The Law of Christ

July 4, 2008

Obedience is not the most popular topic in Christianity today.

We latch onto those scriptures that speak of freedom. We interpret them as broadly as our imaginations will allow. We love the passages that tell us that we are not under law. And again, we want to interpret these passages very broadly. We don’t want rules. But aren’t there rules in Christianity? Hasn’t God given Christians a law to obey?

Let’s look at a few passages.

Rom 6:14 For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Here Paul came right out and said we are not under law. But throughout Romans 6 and 7, Paul repeatedly urged Christians not to continue to sin. He explained how law causes us to be tempted to sin. Yet, although being set free from the law, we are still called to obey and not to sin.

But consider a couple of Paul’s other letters:

1Co 9:21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.

Gal 6:2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

In the above two passages, Paul indicates that there is another law, the Law of Christ, which governs Christians. Apparently Romans 6:14 referred to a specific law that is no longer in effect (of course, the Law of Moses). But there remains another law in effect for Christians.

Let’s see what more we can learn about that law.

Gal 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
Gal 5:14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Gal 5 tells us that the law is summed up in the command to love our neighbor. This is very much like what Jesus said about the Mosaic Law in Matt 22:37-40. Paul did not mention the need to love God in Galatians 5:13-14. Of course we would not therefore conclude that loving God is no longer important! We should take Gal 5:13-14 in the same manner that a Jew would have taken Jesus’ words in Matthew — not as a substitute for everything else in the inspired scriptures, but as a generalization of the other commands.

Now lets’ look at one of the early teachings of Jesus:

Mat 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Mat 7:22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
Mat 7:23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Jesus was wrapping up the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon in which he had presented many challenging teachings. The theme of this sermon seems to be that God wants us to have pure hearts, not just pure actions. But in verse 23, during final judgment, we learn that Jesus will tell many people to depart from him, because they were “workers of lawlessness.” They had called Jesus Lord, but they had lived as though he had not given them a law to obey. And that failure cost them their souls.

So, there is a law for Christians, a standard of God’s will for us to follow, what Jesus called the “will of my father”. But what makes up that law? Surely, at a minimum, it included the teachings Jesus had been presenting in that sermon. In this early sermon Jesus was laying the foundation for a new law, the Law of Christ. As he said in the parable at the end of the sermon, those who heard this law and did not put it into practice were foolish builders. What they had built would be destroyed, because they did not do the will of the Father. God would tell them to depart, because they practiced lawlessness — they neglected the Law of Christ.

Jeremiah prophesied about this law:

Jer 31:31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,
Jer 31:32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.
Jer 31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Jer 31:34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

The new covenant would be a law written on people’s hearts. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was introducing this new law — a law that called on us, not only to refrain from adultery, but also from lust; not only from murder; but from anger. It is a law that addresses the heart, not merely external behavior. The new law sets us free from the external regulations of the first law. But it establishes a higher standard — a law of the heart. Despite the fact that this new law addresses the inner being, obeying that law of the heart will still have visible external effects. And living as though Jesus had not given that law will cost many people their souls.

There is an element in modern Christianity which does not like the Law of Christ. They focus instead on freedom and grace. They love having Jesus as Savior, but not so much as Lord. For them, everything is optional. Their rallying cry is “Freedom in Christ,” but they do not understand that freedom. Christ does indeed bring freedom, but freedom from what? That will be the topic of the next post.

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