17 July 2007

New Reality, New Self

Filed under: Christianity, Psychology — ktismatics @ 3:34 pm

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:14-15)

I’m pretty sure thhis is my last post on Galatians. My interest was in trying to understand what motivates the Christian not just to avoid doing bad but to do anything at all. In Chapter 5 Paul contrasts the works of the flesh (bad) with the fruit of the Spirit (good). How does it work? Paul doesn’t offer much by way of explanation, but I’m going to offer a tentative theory:

The Law creates desire: both the desire to please and the desire to transgress. The temporal authorities who stand behind the Law desire to assert authority over those who subject themselves to the Law. This whole economy of Law and desire, power and enslavement, embody the worthless elemental things of this world (Galatians 4:9). The crucifixion of Christ reveals both the futility of the Law and its fulfillment in a new law: love your neighbor as yourself. This new law establishes the foundation for a new creation.

The old creation is a way of being in the world that’s characterized by the Law, slavery, and the desires and works of the flesh. In contrast, the new creation is an alternative way of being characterized by love, freedom, and the fruit of the Spirit. There is no way of changing or renewing the old creation to make it achieve the desire results. The only thing to do is to kill off the old creation and replace it with a new one.

But the self is part of the creation; the self takes on its meaning in the context of the larger reality in which it’s embedded. Killing off the old creation also means killing off your old way of being in the world. The new reality defines what a self is and how selves interact with each other. You can’t transform your old self gradually into this new kind of person, because your old self is part of the old reality. Realities define selves, and selves take their meaning within the context of realities. Paul says to let the old go: the system of the Law and the self’s enslavement to that system. Instead take your place inside the new reality of love, and there you’ll find a self that can live freely inside that reality.

And that’s about all I can see for now.



  1. The Galatians knew and have experienced the freedom of Christ once before but now are trying to integrate backwards and this, says Paul, is fundamentally wrong.

    I’m not sure how successful any demythologisation or generalisation of what Paul says here will be because what he regards as the key element is what you are working around.

    “The crucifixion of Christ reveals both the futility of the Law and its fulfillment in a new law: love your neighbor as yourself. This new law establishes the foundation for a new creation.”

    For Paul, the new law, and the fruit of the spirit, are all the results of the new creation that takes place when we die to the law and are raised with Christ.


    Comment by samlcarr — 18 July 2007 @ 3:45 am

  2. I didn’t think I was “working around” the other parts — just trying to throw a different light on the subject. At the end of Galatians I feel like I understand what Paul is warning against better than what he’s advocating.

    The Law-desire-slavery nexus Paul explains fairly thoroughly as to how and why it’s a bad system, but how it’s bad. The love-pleasure-freedom nexus sounds like a better psychology, but Paul offers less exposition of how it’s done. The reason I was reading Galatians in the first place was to see if Paul offered any particular impetus for loving one another: is it desire, repressed desire, renewed desire, pleasure, obedience to a different law, willpower, or what? Paul seems to offer no insight into these matters. So I find myself disappointed. By the way, I don’t think there’s any discussion of “raised with Christ” in Galatians — just “crucified with Christ.”

    If I had to take a stab at how it works from Galatians, I’d say this. The natureal human drives are corrupted by both the desire simultaneously to please the authorities and to rebel against them, to titillate the self simultaneously with “dirty pleasures” and masochistic guilt. Following laws of good and bad behavior just exacerbates the problem. If instead of following Laws you allow yourself to love others, then your natural instincts for pleasure and fulfillment will spontaneously find good outlets. Instead of the mixed feelings produced by desire under the Law (licentiousness, strife, etc.), you end up feeling good (peace, patience, etc.).


    Comment by ktismatics — 18 July 2007 @ 6:50 am

  3. I do agree that little is said in Gal specifically about resurrection. There are passages in Galatians where Paul does refer to life in Christ, and the resurrection ‘by implication’, though he certainly, in this letter, is focussed on the cross and God’s work of reemption.

    But we still have
    2:15 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ… 2:19-20 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

    Then the emphatic ‘en Christo’ of 3:28 and there’s also 4:19, 5:5-6, & 24-25.

    In any case, we have to resist the tendency to draw too many implications both from what is said and what isn’t said in any epistle, because it’s always a bit of a contextless 1/2 of a conversation. Though, being somewhat Derriean in approach, such juicy scenarios are hard to pass up – the more partial the better – that sometimes the temptation is a bit too much to contain!

    While this may be your last word on Galatians, I really do hope that you find the time to dig elsewhere in the NT to see how these Pauline themes fare in other places.


    Comment by samlcarr — 18 July 2007 @ 8:21 am

  4. I don’t see much discussion of redemption in Galatians either. The cross is the death of the Law and the flesh in this epistle, not atonement or forgiveness or any of the rest.

    I’m not much interested in morality per se — a topic which dominates the New Testament, I’m sure you’ll agree. I’m more interested in motivation and impetus — what propels the human being toward more godlike thinking, feeling, behaving, etc. The whole “no longer I but Christ” paradigm still sounds like pulling out the human impetus and replacing it with an external agent. Maybe that’s all Paul has to offer after all.


    Comment by ktismatics — 18 July 2007 @ 9:10 am

  5. Yes, I agree entirely, Paul’s comments on morality are by way of the drastic contrast and there is no interest in avoidance as an end in itself.

    Paul means something entirely different by redemption – he seems to be looking at the end result rather than the process. The overall purpose is for Paul to see “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (4:19) and that’s really what i though you were a bit nonspecific about, though ‘working around’ was perhaps way too strong!

    Reemption: 1:4 has: “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age”

    and 4:4-7 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”


    Comment by samlcarr — 18 July 2007 @ 2:16 pm

  6. On “Christ who lives in me” all i can say is that Paul’s own individuality shines through a bit too strongly for us to think that “putting on Christ” means just the removal or replacement of the original self. If anything, Paul would argue the opposite – one has to lose ‘oneself’ in order to find one’s real self – in Christ.


    Comment by samlcarr — 18 July 2007 @ 2:21 pm

  7. Oops, I guess there is some redemption talk in Galatians. Both the passages you cite refer this swapping-out of engines — Christ formed in you, Spirit of his son into our hearts — as the process that runs the “new creation.” This is certainly the way I learned it during my evangelical phase. I was wondering whether he went into any more detail. Alas, no.


    Comment by ktismatics — 18 July 2007 @ 2:25 pm

  8. There is ‘redemption talk’ but it is not at all Paul’s main point.

    We have a real exegetical problem with the epistles. These are always after-the-fact writings. Paul or someone has preached, converted, baptised, discipled … then somewhere down the line there are some problems, or just to keep in touch, the apostle shoots off a letter.

    Now, if we had that original teaching in hand, so much confusion would disappear.

    To some extent, the gospels are still our primary sources and the epistles should actually be read only for incidental and cultural applications information.

    But the gospels seem to have a mixed bag too, with catechetical stuff woven in along with the primary gospel message. One of the key bits of information tho is the preservation of something of the process by which Jesus built both faith and knowledge into his disciples, and that might prove to be a useful place to dig a bit deeper.


    Comment by samlcarr — 18 July 2007 @ 2:44 pm

  9. I just got finished reading Fink’s book on Lacan. For Lacan the end of analysis seems to come when the analysand no longer allows desire of/for the other to short-circuit the path from drive and fulfillment. Once you clear out all the confusions resulting from ego, pleasing your parents, competition, etc. then you’re free. But free to do what? Enjoy yourself, and that’s it? My understanding of Lacan isn’t clear on this point. Lacan might not be clear either.

    Similarly Deleuze and Guattari want to clear the path for drives to fulfill themselves. For D&G fulfillment might include creating, discovering, and other ways of making your mark on the world. So somehow ego adds something to desire on its way toward fulfillment, rather than just being a drain on enjoyment.

    In both Lacan and Deleuze it’s the drives that move us forward. I believe that makes sense. I guess what I’m looking for is a clearer understanding of the process by which we transform these primal motives into something more civilized, be it science or art, justice or morality.

    Christianity of the more Biblically evangelical stripe does two things that I find particularly unhelpful in my own quest. One, it substitutes God for self-motivating human agency as the source of good individual actions. Two, it substitutes the church for the broader culture as the arena in which these good actions take place. Both of these praxes of separation, one in the individual, the other in the collective, make Biblical Christianity irrelevant and perhaps even counter-productive to those of us who want to re-aim ourselves and our culture toward truth, beauty, justice, or even toward serving one another in love. I’m with Paul and Jesus on the need to envision a new reality and a new way of being a self within that reality. I just tend to think the replacement of God’s Spirit for human drives is the wrong new self, and the replacement of church for society is the wrong new reality.


    Comment by ktismatics — 18 July 2007 @ 3:10 pm

  10. Christianity, certainly of the ‘evangelical’ type does seem to lean towards replacing the self, substitution in reverse, pull out the faulty engine and stick in a good one and this is how Jesus and Paul have been understood.

    But, my reading indicates something quite different. The death of the ‘old ‘self’ is not the death of the individual. The death of the old self is rather the removal of the dominance of ‘the flesh’ allowing the true individual to be reborn. This in turn is not something that results fom rigorous austerities, denials and so on, but is a result of a partnership with and in Christ.

    Again, as you point out, the scope of action is not for the furtherance of our own organisation, or even these Xtian memes, but rather in embracing, and so reconciling, ‘the world’.


    Comment by samlcarr — 18 July 2007 @ 3:52 pm

  11. These issues we’re talking have confounded cleverer people than us for millennia. I just came back from a run, and now I think it’s madness to try and resolve all these issues up front. If someone were to come to me as a therapist trying to understand the praxis of the New Testament, and this person felt that the usual church answers seemed too glib, then I would be pleased to offer assistance to this person. While this isn’t the path that opens up for me, it’s a path that calls others. Working through the issues of Law and grace, slavery and freedom, old man and new man, crucifixion and rebirth, etc. — these are difficult challenges not just theoretically but practically. Helping someone walk through this portal into this alternate reality — it’s the kind of thing I’d like to do. And it’s a lot more interesting than helping someone figure out how to quit smoking.


    Comment by ktismatics — 18 July 2007 @ 4:19 pm

  12. I think we’ll make an evangelist out of you yet!


    Comment by samlcarr — 18 July 2007 @ 4:27 pm

  13. Hmm, wait a minute… maybe I didn’t make myself clear…


    Comment by ktismatics — 18 July 2007 @ 5:04 pm

  14. It’s all in the deconstruction, all those things that you wanted to say but left unsaid.


    Comment by samlcarr — 18 July 2007 @ 5:51 pm

  15. I wonder to what extent or really how the ‘new reality’ is a factor in defining the ‘new self’? How does the new self become new? Is it an overnight thing, similar to the imago-chrysalis or is it again a process where we pretty much start fom scratch?


    Comment by samlcarr — 19 July 2007 @ 9:25 am

  16. In Colossians 3:11 Paul says that you have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. So the renewal takes place within the rebirth. It seems like there’s the replacement of the human motivations with the Spirit, which (or who) in turn is being transformed into a likeness of Jesus. Doubly mystical, doubly transcendent.


    Comment by ktismatics — 19 July 2007 @ 2:56 pm

  17. I just thought I would scan thru the epistles looking specifically for Doyleyan passages and found so many that I’ve decided to reread the NT in the light of your way of analyasis.

    I really think that there is a whole world of stuff waiting to be discovered all over again!


    Comment by samlcarr — 20 July 2007 @ 5:21 am

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