Did Jesus come to abolish, or to establish the Law of Moses? On the one hand Paul says that Christ abolished "in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations'' (Eph. 2:15). On the other hand, Paul writes, "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law" (Rom. 3:31). How can we reconcile these seemingly contradictory statements? What place does the Law of Moses have in the believer's life today?
This is more than an academic question. The wrong answer can lead us far from God's grace and truth. We may conclude, as some have done, that not only has God done away with the old written law, but that He has also given us a new written law. This concept of a new written law inevitably leads to a "salvation by works" mentality, producing so-called laws of the church's work, worship, and organization. Great emphasis is placed on these "laws," often to the detriment of God's real demands that we love and accept one another in Him. These new "laws" become so important that we divide over them.
Or we may conclude, as others have done, that the old law being done away, there is now no objective standard of God's grace will certainly respond to Jesus' statement: "He who believes and is baptized shall be saved;" and to Peter's exhortation, "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins." The redeemed will delight in The Supper of our Lord, recognizing His body (the church), and looking eagerly for His return.
Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus summed up His life's work. A new
commandment I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love
one another" (John 13:34). What exactly is new about this commandment? Earlier
Jesus had said that the commandments to love God and one's neighbor summed up
the essence of the Law of Moses. The difference is this: The Law could teach us
how to love, but it could not supply us with any inner motivation to do so.
Jesus makes it possible for us to really love from the heart. We respond with
love and gratitude to our Saviour who gave up His
own life to free us from sin and death. Jesus insists that we must love others as He first loved us. How did Jesus love us? How are we to love others?
Jesus gave up Heaven for us, He became our servant, He died for us, He had mercy on us, He forgave us. This, then, is the Law of Christ love, servant-hood, mercy, forgiveness, considering others as more important than ourselves. It is in this context of servant-hood and forgiveness that we need to read Gal. 6:2: "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently... Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the Law of Christ." How will we fulfill the Law of Christ? By carrying each other's burdens, showing love, mercy and forgiveness to others. This understanding of the Law of Christ is in sharp contrast to the belief that the Law of Christ is a set of rules about the worship service, or how to spend the church's money.
"Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, 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 (1 Cor. 9.21). Paul says he is not under the Law of Moses (the law). He is not subject to the power and penalty of the Law. His life, however, is ruled by the moral demands of the Law (God's law), especially as demonstrated by the love of Christ.
"There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" Why? Because God's free gift of forgiveness has liberated us from sin and death. For what purpose? "That the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us." Which law? The Law of Moses, of course (Rom. 8:1-4). Here again is that internal motivation we need. God freed us from the power of the Law which could impose the law of sin and death. We respond by keeping the real spirit and intent of the Law. Our lives are controlled by the Spirit.
James tells us not to show favoritism, but rather to "Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy must triumph over judgement!" (James 2:12-13). This "law that gives freedom" is the Law of Christ--love, mercy, and forgiveness. It has an internal motivation that the Law of Moses lacked. It gives us freedom from condemnation and calls us to love, mercy and servant-hood. If we are not merciful to others as Christ has been merciful to us, then God will judge us by our own standard: "Judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful." The letter of James is filled with practical examples of how to speak and act in accordance with this law that gives freedom. His concern is with the expressing of love for one another, rather than with the keeping of so-called laws for the correct work, worship and organization of the church.
Often when Paul seems to be setting aside the Law, he is really combating legalism. For Paul, the Law is inseparable from the lawgiver. It is "the law of God" (Rom. 7:22; 8:7; 1 Cor. 7:19) and continues to deserve our highest regard. However, Paul had no separate word-group to denote "legalism," "legalist," "legalistic." These terms refer not to lawkeeping, but rather to the attempt to gain righteousness through the keeping of God's law. Thus Paul rebukes those Jews "who pursued a law of righteousness...as if it were by works (Rom. 9.31-32). The end result could only be self-righteousness (Rom. 10:3), for having missed Christ who is the goal or end of the Law (Rom. 10:4), they missed the forgiveness to God that makes us righteous in Christ.
Again addressing legalism, Paul contrasts the "written code" with "the new way of the Spirit" (Rom. 10:6). "The letter kills," Paul says, "but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6). It is not the moral demands of the Law that kills, but rather the penalty attached to the transgression of these laws. If we seek to gain eternal life through our own efforts, we will surely fail. We must depend upon the free gift of forgiveness that God offers us. It is interesting to note that the word Paul uses here, "letter," is different from the Greek word meaning "written word."
Paul sometimes uses abbreviated phrases which may confuse us if we are not careful. In Rom. 3:21 Paul says, "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify." Verse 28 makes it clear that Paul is fighting legalism: "for we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." The problem here is not the moral demands of the Law, but rather the "works" of the Law. The same is true of Romans 7:4 and 6, "You also died to the law" and "we have been released from the law." We are freed from the penalty of the Law so that we may become, like Paul, "a slave to God's law!" (Rom. 7:25). Likewise in 2 Cor. 3:9-11 the old covenant with all its penalties fades away to be replaced by the new covenant of forgiveness.
Christ is the "end (goal) of the law" (Rom. 10:4) just as Christ is the "end" or "goal" of our faith (1 Peter 1:9) and love is the "end" of the commandment (1 Tim. 1:5). The Law was given to lead us to Christ. Jesus took away the power of the Law when He satisfied its demand for justice by dying in our place. In doing so, He demonstrated the real depths of the Old Testament commandments, "Love God" and "Love your neighbor." Through faith we also uphold the moral demands of the Law.
Jesus Christ is our new covenant and law. He is the living Word of God...the Law, we might say...become flesh. He died to bring us forgiveness. We must look for a new law and thus annul God's grace. Nor should we abandon our studies of the Law that encompasses all of God's will for us. Let us not make the same mistake the Jews did, and ignore the real spirit and intent of the Law. If we listen to Jesus, then truly the word of God will come to dwell richly in our hearts and minds.