Sunday, August 24, 2008

Apart from the Law

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love...
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

(Joh 15:10-12 ESV)

In a worship service I attended recently, the speaker made the comment that "salvation demands a change." The idea communicated was that somehow keeping the commandments (the law of Moses) was necessary to be a "true believer." He went on to present 1st John 2:1-6 in support of this idea.

And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
(1Jn 2:3-6 ESV)

Now, I think I know the heart of the individual that made the comment. But this is, I believe, a commonly held - and often communicated - misunderstanding. Examining this thought in light of the following scriptures, I think we may come up with some different conclusions about our relationship to the Law (the law of Moses and commands of the Old Covenant):

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
(Rom 3:28 ESV)

For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
(Rom 3:20-22 ESV)

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
(Rom 6:14 ESV)

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
(Rom 7:4-6 ESV)

Over and over in the book of Romans we are told we are not under law. There is not much room for argument here. I've quoted only a few of the more significant verses. And yet, much of what is being taught within our churches is that it is our "duty" to obey the law. But that is simply not true. Christianity is not about morality - not even God's morality. It is about the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ.

Further, if we look closely at 1 John 2:3-6, we will find that even this passage supports the idea that we are not bound by the law, but by grace. Please note first of all that First John and the Gospel of John are written by the same author, and the passage at hand is a parallel to the words of Jesus in John 15. Also, let's note that the commands to be followed are not "the" commandments, but "his" commandments. And what were the commands of Jesus?

The only command Jesus ever issued in the book of John was "that you love one another as I have loved you," John 15:12. First John confirms this commandment:

And 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.
(1Jn 3:23 ESV)

And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
(1Jn 4:21 ESV)

This is not the "written code" - the commandments. This is the commandment of Jesus, and it is not about what we traditionally consider morality, or what's right and wrong. This is the commandment of love for one another as those who are the redeemed, the saints, those under the law of grace.

Now, lest I be accused of all manner of liberalism and antinomianism, let me point out that scripture never indicates that we should try to live "in opposition to" or "contrary to" the law. There is a change yielded by the law of grace and it may appear in harmony with the law of Moses. At other times it may not. But that change is not "demanded" of us, it is accomplished within us by the Holy Spirit apart from our own efforts. The gospel, as presented above by Paul, simply
says that we are not under the authority of the law any more. We are to abide by Jesus' commands - which are not the law. Rather, they are the fulfillment of the law in the perfect love of Christ as we express it to each other and, I believe, to the world.

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