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

Sin Boldly: Because Only Sinners “Get” Amazing Grace

I am preaching on Luke 7:36-50 this Sunday, a message entitled, “Only Sinners ‘Get’ Amazing Grace!”  In preparing, I was struck again by the radical nature of grace and the very fact that what qualifies us for grace is sin (cf. 1 John 1:9).  In fact, if you are not a sinner, you won’t “get” grace.  Only sinners get it!

As Jesus said in Luke 7:34, He is a friend of sinners!  Earlier in Luke, Jesus said “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (5:31-32).  The wonder of Jesus and the appeal of his ministry, was that he knew how to pierce hearts and heal them with the grace of God.

Oh what good news, that my sin does not have to drive me away from God (cf. Psalm 103:9-10).  Rather, in this age, it is the very thing that qualifies me for grace.  As Paul said, Paul who was a murderer of Christians, “Where sin has increased, grace has increased all the more” (Rom 5:21).  Grace is truly amazing, but only for sinners!

Law-keepers do not get grace, because law-keepers do not need grace.  Only law-breakers get grace, because only those who have stopped trying to justify themselves see their need for it.  As the publican said, “Have mercy on me, THE sinner!” (Luke 18:13).

Meditating on God’s amazing grace reminded me of Martin Luther’s quote on the subject of man’s sin and the Messiah’s mercy.  Consider his words, place your faith in God’s grace, if you are a preacher proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ this Sunday, and sin boldly!  You have a sufficient savior, who is a friend of sinners!

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2. Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.

It suffices that through God’s glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner. (“Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon,” Letter 99, Paragraph 13. Erika Bullmann Flores, Tr. from: Dr. Martin Luther’s Saemmtliche Schriften, ed. Johann Georg Walch (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15, cols. 2585-2590).

Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Why then the Law? : Counter-Intuitive, Gospel Logic

“Why then the law?”

In Galatians 3:19, Paul poses that question, and in the rest of the chapter, he sets out to explain the purpose of the law.  To answer his own question he says that the law came to increase sin (v. 19; cf. Rom 5:20; 7:7ff) and to imprison all mankind under sin (v. 22).  Why would God do that?  Why would God do something that would increase law-breaking in the world?  If God knew that adding law to the world would increase sin, why wouldn’t he do something else to help rehabilitate his people?

Because God is not in the business of rehabilitation!  His aim is to destroy the works of the devil, defeat death, and render powerless the curse of the law. So…

God sent the law to enfeeble and imprison all mankind–Jews and Gentiles–in order to that all who are held captive by the law would feel the effects of its shackles, so that the sinners woudl be spurred to long for the gospel of grace.  In God’s wisdom and according to God’s word, it appears that God instituted his law to crush us in our self-confidence, to reveal our wickedness, and magnify our unworthiness, so that in the end, you and I would look away from ourselves, disgusted by our sin, and to gaze upon Christ, the only one who can free us from the law, sin, and death.

Like chemotherapy, God’s law does not make us better; it makes us worse, so that our lives might be spared as we turn to the Great Physician.

Hear Martin Luther’s stunning commentary on how the law tills the soil of our heart, preparing the way for justification, but not accomplishing justification itself:

The Law with its function does contribute to justification–not because it justifies, but becasue it impels the promise of grace and makes it sweet and desirable.  Therefore we do not abolish the Law; but we show its true function and use, namely, that it is a most useful servant impelling us to Christ…; for its function and use is not only to disclose the sin and wrath of God but also to drive us to Christ [Amen!]… Therefore the principle purpose of the Law in the theology is to make men not better but worse; that is, it shows them their sin, so that by the recognition of sin they may be humbled, frightened, and worn down, and so may long for grace and for the Blessed Offspring: [Jesus Christ]!” (Luther on Galatians, quoted in Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians, p. 137).

When was the last time you heard something like that?  “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” namely that God intends  to “humble, frighten, and wear you down” so that you will find grace in time of need (Heb 4:16).

The law shows us our need, our weakness, and our God-forsaking sin.  It points us to Christ, the blessed redeemer and the one who is full of grace and mercy.  He is a sympathetic high priest, who extends to us God’s hand of favor, when we look to him in faith.

May we embrace the law with its terrifying vision of ourselves, and may we flee to the gospel where we find forgiveness and freedom purchased on Calvary’s hill.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Self-Sacrificial Mission of the Law

We know that Christ was sent to earth to die for sinners.  The Bible is clear on that matter: For God so loved the world that he gave his only son (John 3:16)… But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under Law, so that he might redeem those who were under the Law (Gal 4:4-5)…In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that Godsent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9).

However, have you ever stopped to think about this fact: Long before Christ came and died on the cross, the law was sent with a similar terminal mission.  The law which points to Christ (John 5:39; Luke 24:27), was fulfilled by Christ (Matt 5:17), and which was in some sense terminated with Christ (Rom 10:4; Gal 2:18-20), had a similar self-sacrificial purpose.

Granted, the law is impersonal, but it is God’s very word–holy, true, and inspired.  For centuries, it was God’s abiding revelation among his covenant people.  The people of Israel prized it, protected it (most of the time), and passed it down from one generation to the next, because of its centrality in knowing and worshiping YHWH.

The Law, in and of itself, was never designed to save.  It does offer life upon the condition of perfect obedience (Lev 18:5), but as the prophets, and even the law itself indicates, perfection for Adam’s race and Abraham’s offspring is impossible.  Nevertheless, within the confines of redemptive history, it serves a necessary role to prepare the way for Jesus.  But from the beginning this role was restricted and designed to be temporary.  The law was sent to die!

Hear Richard Longenecker’s fourfold explanation of the laws ‘temporal’ function as he comments on Galatians 2:20:

(1) [I]t was the law’s purpose to bring about its own demise in legislating the lives of God’s people; (2) that such a jurisdictional demise was necessary in order that believers in Christ might live more fully in relationship with God; (3) that freedom from the law’s jurisdiction is demanded by the death of Christ on the cross; and (4) that by identification with Christ we experience the freedom from the law that [Christ] accomplished (Galatians in The Word Biblical Commentary [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1990], 92).

It is amazing that in his sublime wisdom, God’s eternal word has a pre-engineered expiration date on the law.  An expiration date that does not make the law go bad like spoiled milk, but one that renders its function as covenantally inoperable.  Why?  Because Jesus Christ has fulfilled all the law and issued a new law–a law of faith and love (Rom 3:27 and Gal 5:4)– according to a superior covenant (Heb 8:6).   There is so much more to be said and savored on this matter, but let us with Paul offer praise to God for his inscrutible wisdom that upholds the law, all the while offering a better set of promises through the gospel of Christ.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Amen, dss