be outlawed because they are inner characteristics. Laws address actions and behaviors, not dispositions. And perhaps THAT’S the point Paul is making.

These dispositions are fruit, fruit that comes from a willing soul choosing to align with the spirit of God… the God who IS the very nature of Love, Joy, Peace, Forbearance, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control. That’s how Paul knows that God isn’t waiting around the corner to eject Greek males who come to Him for life simply because of a flap of skin. That’s not the God Paul has seen in Christ. That’s not the God who has transformed the holy-war heretic killer, Saul, into the selfless lover of rejects, Paul.

What does this have to do with choice? Paul wraps up this chapter with this strong bit of encouragement: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Because God desires love, because God desires faith, God has accorded his people choice. Choice is the only way I can open myself up to the working of the Spirit. Once I begin that journey, then my life is transformed from the inside out. God’s spirit is at work with my own, transforming my mind, reshaping my action, impacting my neighbors, my enemies, the planet. Inside-out. To NOT choose, is to become a slave: the machinations of society twist and discourage my neighbors, myself. I react, defining myself through the darkened eyes of a competitive world, my eyes are darkened, I no longer know who I am or whose I am. Outside-in. I’m a slave, surviving, existing… but not living. The only things that keep me in line? Threat of punishment, promise of reward.

“Kept in line.” What a pitiful thing to aspire to.

God is pro-choice because that’s the only way He can enter into a relationship with us, by wooing us to love Him, wooing us into faith in His loving nature, wooing me to choose Him, because He has already chosen me.

Honoring the choices others make, and honoring their God-given right to make them is central to Paul’s message to the Galatians because those who are not honoring that right to choose are painting an ugly image of God. In fact, they aren’t painting an image of God, they are painting an image of themselves and calling it God. They are so certain they are right about circumcision, about — you name it — that the end of getting others to submit justifies the means of fear, coercion, trickery, badgering.

If we can remember that God’s goal is NOT to get people to DO stuff, but rather to draw people to honestly CHOOSE Him, then that will transform everything: our speech, our actions, our worship, our service. We can move through this world, transformed ourselves from the inside, honoring the transformation that God longs to begin INSIDE all those we meet. We won’t damage that spirit work with mere theological carrots and sticks — that would be “law.” And as Paul says,

“… you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” ~ Romans 7:4-6

God is pro-choice because He wants us transformed, not kept in line; He wants sons and daughters, not obedient slaves; He wants partners not robots, and the alternative — inhabiting people by force — is simply demonic.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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