We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law.
If I read this in the mind of Fox or the early Friends, I will read this to refer to the Inward Christ. So we are justified by having faith in the words of Christ in our heart and following them. We are not justified by following the Law of Moses or any other outward code of conduct. This is because no one is able to follow an external code of conduct perfectly. As long as the focus is on the outward law, no matter how scrupulous we are in following it, we are only changing our behavior and not changing our heart. It is only by changing our heart that we can be justified, that is to be made just. It is only by having faith in the inward voice of Christ, and following that, that our heart is changed. As we are faithful to that voice in small things, we are strengthened and guided to be faithful in larger things.
Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to follow the entire law. You who what to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Paul says, in response to the conflict in the Church over whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised, that if you require circumcision, then you have to require following the entire law. You cannot pick and choose the parts of the law that you will require. And, if you pick the Law, you are rejecting Christ. I would say that if Christians today were to require any piece of the law as being binding on Christians, then they need to require the whole Law, including circumcision. And if they do that, they are also rejecting Christ.
Likewise, if you say that Scripture itself is the ultimate guide to be followed, you are setting Scripture up as a new Law. When people do this, they are usually not setting Scripture itself up as their guide but a specific interpretation of Scripture. If Scripture is to be a rule book to be followed, then we have merely replaced the Law of Moses with the Law of Paul or the Law of Oral Roberts, or whoever's interpretation we have adopted. This makes faithfulness a matter of external obedience and cuts us off from learning to hear the Shepherd's voice inwardly. It keeps us from being justified by the transforming work of obedience to the inward voice of Christ in our heart.
So does this mean that Christian freedom is license to do anything we please? Of course not. Christ says that not all that say “Lord,Lord” are his followers. We are to test ourselves and the spirits by the fruit that they yield.
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the Law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
So if enmities, strife jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions and factions are the fruits of the flesh, what does this say about the spirit that has been active in the Society of Friends for the past 180 years? What does it say about what spirit is active among Friends today?
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.
My hope is that Friends of all varieties can find the Spirit that can lead us out of our quarrels, dissensions and factions and back into the unity of love, peace, patience and kindness.
Now does this mean that there is no place for Scripture? No, there is a place. It provides a guide to follow as we are learning to hear the voice of the Inward Teacher. It helps us to identify which voice we are hearing at any given time. As it says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” Note, all of these uses of Scripture involve training in the Christian life. They are an aid in discernment. It is an acknowledgment of the responsibility to provide guidance to people new to Quakerism or Christianity. If you will, they are the training wheels of the Life of the Spirit. They are not to be a rigid rule to follow. One of the basic tenets of Quaker belief is that God is not changeable, leading us one way on one day and another way on another. So the leadings of the Spirit should be consistent with the teachings in the Bible. If there appears to be an inconsistency it is an indication that we need to discern harder. Are we being led by the Spirit of Christ or is it one of the other spirits of the world? Do we fully understand the Bible? Perhaps we need to wait for God to open more fully this area of scripture to us. Whatever the case, we need to give up our impatience and leave this up to God in God's time.