The Christian and the Law


There is something about the Law that seems to raise our hackles at the mere mention of its name.  For some it may be the legalistic connotation, for others it represents prior bondage. Whatever the case may be, for most the definition of the Law itself is nearly as hard to pin down as our reasons for our aversion to it. What exactly is Scripture referring to when it speaks of the Law? And as modern day Christians, what is our responsibility in regards to it?

When trying to define the Law the simplest and most straightforward answer is that the law is the 613 commandments outlined within the Old Testament. As sinners we are all born under the Law. Galatians 3:24 states,

“Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.”

In this we catch a glimpse of what it means to be under the law. A tutor is one who teaches, trains, and instructs. Much of this instruction involves pointing out the errors in the work of the student. To be under the law is to have ones life placed under the watchful eye of an ever-present tutor whose finger is at the ready to point out each individual sin. From the position of “under the Law” one’s only means of attaining righteousness, or right standing before God, is to perfectly keep the entirety of the Law. Unfortunately “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:10) Add to that Psalm 51:5, “For I was born a sinner, yes, from the moment my mother conceived me,” and we begin to see how impossible righteousness under the law becomes. As Paul states in Galatians 3:24, the purpose of or tutelage under the Law is to lead us to Christ. The more aware of our sin we are, the more aware of our need for a savior we become.  So what does it mean then that we are no longer under the law but under grace?

In Matthew 5:17 Jesus states in no uncertain terms, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” So we know that even in His fulfillment of the Law, the Law itself is not abolished. So then what does it mean that He fulfilled the Law? Some would argue that in order to understand what Jesus meant when He said that He came to “fulfill the Law,” we must approach this text from the point of view of a first century Jew. Although thought provoking, looking at this portion of Scripture through the lens of the Hebrew idioms of that day only leads to an incorrect assumption of what it means that Christ fulfilled the Law. For a first century Jewish Rabbi, the word fulfill could be directed at Scripture as an idiom meaning to correctly interpret. In the same way, to abolish or destroy the Law could also be used as an idiom to describe a misinterpretation that lead to false teaching. If we are to assume that when Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law He used the word fulfill as an idiom meaning “to interpret correctly,” then in essence all that is required for righteousness is a right understanding or interpretation of the Law. If that were the case then we could theoretically save ourselves through our study of the Scriptures.  Instead we see in 1 Peter 2:22 that Jesus “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth.” And Paul says,

“So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19)

In this we see what it means that Christ fulfilled the Law. Born of a virgin Jesus did not inherit the original sin spoken of in Psalm 51. During the course of His life on earth He fulfilled the Law by never transgressing a single one of the 613 commandments and by doing so silenced the voice of the tutor. Once saved by grace through faith, the Christian is clothed in the righteous life of Christ, a garment in which there is no spot or blemish.  In this way the Law is silenced for the Christian as well, for what error is there in the life of Christ which the tutor can point it’s finger at once His life is applied to us? This is the reality of no longer being under the Law, but under grace.

If we are no longer under the Law, what is the Christians responsibility in regards to the commandments within the Law? Paul says, “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12) Jesus sums up the Law in this manner:

“ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)

Our responsibility is simply to love the Lord and to love our neighbor. These are no small callings though. We are called to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind; and we are called to love our neighbor in the same manner that we love ourselves. Apart from the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, even these two tasks would be impossible. It is by the same Spirit that we are sanctified and as part of the process of sanctification, He will reveal sin in our lives that needs to be dealt with. Trust that He is able, willing, and in fact going to do so! For the Christian the Law is no longer a 613 step guide to righteousness, it is a reference manual for the already righteous! The law which is written on our hearts doesn’t replace the original Old Testament Law, it re-enforces it. The Spirit will never contradict those things which He has previously spoken. With that being said, how then do we approach each unique law individually? We do so according to Scripture, through the lens of the Gospel. Take for instance the Sabbath.

There are many who claim that Christians no longer keep the Sabbath according to the commandment given by God in Exodus 20:8-11. The initial purpose of the Sabbath was two fold.  First it was a much-needed day of physical rest for the children of Israel.  Second, and more importantly, the Sabbath foreshadowed the rest from the works based mentality of the Law that future believers would be offered in Christ.  From his post cross perspective the author of Hebrews states,

“So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:9-10)

As Christians we have entered into a place of eternal rest from our work under the Law. Christ has fulfilled the Law in full and as such there is no more work for us to accomplish in respect to the Law. We are fee to enjoy our Sabbath continually on any and every day of the week. Paul speaks of the true Sabbath in Jesus saying,

“Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)

As humans we are still in need of a day of rest on a regular basis, but whether that day is a Saturday or not no longer matters. We have entered into our Sabbath rest in Jesus and it is in Him that we not only keep the Sabbath, we also find its true meaning.  This same formula applies to the Law as a whole. In Christ the Law has been fulfilled so it is no longer necessary for salvations sake that we keep a single commandment. “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13)  As was already mentioned, the Law is good and holy. It is still applicable in its entirety but from the perspective of the positionaly righteous, it should always be viewed through the lens of the Gospel, the entirety of Scripture, and the finished work of Jesus Christ.

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About Brandon Cantello

Husband to Nicole, Lover of God, Dependent on the Spirit, Passion for His Church. My name is Brandon. I love Jesus. For more visit My Blog

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2 Comments on “The Christian and the Law”

  1. Christopher Lazo Says:

    Well said, Brandon. This was my favorite line…
    “the Law is no longer a 613 step guide to righteousness, it is a reference manual for the already righteous”

    Reply

  2. Steve Austin Says:

    “The more aware of our sin we are, the more aware of our need for a savior we become.”

    It wasn’t a (little) church that taught me about Grace, it was the Gospel of Christ, combined with the Law (I LOVE LOVE LOVE the O.T.) that taught me about Grace. As you said much more eloquently, I realized that I could never fulfill this Law, but that the goal isn’t my fulfillment of the Law–that was Jesus’ job.

    I’m so thankful for His completion of what I continue to flunk within my own self.

    Thanks for an awesome post!

    Reply

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