As a child, I was brought up in the Exclusive Brethren: a christian sect that was birthed in revival but unfortunately largely ended up legalistic, religious and dead. The Gospel was preached for salvation but unfortunately those “breaking bread” , or officially part of the congregation were expected to adhere to the unwritten rules. Rules like: no television, radio, pop-music and a strict dress code in church. Of course this sort of legalism isn’t exclusive to the brethren (excuse the pun) and most christian denominations exhibit similar manifestations of joyless religion. However, I do honour my heritage, because for one thing it gave me a love and knowledge of the scriptures and a hunger and a thirst for the truth.
The religious right
In Jesus day, likewise there were religious groups that started off with a genuine desire to arrest the moral decline in the nation. One of these was the Pharisees or ‘separate ones’ and their mission was a determination to get back to the Bible, or in their case the Torah or Law. Unfortunately, in their zeal they elaborated the law with their own self-righteous additions to which Jesus often sarcastically refers to ‘your law’ meaning the extra interpretations, interpolations and additions the Pharisees had introduced.
This meant of course, that Jesus often came head to head with the Pharisees because he revealed their double standards. On one such day, a teacher of the law or lawyer, was trying to trap Jesus with a clever question:
What is the greatest commandment?
Matthew 22:42 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets”
What a brilliant answer! The Pharisees had complicated the law and made it even more difficult for the man on the street to understand let alone keep. In a paragraph, Jesus has reduced the whole of the law and the prophets to basically: love God and love man. Who can’t understand that! Who needs a lawyer or a pharisee! Its like a complicated quadratic equation being simplified to x= a + b!
Paul’s teaching on the law of christ
In the Epistles, the Apostle Paul takes the truth that Jesus revealed in the Gospels and further amplifies it. In Galatians he refers to it as the Law of Christ:
Galatians 6:2 “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
In Romans, Paul shows how that loving God and loving man is the fulfillment of the law:
Romans 13:8 “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law “ For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
The end is love
The grace of God therefore, through Jesus, has successfully achieved the end that the law had no power to achieve because of the weakness of the flesh.
Romans 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
Bible teacher Derek Prince said the following: “Both under law and under grace the end to be achieved is love. But under law the means used to that end is an external system of commandments and ordinances, imposed upon man from without; and under grace the means is a miraculous and continuing operation of the Holy Spirit within the believers heart”
A believer therefore, is not trying to produce good or loving behaviour by a set of rules that he or she keeps. No, a new law is at work because a new power is at work in our lives – the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit: God’s love has been poured into our hearts so that as we experience God’s love towards us, it causes us to reciprocate and also express that to others.
Romans 5:5 “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
A person full of the Holy Spirit therefore doesn’t need the law!
Galatians 5:23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”
A man in love with his wife doesn’t need the law “do not commit adultery”.
Consequently, under the new covenant, we walk by the spirit and operate by a different set of rules or laws. There has been a change of covenant; a change of law. Hebrews 7:12.
Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 3:27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
The law of liberty
Therefore, the believer under grace is called to freedom and liberty. James talks about this freedom as the law of liberty:
James 1:25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
James 2:12 “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”
In other words, you are free to do what you like as long as it brings glory to God and blesses those around you.
Again, Derek Prince puts it this way: “as a christian you are free to do anything that you can do with perfect love in your heart towards God and man. Your are not free to do anything that cannot be done in love”.
How is this worked out practically?
There are three ways practically this is outworked:
Does it bring glory to God?
Firstly, loving God means bringing glory to God. So, I don’t have to follow complicated dietary laws as per the law. No, its as simple as:
1 Cor 10:31 “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God”
Is it beneficial?
Secondly, what I do or do not allow or participate in, is governed very simply by nothing is unlawful as long as it is beneficial and doesn’t control me:
1 Cor 6:12 “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful to me but I will not be brought under the power of any”
For example: I believe a christian is free to drink or not to drink alcohol but if we become addicted or drunk, then we are under the power of alcohol and are behaving foolishly and are indulging the flesh. In addition, we must take the truth of Roman’s 14 into account, whereby if my “freedom” affects the conscience of my brother or sister and causes them to stubble, then love for my brother overrides my freedom!
Romans 14:21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.
Thirdly, I don’t use this liberty to indulge the flesh. No, I use it to serve others. So, by all this we are establishing and fulfilling the law: love your neighbour as yourself.
Galatians 5:13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
The Royal law
James calls loving your neighbour the Royal or Noble Law:
James 2:8 “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well:”
As believers therefore, we are called to behave and act like nobility or kings! God wants us to reign in life!
Romans 5:17 “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.”
Therefore, because we are under grace doesn’t mean we are lawless. In fact, the whole of the New Testament is full of commands. Don’t get drunk on wine; Do not love the world; Husbands love your wives and so on. In fact, Paul refers to these as the commandments of God some of which he gave under apostolic authority. However, again these commands are describing the behaviour of etiquette of royalty. In other words this is who you are so live like it!
The Jesus commandments
Thankfully, Jesus didn’t leave us another 613 commandments to keep. No, he said if you love me keep my commandments one of which was love one another.
Love one another
John 15:12 “This is my commandment that you love one another just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.”
John in his Epistle further reiterates this:
1 John 4:21 “And this is the commandment we have from him that the one who loves God should love his brother also. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God and whoever loves the Father love the child born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not burdensome.”
The second is simply to believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ, in other words love God with all your heart.
1 John 3:22 “and whatever we ask we receive from him because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another just as he commanded us. And the one who keeps his commandments abides in him and He in him.”
In conclusion therefore, Paul neatly wraps up the way a christian is to live with a simple rule or canon.
Galatians 6:15 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.”
Do not steal (Part 3)
Jesus and the mosaic law (Part 2)
The end of the law (part 1)
Living by law or grace – prophecy
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