What is the Law of Christ?

In Galatians, a letter that denounces the works of the law (see 2:16), Paul argues that Christians ought to fulfill the law by love (Gal 5:13-14) and to fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).  However, a good investigative question in Galatians 6:2 is “What is the law of Christ?” and “What is it doing in Paul’s letter?”  In other words, Why would Paul advocate the “law of Christ” when he has been fighting against the Judaizers and their radical use of the law?

Richard Longenecker in his Word Biblical Commentary on Galatians offers a helpful definition and sets on a good course to answer those questions.

He writes that the law of Christ are those “prescriptive principles stemming from the heart of the gospel (usually embodied in the example and teachings of Jesus), which are meant to be applied to specific situations by the direction and enablement of the Holy Spirit, begin always motivated and conditioned by love” (275-76).

Therefore, we see that Paul steers a third course that is different than nomism (Christ + law) and lawlessness (no law at all).  It is not just a middle road, or a Hegelian synthesis, but a third way.  On the one hand, he contests nomism with its advocacy that the covenant keepers must continue to do the works of the law.  He does this by asserting a view of the law of Christ that is not based on law-keeping but on Christ’s fulfillment of the law for Christians.  Accordingly, the law of Christ is a finished work, and one that requires faith not works. Moreover, the deciding factor between the two is the presence and  power of the Holy Spirit.  Fulfilling the law of Christ is not a human work, but the Spirit’s work in the life of the believer, because after all, the first fruit of the Spirit is love (cf. Gal 5:22-23).

At the same time, Paul avoids lawlessness, because in fulfilling the law of Christ he shows that the gospel has ethical implications and entailments.  The law of Christ is accompanied by the life-giving and life-changing Holy Spirit and it is the love of the Spirit which fulfills the OT law.  Therefore, the difference between the law and the gospel is that the gospel tells you what has been done and it gives you the Spirit to live a holy and loving life.  The law had no such power.

So why does Paul use the term “law of Christ”?  He is turning the Judaizers on their head, saying “You want to talk about law?  Let’s talk about law!  The law of the born again believer is the law of Christ! What Christ has done, what he is doing, and what he will one day complete.  It is from him, through him, and to him.  He is the one who fulfilled the law and who by his death destroyed the law.  He has now put in place a greater law and it is the one written on human hearts by His Spirit.  Walking by the power and direction of the Spirit is a far greater “law” than anything Moses ever recorded; it is an inside job and one that has a power that the Old Covenant never did.”

May we walk in the power of the Spirit and fulfill the law of Christ as we love, serve, and minister to others in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

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