In The Law of Christ
by Rick Shrader
When Paul wrote that if we walked in the Spirit we would not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16) and that if we bore one another’s burdens we would fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2), he was lifting us to higher ground than we commonly know. To the Romans he wrote, “for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). We are usually more aware that the law of sin and death has ended than we are that the law of the Spirit in Christ Jesus is now operative in us. However, we really cannot know one without the other, or at least we shouldn’t.
For that reason I want to walk the long way around the barn to get to the door. A full and sure grasp that we are no longer under the law will set us free from the works of the law but then, being set free, we need a new compass that will direct us to a greater, even higher, law of love and of the Spirit. When Jesus was giving kingdom principles to the Jews in what we call the sermon on the mount, He used the formula, “Ye have heard that it hath been said . . . . But I say unto you” (see Matt. 5:21-48). His words lift us from mere non-violence to right thinking; from avoiding fornication to avoiding thinking about fornication; from not swearing in anger to not swearing at all; and from not hating our enemies to loving our enemies. With the completion of the New Testament canon these principles will also be seen in the transition from law into grace, from flesh into Spirit, from the law of Moses into the law of Christ.
To understand our position in this law of Christ we must clearly see this dispensational transition. The following progression of thought will help clarify that change.
The Mosaic law is only one expression of the law of God.
We should not think that “law” has only existed from Moses to Christ. God said to Isaac, hundreds of years before the law, “Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen. 26:5). Paul reminded his readers in Rome that Gentiles, who have not had the Mosaic law, nevertheless have “the work of the law written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness” (Rom. 2:15). God gave Adam and Eve laws to keep which had eternal consequences for obeying and disobeying.
In a Faith Pulpit article, Dr. Myron Houghton listed nine ways in which the Bible can refer to law.1 These range from the Ten Commandments to any statement in Scripture that condemns or makes a person feel guilty. This is important because some may think that if we believe that we are no longer under the law, then we are guilty of lawlessness. But man has never been without a law from God though it may not have been the Mosaic law. The word “dispensation” literally means “the law of the household” and there have been dispensations before and after the Mosaic period, each containing specific revelation incumbent upon those believers living at that time.
The Mosaic law had a definite beginning and ending.
Paul wrote, “Wherefore then serveth law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made” (Gal. 3:19). The Abrahamic covenant (Gal. 3:18) was in effect before Moses and remains in effect after Moses (Gal. 3:17) as an unconditional covenant. But the law, given through Moses at Mt. Sinai, was given to Israel alone for a specific time as a conditional covenant. Alva J. McClain wrote, “Viewed as a law code, it was given to Israel because of sin.”2 L.S. Chafer wrote, “The Law which came by Moses is declared to be an interim dealing which served its purpose during the interval of 1,500 years extending between its enactment and the death of Christ.”3 The law began at Sinai when God made a covenant with the nation of Israel (Ex. 24:8; Deut. 29:1) and ended when Christ finished His redemptive work on the cross. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).
The New Testament gives specific statements that the law ended with Christ. “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24-25). Paul often uses the word katarge?, meaning to put away or abolish in describing the ending of the law: “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph. 2:15; see also 2 Cor. 3:7, 11, 14, “done away;” 3:13, “abolished”).
Paul is very specific that the law ended with Christ. “For Christ is the end [telos] of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth” (Rom. 10:4). Douglas Moo writes, “Paul’s use of telos points to a meaning that is perhaps best translated in English as ‘culmination,’ combining the ideas of both goal and end. In other words, Paul is saying that Christ is the one to whom the law has all along been pointing—its goal. But now that goal has been reached, the regime of the law is ended, just as a race is ended once the finish line, its goal, has been attained.”4
Mosaic law is still a large part of the Scripture.
The period covering the law of Moses takes up most of the Bible. It starts in Exodus and goes until the cross of Christ. Because the law has been abolished, does that mean it no longer has a place in the Word of God? No. Again, all dispensations are found somewhere in the Bible but we only live in one of them (for us, of course, the dispensation of grace). Since all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16-17), so also is the Mosaic law. I can learn, be admonished, be warned, and even grow in my Christian walk from reading the law portions of the Old Testament. But that is not to say that I live under the Mosaic law any more than that I live under the dispensation of Innocence in the garden of Eden just because I read about it in the Bible.
In fact, Arnold Fruchtenbaum (a converted Chasidic Jew) points out about the law, “Nearly all the regulations of the corpus—over ninety-five percent—are so culturally specific, geographically limited, and so forth, that they would be completely inapplicable, and in fact unfulfillable, to Christians living throughout the world today.”5 Yet because the Mosaic law is a large part of Scripture, I read it and profit from it continually.
Since God’s laws are always in existence, today’s church lives under whatever commands exist for her at this time.
This same reasoning has always been true for any believer of any age. God reveals Himself to His followers with various instructions, commands, or prohibitions (see again Gen. 26:5), and those followers follow Him by keeping His laws. I don’t have to build an ark just because God commanded Noah to do so. I don’t have to keep the Sabbath just because God commanded the Israelites to do so. Nor do I have to go to Jerusalem to see the King once every year just because that is what we will do in the millennial reign of Christ. But I do have to be baptized (1 Pet. 3:21) and attend church regularly (Heb. 10:25) because these are specific commands given to me for this age of grace. These, and many other things, become God’s law to us who live in the present age.
Many worry when we say that the Mosaic law is completely abolished because there are many good things in it which we still follow today (most of the ten commandments, for example). But we do not keep the ten commandments because they are in the Mosaic law but because they are reiterated for us in the New Testament. Charles Lee Feinberg (in a 1938 article) pointed out specifically where all of the ten commandments are repeated in the New Testament with the notable exception of the fourth, keeping the Sabbath day.6 It is nowhere reinstituted in the New Testament. That means, then, that for the New Testament believer, these nine things are specific laws for us in this age of grace, but that Sabbath keeping is not. I don’t look to be commanded to stop specific Mosaic laws since the whole law was annulled, I look for specific laws to be reiterated for the age in which I live.
The church is a new body in Christ and under the law of Christ.
Those who have believed on Christ since the Day of Pentecost (and until the rapture of the church) have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the new body, the church. This new body is being formed by the regeneration of the Spirit which includes Spirit baptism (1 Cor. 12:13) into the body of Christ. It is a Spirit circumcision of our old life (Phil. 3:3; Col. 2:11) rather than a physical circumcision of the Mosaic law. This new body (the very Bride of Christ) lives in a heavenly presence before God because, in this spiritual salvation, Jesus Christ has brought us through the veil of His flesh into the very presence of God (Heb. 10:1-25), and we are seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6).
The believer in this age, therefore, is not under the law of Moses (a law for an entirely different age) but is under the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). The believer now has the Holy Spirit living in him and therefore this law of Christ can be called “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2). As God has given us the law of Christ (the “New” Testament), we live by it in the power of the Spirit to fulfill that law which is a fulfillment of all righteousness (Rom. 8:4). This is seen specifically in our love for the brethren, “for love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
D.R. de Lacey writes, “That the ‘law of the Spirit of life’ is not the Torah in other guise is evident from the fact that it achieves precisely what the law could not do (Rom. 8:3). Here as before (see on 7:25) ‘law’ represents the controlling power over a man. For the Christian it is supremely that of the Spirit of life, whose working transcends the law, for as well as fulfilling the law’s requirement, it provides life and peace.”7 The book of Galatians has been called the “Declaration of Independence” of the New Testament. In it Paul proclaims “liberty” from the law of Moses (2:4, 5:1) and reminds us that “a man is not justified by the works of the law” (2:16). But neither does Paul want us to be born of the Spirit and then live by the law of Moses. In that case we would be “a debtor to do the whole law” (5:3) and “fallen from grace” (5:4) as a way of life. In addition, just as the “works of the flesh” (6:19-21) are natural for the unbeliever, the “fruit of the Spirit” (6:22-23) is natural for those who possess the Spirit. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (6:25). That is, if we have been born again by the Spirit of God and have been brought into this new relationship with Christ, if the “love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5), then we can live in a way which the law of Moses could never produce. We can be filled with the Spirit.
Paul, then, begins the sixth chapter by addressing “ye which are spiritual” (6:1) and admonishes us to “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (6:2). He will end this concluding chapter by writing, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (6:15). This is what we are when we know Christ by faith. We are new creatures in Christ and old things have passed away and all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). We worship God in a new way, on a new day, with a new law, and with a full assurance of faith.
1. Myron Houghton, “Distinguishing Law and Grace,” Faith Pulpit, June/July, 1998.
2. Alva J. McClain, Law and Grace (Chicago: Moody press, 1967) 33.
3. L.S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. IV (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1969) 159.
4. Douglas Moo, “The law of Christ as the fulfillment of the law of Moses: A modified Lutheran view,” Five Views on Law and Gospel, Stanley Gundry, ed., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999) 359.
5. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1989) 663.
6. Charles Lee Feinberg, “The Sabbath and the Lord’s Day,” Bibliotheca Sacra, April, 1938.
7. D.R. de Lacey, “The Sabbath/Sunday Question and the Law in the Pauline Corpus,” From Sabbath to Lord’s Day, D.A. Carson, ed., (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1982) 172.