The Boundaries of The New Law
The Boundaries of The New Law
(The following is a continuation of “The Law and the Believer,” and assumes the reading of earlier prerequisite posts.)
From the day of Pentecost, believers have experienced the full fruition of God’s ancient promise to Israel: that he will “put (his) law in their minds and write it on their hearts (Jer 31:33).” What fellowship could man desire over the very indwelling presence of God; himself guiding, chastening, leading and inspiring his disciples to his own will and purposes. The apex of God’s plan for fellowship with man has found its fruition in the redemptive work of Christ and the indwelling presence of the Spirit. The life of faith is one of fellowship rather than rule of law and freedom rather than the bondage of restraint.
Yet, God’s character has not changed from the days of the law until now. Freedom from the law is not a license for immorality nor a hall pass to engage the world on its own turf. However, the human heart has a nagging tendency to press one’s freedom to their most base -and sinful- logical conclusions. For,
Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV)
9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Knowing our weakness in temptation causes us pause in contemplating the idea of laying the law aside. Particularly among immature believers there remains a hearty sense of distrust in one’s perseverance without the hard weights and lines the law had provided. Some have thus wrongly chosen to continue pursuing the law as the guide by which their spiritual boundaries are to be drawn. Paul offered no minor rebuke of such intentions, noting that
Galatians 5:1-2 (NIV)1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.
In fact, Paul stipulated that a return to the law would nullify the work of Christ, noting that
Galatians 5:4 (NIV)
4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Clearly, a return to the law is not the path that believers are to take in order to hold themselves accountable to the rule of Christ. Yet, most certainly we find ourselves in need of accountability to a verifiable and reputable standard of conduct so that we don’t fool ourselves into “hearing God” when he has not spoken. Our still-sinful hearts can convince us to follow God where he has not led. And we are woefully prone to rebellion against the still small voice at a moment’s notice. Many attempt to once again lay ahold of the law as an enduring hand-rail which will keep believers from falling in their walk with the Lord – simply for the reason that they cannot trust themselves without such strict boundaries to guard against their wayward tendencies.
They should fear not, for Jesus has left his bride in the company of additional witnesses who hold her members accountable to one another through the bond of fellowship. While one can misconstrue or misrepresent the chiding of the Spirit in his heart, he has a much harder time changing and misappropriating the written record of the testimony of scripture in the company of his brothers in the church.
Although the Mosaic law is no longer in effect over the lives of the redeemed, the new law bears a scriptural footprint of its own through the testimony of Jesus and the apostles. As Paul put it,
Romans 7:4 (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.
Jesus has left instruction beyond the internally-verified testimony of the Spirit. He has left the externally-verified witness of the gospel writers and apostles. While the law has been made inoperative in Christ, the remainder of the scriptural record is intact as a structural boundary by which we can know that we are not deceiving ourselves in our walk with the Spirit.
When Jesus said,
John 14:26 (NIV)
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,
he actually notes two things of great importance: not only that the Spirit would teach us all things, but also that he would remind us of everything Jesus had taught us. Thus, the new law incorporates the full testimony of Christ’s teachings- not merely what the daily fellowship of the Spirit imparts to us. In short, the baby has not been thrown out with the bath water. Scripture remains as the standard of our faith to which all internal direction may be held accountable.
Such has been the position of the church from its advent. John noted that
2 John 1:9 (NIV)
9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
And the active testimony of the early church was that
Acts 2:42 (NIV)
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Thus, the law of Christ is not one which is carefree of external direction and devoid of standardization. The believer has no option to assert that Christ has “called” him to some action which the scriptures declare to be ungodly. Essentially, the New Testament is the defining guide for the law of the Spirit, as it is the culmination of the teachings of Christ and the apostles, and as it was written in response to the very advent of the law of the Spirit.
Never is one’s freedom from the law a freedom from the boundaries of the rest of scripture, nor is it a license for immorality. Instead,
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,
17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The law of Moses served its purpose as does all scripture. It revealed man’s utter depravity; upholding a standard by which all are judged as condemned and irreconcilable to God by their own merit. It painted a shadow of things to come; as Christ later fulfilled its righteous requirement by his own vicarious blood atonement. As those who now live apart from the law, we nevertheless do not live apart from scripture, but rather by it. We understand that the law served a specific purpose which was fulfilled in Christ. Likewise the prophets spoke many forecasts which have hereby found their fulfillment, and are thus also understood as satisfied. This was precisely Jesus’ point when he noted,
Matthew 5:17 (NIV)
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
Where the Law once stood to condemn our sin we now have the gospels proclaiming Christ crucified for it and raised as an example for us to follow. We have the testimony of the apostles who themselves were the firstfruits of those born into the law of Christ. The Mosaic Law remains in its place to reveal our need for a savior. It is not struck from the record – but fulfilled from within the very same record. Yet is not to be lived out except by Christ- the sole One who can fulfill it. All others who attempt to live out the law will be condemned by it for their utter failure. Thus, to follow the Mosaic Law is to die, while following the law of the Spirit is life.
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.