The Law of Christ: Freedom

July 8, 2008

In the preceding post I talked about the the new covenant, the Law of Christ, predicted by Jeremiah and announced by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. In this new covenant, God promised to write his laws on our hearts, so that every Christian would know him. The new covenant is all about laws of the heart, which lead to the Christ-like behavior which God desires.

James wrote:

Jam 1:25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

Again he wrote:

Jam 2:12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom,
Jam 2:13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

In the above passages, James tells us a couple of things about the Law of Christ: that it gives us freedom; and that we will be judged by that law. Those statements might seem to be in conflict with one another. If the law brings freedom, how is it that we will be judged by it? Doesn’t the prospect of judgment put us in bondage to that law? Are we not obligated to obey, with eternal consequences for failure to obey? How is this freedom?

Christians are often confused by these two seemingly conflicting ideas in scripture. We are called to be free. We are no longer under law, but under grace. Yet we also read about the Law of Christ, and are repeatedly warned against conducting a lawless way of life. On this topic, Christians tend to polarize into two camps. One camp holds to law, and the other to grace and freedom. But are the two concepts really opposed to one another?

In Galatians, Paul explains how we were set free.

Gal 3:24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.
Gal 3:25 Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

The law of which Paul spoke in Gal 3 is the Law of Moses, which was put into effect to lead us to Christ. Christians are no longer under supervision of the Law of Moses. We have been set free from that law. Paul further explains:

Gal 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Gal 5:5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.
Gal 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

In Christ, we are no longer justified by obedience to the Law of Moses. And we are no longer justified based on circumcision. Instead, justification is based on faith, expressing itself through love. We are deemed righteous and accepted by God, because of our active and visible faith, on the basis of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. In regard to our justification, we are free from the Law of Moses.

Rather than an external law regulating our behavior, we now have God’s spirit living in us. And as a result, we have an obligation to live a certain way.

Gal 5:16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Gal 5:17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
Gal 5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
Gal 5:19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;
Gal 5:20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions
Gal 5:21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
Gal 5:23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Gal 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
Gal 5:25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
Gal 5:26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

In this new covenant, the Law of Christ is written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit as the Spirit produces fruit in our lives. We are changed from the inside out. So we do the things that God desires, not because of a list of laws, but because our hearts are tuned to his. We freely obey. This is our freedom in Christ!

But freedom in Christ does not give us a license to do whatever we want. There still are behaviors that are offensive to God, which will keep us out of heaven. Jesus is Lord, and we are expected to obey and to teach others to obey everything he has commanded. We still will be judged by the law that gives freedom.

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