Christians and The Law of Christ
There are those who live under the law and to them Paul became, he tells us, as one under the law (“though not being myself under the law”), that he might win them. And to those who do not have the law he became as one “without law” (ἀνομος, anomos) that he might win them also. He cautiously qualifies this by saying also, “not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ”. He is careful to show us that he is not without law, or outside the law, i.e. “lawless”, but he is subject to the law of Christ. So there are those who are under law, and those without law, and those who are subject to the law of Christ.
And what exactly does this “law of Christ” mean?
The New Testament regards the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ as authoritative and definitive. We have seen that Paul has already cited teachings from Jesus as the decisive word of the Lord on a point (7:10 and 9:14). Jesus himself referred on a number of occasions to his “commandments”, and in the Missionary Mandate of Matthew 28:20, when commissioning his followers to go throughout the world and make disciples from all nations, he instructed them to teach these converts “to obey all that I have commanded you”.
Paul refers specifically to the “law of Christ” in 9:21 and also in Galatians 6:2. John refers several times to his commandments in his First Epistle. James writes of the “Royal Law” in James 2:18 and of the “perfect law, the law of liberty” in 1:25 and again of the law of liberty in 2:12. And there is, throughout the New Testament, an attitude that in Jesus God has spoken and is to be obeyed at all costs (e.g. Acts 5:32).
Jesus placed his imprimatur upon the two greatest commandments as “love God” and “love your neighbour” (Matthew 22:37-40//Mark 12:29-31), and Paul summarized all the commandments of the Mosaic law as “love your neighbour as yourself” (Romans 13:9-10). John emphasized that we are to “keep his commandments and do what pleases him”, and identified in particular that “this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us” (1 John 3:23; cf. 2:8).
Jesus made his commandments definitive of the relation of the disciple to him. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23). And supremely, this is because it is to be recognized that “The word that you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me” (John 14:24). Again Jesus said, “You are my friends, if you do what I command you” (John 15:14). John echoes this: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:2-3.)
The Lord’s primary commandment is love (John 13:34-35). There is a sense in which all the rest of the teaching of Jesus is explicatory of how this commandment is fulfilled in practice, as Paul has said (Romans 13:10). But those “explanatory details” are important for clarifying how we are to behave in day-to-day living.
This does not mean that the commandments of the Old Testament have been abrogated or discontinued in some way, but rather, that they are now internalized and reapplied: and this, initially and primarily through the life and teaching of Jesus Christ himself. Indeed, a major distinction in the New Testament era in which we live is that all the commandments of God are now internalized: for the Christian, they are written by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone (like the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai), but on the tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3). This happens as the Christian responds to the exhortation to “grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). The Lord himself instructed, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” (Matthew 11:29).
Paul reminds us that we “are not under law but under grace”, which means that Christians, “who were once slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:14-17).
Then, thus knowing the commandments of the Law of Christ, he and she will keep them because of the motivation of love for Christ. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Paul is not “lawless”: he lives in submission to the “Law of Christ”. So also must all Christ’s followers do.
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