The New Law: The Law of The Spirit
As was noted in the last post, according to Galatians 3, the law served as a tutor to point God’s people to Christ. As youth, we were all required the continual tutelage of parents, teachers and godly adults to properly lead us toward a path of righteousness. Indeed many of us wonder where our lives would have led us without such counsel. Yet, maturity gradually developed and we all eventually found ourselves grown and removed from such supervision. As adults we have now moved beyond the former restrictions of parental oversight and have assumed responsibility for our life choices. In some cases, we deeply understand the sentiment of certain rules of our parents, yet we may choose different rules for our own households.
The voices of our mentors never leave our consciences, however. Their teaching, character and principles remain with us as gentle reminders of the proper upbringing we received. I frequently hear my father’s voice in the back of my head, perhaps even finding myself in a situation of which I wonder what he would have done. As such, while I am formally no longer subject to my father’s oversight, his character is forever forged into my conscience.
The doctrinal principle of freedom from the Law of Moses is not one which renders the believer into a state of radical deviance from the character of the law. Rather, the very Spirit of the One who formed the law indwells and guides our consciences. Even in maturity there are governing principles which must continually guide us into proper living for the sake of the Kingdom of God. What has changed according to the New Testament is the source of our governance. Where the rule of living once came from the Law of Moses, it now comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Upon the resurrection of Christ and the impartation of the Holy Spirit, believers were called to serve under a new law altogether. The following texts clearly reveal not only the fulfillment and disempowerment of the former law, but also the establishment of a new law which disciples of Christ are to submit themselves to.
Scripture refers to this administration as “the law of the Spirit,” “the law of Christ,” “the new way of the Spirit” or “the law of the Spirit of life.” In Romans, Paul notes,
Romans 7:4-6 (NIV) 4 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. 5 For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. 6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
In Romans 7, Paul notes the necessity of our having “died to the law” in order to “belong to another.” No longer is the old law in effect, for we now serve “in the new way of the Spirit” and not “the old way of the written code.” This does not mean that the disciple of Christ can go willy nilly about his life, doing what seems best in his own eyes. Scripture rather gives a fairly comprehensive – yet decidedly less stringently defined – “new law” by which we all must adhere.
It should be noted that many are very fearful of the ramifications brought on by the departure of the Law of Moses as a means to guide us. How are we to know how to live if we do not adhere to the old Law? By what means are we to follow this new law of Christ? How does it work, exactly? Perhaps this is the very fear of any student who is dismissed from tutelage. Yet, the Lord does not leave us without guidelines or a counselor to guide us in our way.
First, and foremost, the new Law “works” by the indwelling of the very Spirit of Christ in the hearts of his people, giving continual guidance to his servant and providing personal assistance unrivaled by the Law of Moses. For one to fear the loss of the tutor of the law is nonsensical when one gains the ever-present voice of the Holy Spirit himself as a guide!
Jeremiah 31 prophesies the advent of a new covenant which God will make with the house of Israel. This text depicts clearly the new law of the Spirit by which the indwelling Christ invades the hearts of all believers. This promise is commonly referred to as the “new covenant;” a covenant of the heart, which God had revealed in advance as a fundamental shift to be revealed in a latter day.
Jeremiah 31:31-33 (NIV) 31 “The time is coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel
and with the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them, “declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts. I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
Verse 33 notes the nature of this new covenant as one which operates at a conscious level. “I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts.” Hebrews affirms this text to be speaking of this very “new law of Christ” by which all believers are bound.
Heb 10:11-16 (NIV) 11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. 15The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
This new way of service to God is a law written in our hearts by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is not as if we were turned out of the oversight of the Law of Moses in order to abandon all manners of propriety and pursue a life of debauchery. Rather, the believer himself has become the very Temple of the Lord from which God governs personally. Now, rather than having a static and unattainable code which governed externally, we have the comforter Himself, teaching, leading and instilling into us his desires.
Yet, concerning the old law, Paul reveals in Romans 8,
Romans 8:1-4 (NIV) 1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
It is important that believers understand that it is “through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Unmistakably, a law is at work in the lives of believers, but it is the law of the governing lordship of Christ rather than the written code of the old Law. While under the supervision of the guardianship of the Law, our sinful natures compelled us to rebel against that authority, just as an otherwise “good” teenager desires freedom from the regulations of the household to which he lives. When a teenager is grown and leaves the home, however, supervision does not simply cease. The voice of the tutor remains with him as a gentle reminder of that which formed the core of his character. When the very Spirit of God indwells the life of a believer, there is no more pertinent advisor possible who could guide that disciple into Godliness.
In the new law, the illustration of a tutor and a schoolmaster is abandoned for one perhaps more akin to that of a husband and a wife. As a husband, I am not given a set of “rules” by which I should live in order to please my wife. She is not given a set of “rules” by which she is to please me. Yet, the two of us do a fairly amazing job – if I do say so myself – of pleasing one another and not entering into offense of each other’s principles. Entirely without the guidelines of static rules, we are able to live such lives of fellowship due to the nature of our relationship together. As I fellowship with and come to know my wife I learn that which offends her, what she likes and dislikes and what she expects of me. I know that she does not want chocolates for Valentines Day. I do not even have to ask, because I know her. By knowing her, I know what she wants, loves, needs and how she may be offended by my actions. Because I know her, I do not even have to ask what she might think about certain actions I may be considering. I know what she will think because of our close fellowship. Many times I know what she is going to say – even before she says it. And, she pretty much always knows what I’m thinking as well.
Because I know certain actions would hurt my wife’s heart, I would never participate in such things against her. My love and joy of my relationship with her compels me to live rightly before her. This is the best expression I can think of to illustrate the new law of the indwelling spirit by which believers are to live. Paul states of this new law, that
Galatians 2:19-21 (NIV) 19 … through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
While the law of Moses highlighted the sinful condition of man, the new law in Christ is one which utterly transforms man’s nature. With Christ’s indwelling, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Formerly, God’s presence dwelt in the Holy of Holies in the innermost court of the Temple. Upon Christ’s sending of the Holy Spirit, that very spirit of God lives in us who are in Christ. This is the basis of the new law; God’s presence indwelling and leading the believer into God’s perfect purposes. With God’s indwelling within, we are able to know God. While sin still exists – for there are still many things which God hates and desires his people not to tolerate – illumination of such now can be revealed to the believer via God’s direct fellowship.
Paul continues with a practical application of the principle. He notes, “the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God.” Thus, Paul notes that he “died to the law” so that he “might live for God” and that the life he now lives is “by faith in” Christ.
“Faith” is essentially to act according to one’s belief. One must first believe, obviously, but must also act accordingly to suchbelief. (See here for a more detailed definition) Living by faith, at its root, is to live in such a way that one never acts outside of what he has confidence in. As we train our children and nurture them into adults, this is the type of understanding we ultimately want them to have as well. We do not want them to do something that they weren’t sure they could do. When I was a youth pastor I had a very simple rule for our outings: “if you have to ask, the answer is ‘no.'” It is this “living by faith” which is the basis of life under the law of the Spirit. Paul illuminates this principle more fully in his letter to the Romans.
The context of Romans 14 is that of “disputable matters.” The idea of right living being “disputable” was something unique and new in the early church age. In the age of the old Law, for example, what one was to eat was exceptionally well defined in the dietary codes. The new law was by faith, however. According to the new law eating was a matter of conscience: one could eat anything- so long as his eating came “by faith.”
To engage this issue, Paul notes,
Romans 14:2-4 (NIV)
2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
Paul continues to another area of issue between the old and new laws; the observance of holy days. He again notes,
Romans 14:5-12 (NIV)
5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'” 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.
To Paul, these were not matters of law- but of faith. He states “if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.” Paul’s clear understanding of how one was to live according to the new law was that one was to give direct heed to the fellowship of the Lord himself.
One must be careful to understand that Paul did not say that “anything goes” in the Christian life, but he did assert that disciples of Christ are to live “by faith” in the fact that one is to be “fully convinced in his own mind” as to what is right to do before the Lord.
Paul does make certain prohibitions in the text as well, however. He states in verses 13-18 that we are also to take one another’s faith into account as we make discernment about how we are to live. He notes specifically that we are not to make others stumble in their faith; and that (v21) “it is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” Thus, to live by faith is also to live in such a way that we do not cause others’ faith – even if it be a weak faith – to falter. (Some additional prohibitive standards will be noted in the next post in this series)
At the end of the passage, Paul give perhaps the single most illustrative instruction concerning living “by faith” in the new law. Overshadowing all of the considerations one must ponder in discerning how to live rightly before the Lord, in the end it is a matter of simple faith. One must live within the parameters his faith will allow. He affirms,
Romans 14:22-23 (NIV)
22 … whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.
This concluding statement wraps up nicely the illumination of what “living by faith” in the new law means. To live by faith, everything one does must be done with the confidence of faith. From the context of Romans 14, that means essentially that I am not to do anything if I have some doubt that God may not approve. Paul concurs in v23: “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
So, to sum up life in the new law of Christ, this is a life that is lived by merit of a relationship with Christ internally. This relationship is like most in that we come to know well those who we spend time with. As we come to know Christ, we learn things that he does not approve of and we therefore omit them from our daily routine. Likewise, we learn also what Christ approves of and desires from us. These things we begin to pursue in hopes of bringing honor to our King.
Living according to “the law of the Spirit” is to live by faith. Such demands that I do not compromise myself any more than a good parent would desire of their child. For no parent wants to hear their child say “I didn’t ask because I thought you may say ‘no.'” Such is the opposite of what it means to live by faith. For that which is done by faith is that which we do not have to ask. Such is the new rule of law for the believer: to live such a life that one does not have to ask if he is doing rightly.
While the Law of Moses existed to reveal our dire need for salvation, the law of Christ is one which is unconditionally governed by grace. We need not to attempt to perform that which was depicted to us in the law – yet is also clearly illustrated to be an impossible pursuit. By grace, the law has been fulfilled. The life we now live we live by faith in Christ.
Colossians 2:13-17 (NIV)
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 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. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
16 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. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
In this text the law is again shown cancelled and demonstrated as a “shadow of things that were to come.” That which was to come, however, was a new law; that of Christ, himself, indwelling the believer. As Paul notes, the law was “a shadow of the things that were to come,” while “the reality, however, is found in Christ.” As such, the law was demonstrative of the nature of God in Christ, but now the ultimate advent of God’s character is freely available through the literal indwelling of God in the heart of man.
1 Corinthains 3:16 (NIV)
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?
As such, the guardianship of the Law of Moses has stepped down for the higher fellowship of the Spirit Himself to teach us. As He indwells, He leads in a much more effective manner than the Law (which externally revealed his character) could ever have done.
1 Corinthians 2:9-16 (NIV)
9 However, as it is written:
“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him” —
10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. 14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:
16 “For who has known the mind of the Lord
that he may instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.
With God’s spirit living inside of us, we have the best access ever to his leading. His voice guides our conscience directly, and “we have the mind of Christ” as an ever-present Law by which to live, just as Jesus promised:
John 14:25-26 (NIV) 25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
(more principles to come on the New Law of the Spirit)