By What Law?
© 2020 C. O. Bishop
Genesis 2:17; Exodus 20:1-17; Ezekiel 18:4; Mark 12:28-34; John 13:34, 35; Romans 7:1-6; Romans 8:2, 4; Galatians 6:2; James 1:25; Romans 3:27, 28;
Whenever the Bible talks about “law,” we tend to assume it is referring to the Law of Moses, sometimes called the Mosaic Law. But that is certainly not always the case. There are at least six separate concepts called Law…maybe several more, as we are not even addressing things like civil law or the laws of physics, et cetera.
Six Laws in Romans
Romans 3:19 Mosaic law
Romans 3:21 Principle of law (Compare Romans 2:12-14)
Romans 3:27 Law of faith, excluding boasting (also, law of works…Mosaic Law?)
Romans 7:21, 23, 25 Law of sin in my members
Romans 7:16, 23 Law of my mind: agrees with the Mosaic Law, but is unable to obey it.
Romans 8:2, 4 Law of the Spirit, setting me free from the Law of Sin and death.
In the book of Romans alone we can see at least six separate ideas called a “law.” One of those definitely is the Law of Moses. That is the one we typically think of when we see the word “Law” in the Bible. But the other five are not the Mosaic Law at all.
And when Paul later says for us to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the Law of Christ, (Galatians 6:2) none of the six “laws” listed in Romans is in view. What is the Law of Christ?
When James refers to the “Perfect Law of Liberty,” (James 1:25) to which law is he directing our attention? What is the perfect Law of Liberty?
When Paul says we have been set free from the Law of Sin and Death (Romans 8:2)…which law is in view? What is the “Law of Sin and Death?
You see, we need to answer these questions, before we try to understand the true relationship between the believer and the Law. What Law?
From the Beginning
In Genesis 2:17, we see the first record of the Law of sin and death: There was only one prohibition made. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
That is a pretty simple concept: if you sin, you will die! And, lest anyone think I am oversimplifying that idea, look at Ezekiel 18:4 “…the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” This is the Law of sin and death. Remember, the Mosaic Law had not yet been given, but the concept existed from the beginning of the world…and perhaps before. The issue is that God is Holy, and cannot coexist with sin. The angels who rebelled (evidently before the creation of our world) were separated from fellowship with God, and eventually will be separated permanently.
When Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:7), they were separated from fellowship with God, and were at risk of the same permanent separation. 2000 years later, when the Law of Moses was given at Sinai (specifically to the nation of Israel— the Jews) it upgraded the Old, “simple” Law of sin and death, but was still effectively a part of that law. However, in Genesis 3:21, God provided for the offering of a substitutionary sacrifice in order to escape death, while still confessing human guilt. So did the Mosaic Law. From that starting point in Genesis, however faint it may seem to the casual reader, a trail of blood trickles down the ages, throughout the Old Testament, leading to the Cross. The Law of Sin and Death must be fulfilled! In John 1:29, John the Baptist introduced Jesus as that “Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the World.” Jesus is the culmination of all of that history of blood sacrifice.
What about Today?
Galatians 2:19 tells us, once for all, how it is that we have been delivered. It says something very strange: “…for I through the Law am dead to the Law, that I might live unto God.” Through the Law, I have been made dead to the Law? The Law of sin and death was fulfilled for the entire human race in the person of Christ, at the Cross. Jesus died for the whole human race, as the chosen blood-sacrifice for sin, thus fulfilling the Law which called for the death of every sinner.
2nd Corinthians 5:14 concludes that “…if one died for all, then were all dead.” I have been made dead to the Law, by the fulfillment of that Law. Now the Law of sin and death is satisfied regarding the believer, and it has nothing further to say. We are dead, where the Law of sin and death is concerned. (Remember that the Law of sin and death pre-dates the Mosaic Law, and includes it. The Mosaic Law was given specifically to the Jews, and no one else; but it still fell under the description of the “Law of sin and death.”) But, if I am “dead to the Law,” why are there so many references to law in the epistles?
Well, that question is raised, briefly, in Romans 3:27, when Paul questions, “by what law? Of works? Nay, but by the law of faith.” Thus we are forced to confess that there are different kinds of law, to some of which we are still very much bound. (Is anyone here free from the law of gravity? Neither am I!) So, let’s look at what laws we are bound by, and what laws we are called to fulfill as believers.
The Law of Sin in my Members
This is a reality in our lives, whether we admit it or not. We still have a sin nature. Paul struggled with this reality, in Romans 7, and concluded that the sin living in him (sometimes called the “old man”) is the culprit, causing his downfall, and that his mind, though it desired to do what the Law of God required (here referring to the Mosaic Law) it could not obey God. But God says He is not interested in what the Old nature wants…He says that it is not only corrupt, but that it is “being corrupted.” Ephesians 4:22 says that the old man is “being corrupted by the deceitful lusts” (KJV says, “…which is corrupt, according to the deceitful lusts,” but the Greek uses a present-tense verb there, showing that it is a continuing issue.) Romans 8:7 states that the “carnal mind (yet another term for the old sin nature) is not subject to the law of God, neither can it be.” My old sin nature is truly incorrigible! It cannot be cleansed, nor corrected. God is making no effort whatever to salvage my sin nature: He had to give me a new nature, through a new birth. Without that new nature, there was nothing in me that could be in fellowship with God. The new nature is not the Holy Spirit: Ephesians 4:24 states that the “new man…is created in righteousness and true holiness.” The Holy Spirit is not a created being. He is God, the Creator. Further, it says “the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” We are re-created in the true image of God, with His character, His holiness, His righteousness. But the new man in us is stuck living in a body with our old, actively corrupt sin nature. And that makes for some frustrating times!
Paul concluded in Romans 7:24, 25 that he found his freedom from his slavery to sin, in the person of Christ…which leads us to a new Law: The Law of the Spirit of Life!
The Law of the Spirit of Life
This Law only exists in Christ! Paul says that “the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the Law of sin and death! (Romans 8:2) We cannot access this law on our own, nor can an unbeliever lay claim to it at all. Hebrews 11:6 states that “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”
So apart from faith, the Law of the Spirit of Life is beyond our reach. That is true of believers and unbelievers: to an unbeliever, it simply does not apply, as the unbeliever has never entered in by faith. But to the believer, who has entered into Christ by faith, but who has again been ensnared by sin, it is temporarily out of reach, because he or she is out of fellowship with the Lord because of sin, no matter how insignificant-seeming.
This is why 1st John 1:9 is so critically important to us, as believers. We want to be in fellowship with God. And God has promised that “…if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another; and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanseth us from all sin.” We are constantly bombarded with the values of the unbelieving World, because the Enemy knows that, since we no longer belong to him, his only hope is to render us unusable to God. He seeks to do so through temptation. When we sin, we need to immediately apply 1st John 1:9 by confessing our sin, and returning to obedience.
What about secret sins? Things that don’t show, but are held in our hearts? Bitterness, lust, envy, pride, covetousness…all these are sins of the heart which we are commanded to put away, and which, if we hang onto them will result in broken fellowship. Psalm 66:18 says that “if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” So sin does not have to be expressed outwardly to be destructive. Ephesians 4:31 says, “…let ALL bitterness, and wrath, and anger and clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice…” The clamor and evil speaking may be outward, of course, but the rest of those things are inward. And they are to be put away from us, in order for us to walk freely in the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.
Jesus said (John 15:5) “Apart from me ye can do nothing.” That is exactly what He meant! We cannot live the Christian life apart from His constant infilling…we are not able to fulfill His Law on our own, at any level, and we never have been able to do so.
What does it “Look” Like, to “fulfil the Law of Christ?”
In John 13:34, 35 (after Judas left to betray Jesus to the Priests) Jesus told the eleven remaining apostles, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
This is the “New Commandment” –the New Law. When we are commanded to “fulfil the law of Christ,” that is the law in question. So, in Galatians 6:2, Paul says “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the Law of Christ.” Since we know that the Christian is frequently under attack by the enemy, and that we are not called to “just tough it out,” and bear it stoically, but that we are called to serve together…what do we do, when we see another brother or sister slammed with pressure that cannot be borne alone? (This word, “burden,” is translated from the Greek word “baré”, meaning “pressure,” or a crushing load. This where we get the word “barometer” meaning “a tool that measures atmospheric pressure.”)
According to Galatians 6, we help one another to bear such loads. There is a different Greek word (“phortion”) used in verse five, meaning “an assigned task,” and those tasks we each face individually; he says “…every man shall bear his own burden.” But in verse two we are clearly told to “fulfil the law of Christ,” by helping one another through the hard times.
Further, in James 1:25 we are admonished to “look into the perfect law of liberty,” and be a “doer of the work.” This is not a suggestion that we return to the Mosaic Law! In fact, most of the book of Galatians is specifically warning against returning to bondage, and points out that we have gained Liberty in Christ, and should not give it up. So, living in a grateful, loving response to that newfound freedom in Christ, we willingly subject ourselves to that New Commandment, and the result is that we change our old behavior patterns. A living, practical holiness begins to find expression in our lives: rather than a legalistic rigidity, we are having a relaxed, friendly walk with our Savior…which gives us a relaxed, friendly, loving approach toward life in general, and specifically toward our fellow humans, both saved and unsaved.
How can I know if I am fulfilling that Law?
1st John 2:7-11 makes a peculiar statement: John says that the commandment is not new, but that we have had it from the beginning. But then he says that it is new, in us, because the darkness is past, and the true light now shines. He gives a “test” by which to tell whether we are obeying this New Commandment: “Do you love the brethren?”
John says that if I say I am walking in the light, but am hating a brother, then the reality is, I’m still in the dark! This idea would include the less “intense” terms in English: we don’t like to admit “hatred,” but God says anything short of the Agape love is really a form of hatred. We might prefer to say, “Well, he and I just have a personality conflict!”, or “He just really annoys me!” The fact is that we are not loving that person as a brother in Christ, even if we say that we are. We need to admit to ourselves that our sin nature is stirred up by the flaws in that brother, thus revealing our own flaws and sin. This is why Paul said, “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.” And he went on to say, “…and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” You see, we don’t just “put away” the anger, and the other sins: we replace them with the loving responses of kindness, and forgiveness, because we have already received that forgiveness from God, through Jesus’s blood at the Cross.
Think about that! Is His blood not enough to give us forgiveness toward one another? My sins toward God are far more grievous than any human’s sins toward me. My sins put Jesus on the Cross! If God has forgiven me for the sake of Christ, then I need to extend that full forgiveness to others as well. (And, I’ll confess, I have a hard time doing it!)
So, though the Law of Christ was given thousands of years in the past, it is still a relatively new idea in each believer’s life. We each have to come to grips with the new reality of our freedom from the Old Law, and our new position in Christ. We have to learn how to walk, literally, just as a baby has to learn. And it isn’t always easy. In Colossians 2:6, Paul says “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him.” How did you receive Him? By faith! We have to learn to walk that way, day by day, until it becomes the new “normal” for us all.
In my experience, and to my understanding, since Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would bring to our remembrance all things whatsoever He said unto us (and I realize some think that promise was only to the apostles)…it still pays to memorize the scriptures so that the Holy Spirit has something to work with! He can’t “bring things to our remembrance” that we never bothered to read, for certain! But if we devote enough time and effort to absorbing His Word, that we actually build up a fair-sized “library” in our memories, then it is that much easier for the Holy Spirit to gently bring it into the “living room,” as it were, making it a living reality in our lives and not just something we “know about.”
So: What have we learned?
First, we have seen that not every reference to “law” is referring to the Mosaic Law. But, more importantly, we learned that, while we have indeed been set free from the “Law of sin and death,” we are eternally subject to the Law of Christ, which is the true and perfect Law of Liberty. Why does that matter today? Because that is the law under which the results of our lives will be judged. James 2:12 says, “So speak ye and so do as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” This is the standard by which the relative worth of our lives will be judged, at the Judgment seat of Christ. This is the standard for reward…the Law of Liberty: Jesus’s command that we live out His Agape love toward one another! So this concept is critically important to all believers!
Let’s press on, then, to learn what that means and to ask that God’s Grace may transform us into His likeness, so that each of our lives will be a reflection of that Perfect Law.
Lord Jesus, Grant your Mercy and Grace, to give us understanding, and empower us to live out your perfect Law of Liberty!