Christians and the Law

by Bob Felts
(Revised 1/4/97)

The issue of the relationship of the Law of Moses to the Christian life is one which continually challenges each generation of believers. From the controversy which began in Acts 15 to this present time believers have endeavored to sort out what the Law of Israel means to the church of Christ. This document, while not meant to be exhaustive, tries to cover those questions which come up most often in the various discussion groups on the Internet.
Yes. Matthew 5:17-18 is quite clear on this. Jesus said:

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished."

It is therefore clear that the Law will remain until God remakes the heaven and earth. And it is easy to see why. We know that while Christ has defeated sin, Christ has not yet eradicated sin. As long as sin is still in the universe, the Law will remain as a witness against it.

We are guilty. There is not one person who has ever lived, who is alive today, or who will live [except for Jesus Christ] who can be judged by this law and still be declared "not guilty." Romans 3:9-20 is emphatic on this:

What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.

All are guilty under the Law before God. This is evident in both the NT and the OT, as Paul amplifies on this subject:

As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know." "There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Rom 3:10-18)

This is God's judgment on mankind, and His judgment is both just (He shows no favoritism) and true. There is no defense for us if we are judged by our deeds:

Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.
(Rom 3:19)

When we stand before a Holy God and see Him in all of His splendor and glory there will be nothing that we can say in our own defense.

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Rom 3:20)

The verdict, based on law? Guilty. No exceptions. No excuses. No second chances.

He will still say "Guilty!" James 2:10 says:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

Paul repeats this idea in Galatians 3:10:

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law."

God's standard of righteousness under Law is absolute fidelity to the Law.

Romans 3:21-30 is the definitive statement on this matter:

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

That is, this righteousness is as evident in the Old Testament as it is in the New. It should not come as a surprise to anyone.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

The righteousness that comes by faith in Jesus Christ is the only way that man can stand before God.

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

So, then we are justified by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

This is the key point that is missed by so many people, but the answer is emphatically no, and the reason is given in Romans 7:1-4:

Do you not know, brothers --for I am speaking to men who know the law --that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. So, my brothers you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

Jesus Christ did not abolish the Law, nor has the Law ever been set aside. But in Jesus Christ, we have died to the law, and it therefore has no jurisdiction over us.

Jesus did not change the Law. Jesus changed us.

This principle is restated in Colossians 3:1-4:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things for you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

How salvation works is really quite simple - just as a husband and wife are joined together in marriage, a believer in Christ is joined to Christ. The blood Christ shed covers all our sin; the death Christ died is our death; and the life Christ lives becomes our life.

God can (and does) say to us "their sins and iniquities I will remember no more" (Heb 10:17) because we are joined to the blood of Christ which is the propitiation for our sins.

Likewise, when Christ died, we died. And the Law has no jurisdiction over the dead. Can you imagine some court somewhere bringing a corpse before a judge and jury? Carry this one step further. Said corpse has a notarized, signed, witnessed, utterly unassailable death certificate. Said corpse comes back to life and carries that death certificate around with him. Said person is then brought before trial for some reason. Said corpse produces, as his defense, his death certificate. Dead men can't be tried under the Law. Case dismissed.

Finally, eternal life is not something that a Christian will receive in the future. Because we our joined to Christ, His eternal indestructible life is already ours.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."

My life is hidden in Christ, and He will neither expose me nor let me go. One of the many wonderful provisions of the New Convenant instituted by Christ is found in Jeremiah 32:40 where God says:

I will make an everlasting covenant with them, never to draw back from doing good to them; and I will put the fear of me in their hearts, so that they may not turn from me.

And this is the basis for Paul's wonderful statement in Romans 8:31-39:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law."

The Christian who wants to be guided by part of the Law must be guided by all of the Law. But just as the Law has no authority to condemn those who are in Christ, it likewise has no jurisdiction to guide those who are in Christ.

And the Christian who desires to be guided by the Law has forgotten (or not understood) the relationship between law and sin. This was discussed under "What is the purpose of the Law." Remember -- the "power of sin is the law." By turning to law a believer is giving sin the very thing it needs to become more sinful. In an earnest desire to live a more Christ-like life, a believer who does this is actually feeding the "flesh" with the very thing that it needs to energize sin.

This is the favorite verse used by those who would insist that Christians are to keep the Sabbath according to the fourth commandment. We have shown that Christians are not under the jurisdiction of the Law nor are we under the guidance of the Law. How then do we satisfy the desire of Christ to keep His commandments?

The answer is found in Romans 10:4:

For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Now, most people, when they read the phrase "the end of the law" think that this means that the law is finished and done away with. They view "the end" in the sense of "the end of the book" or "the end of the movie". But this is not what Paul meant. Rather, he used the idea of "the end" as in "the end of the journey". That is, all of the requirements of the law find their end, their fulfillment, their destination, in Jesus Christ.

For example, the dietary requirements of the law are fulfilled in Christ, who is the "bread of life" come down from heaven. Those who find their sustenance in Him "will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

The requirements concerning clothing (such as not mixing wool and linen) are fulfilled in Christ, because He is our clothing. "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ." (Gal 3:27).

The sacrificial requirements are met in Jesus Christ. "And it is by God's will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (Heb 10:10)

Even the Sabbath requirements find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ. He is our holiness:

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. (1 Cor 1:30, NIV)

He is also our rest:

For indeed the good news came to us just as to them; but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest... (Heb 4:2-3)

Therefore, because all of the demands of the Law find their ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ, every day is the Sabbath for the believer.

The answer has already been given -- by walking in love. No more, no less. In John 13:34-35, Jesus said to us:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

James wrote:

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. (James 2:8)

Paul heartily agrees:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
(Galatians 5:6)

Paul explains why this works in Romans 13:8-10:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Paul also deals with this issue in Romans 8:3-4:

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

And what life is lived when one walks according to the Sprit? The life of love.

Paul gave excellent advice to the congregation in Rome when he wrote:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2)

Change your focus. Change your focus from law to faith. Change your focus from yourself to Christ. Understand that the Christian life is Christ living in you and through you to produce a life of love.

The basis of the Christian life is summed up in two very simple, but very powerful, ideas:

1) The just (those declared righteous by God) will live by faith.
2) Christ -- not me.

The life we live is to be by faith in the one who lives in us and through us with the result being love. This means that we need to know what Jesus Christ has done for us and we need to believe what Jesus Christ has done for us.

The principles of "the just will live by faith" and "Christ -- not me" are beautifully woven together in Paul's exhortation to the Colossians. Notice the number of times that Paul uses each principle in verses 2:6-3:11:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord , continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him , strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive in Christ.

He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Copyright © 1994-97 by Bob Felts.
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