When it comes to the New Covenant, a major question so many of us have is what to do with the Old Covenant law. Some people have divided the law into categories (moral, civil, and ceremonial) in an attempt to show what continues and what doesn’t. While categories can be helpful in considering the functions of the Old Covenant law, we need to understand that the bible doesn’t propose such categories and often talks about the law as a whole. In Exodus 20:1 Moses gives what we have called the “Ten Commandments,” but they are simply introduced as the “words” of the Lord. In Exodus 21:1 a list of “rules” is given that extend to what many theologians would class in the categories of civil and ceremonial law. In Exodus 24:3-8 Moses talks about all the rules and laws that are in one book of the covenant – the law. These were all the codes that the people of Israel were to live by in faithfulness to their God. They were to be his people and he was to be their God and they were to do all that was in the book of the law.
In Galatians, Paul makes it very apparent that there is a major difference in the New Covenant. Jesus has fulfilled the law. He kept the standard that we could never keep. Paul then makes a very clear statement that if anyone is to seek to be right before God through law keeping, they need to keep the whole law (without distinction of categories) perfectly (Gal. 3:10,5:3). It is clear then that when Paul is saying that we are not justified by works of the law (Gal 2:16), he is clearly talking about the whole law. Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we by right with God. And here in lies the question. What do we do about the law? Well, Paul goes on to say that we also no longer live by the law but through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal 2:20). This is possible because in the New Covenant it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. The law is dead, long live spirit filled living in the New Covenant.
Before you throw rotten tomatoes, I have a question for you. What is your understanding of what happens to us when we come to faith in Jesus? In Galatians 2:20, Paul makes an explicit statement about being crucified with Christ and then no longer living for himself. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In believing the gospel, I believe that I have been crucified with Christ and risen to new life with him and that he now lives in me. Jesus, who completely fulfilled the law (all of it), has taken it to the cross and risen to new life now giving us a New Covenant in his blood. The old has gone, the new has come. So, what about standards of holiness?
It’s not that life in Christ is lawless at all. The fact that Paul has to ask a similar question is further proof that the whole law of the Old Covenant written code is done. Paul asks if we are to sin because we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:15). The answer is “By no means!” How little do we value the indwelling presence of Christ in our life? Do we really think that that the Spirit of Christ within us gives us freedom to sin as and when we please? Do we really think that unless we keep a written code of commandments, we have no way to please God and live and stand rightly before him? Is the Holy Spirit impotent? Does he give us no concern for holiness?
In the New Testament there is not one aspect of God’s perfect character missing in New Covenant ethics. The fact that the ten commandments are fulfilled in Christ along with all the rest of the law does not mean that the ethics of those commands is abolished in the New Testament. Actually, they are often explained to their fuller ramifications in Christ. Hate amounts to murder. Lust amounts to adultery. Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mat. 5:17). And yet, he abolished the law of commandments expressed in ordinances (Eph. 2:15). We live according to the Spirit of Christ, not according to the written statutes of a moral code (or civil, or ceremonial). If we are in Christ, there will be a manifest difference in us in our pursuit of holiness and in our love for his truth. We will live it in faith. We will pursue him in gratitude. We will have no confidence in law keeping. We will have every confidence in the Christ who died for us and loves us and lives us. His instruction will be our delight.
So, no, to die to the law is not to be lawless.
- Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
- Romans 8:10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
- Ephesians 2:22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
- 2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test!
- Galatians 4:6-7 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So, you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
- Ephesians 4:22-24 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.