Freedom in Christ
"We are no longer under the law!" When a group of Christians are asked what is meant by those words, multiple answers are sure to arise. Some will hold that it merely means some of the law; others will go so far as to say that believers have no law. In practice, others create an entirely new law. The true answer, and this article, came from a study of Romans 13:8-11. It is our hope that in studying this for yourself, that you too will come to an understanding of a believer's true freedom in Christ. The focus must be the new law of love which completely replaces the old law for all who are in Christ. Having made this bold statement, read on for the Scriptural proof. [And yes, we do answer the question, "What about the Ten Commandments?"]
The Old Law:
Teaches us we can't.
Works from outside --> inward.
Do it as necessary [or as written].
The New Law of Love:
Teaches us that it was perfectly done for us... and to try
Works from inside --> outward.
Do it now!
Both laws seek the same result... perfection of morality
Romans 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.
Without revisiting the verses before this one, we will simply restate their goal; pay any debt owed to authorities or any other lawful debt. Don't let these debts be outstanding. But there is one debt that can never be paid off, one that will always require further payment: the debt of love.
Love is the fulfillment of the law. Before understanding the fulfillment we must understand what the law is all about...
What is the law for?
The law is good; it shows and gives knowledge of sin and the gravity of sin...
The Law says 'what must I do to please God?' Then the Law shows us we can't.
How does the law apply to me as a believer?
Set free from the law.
In being set free from the law, there is no longer any wrath because there is no longer any transgression.
Living by faith, not by the law, means there is never anything to condemn us.
Romans 13:9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
We have been set free because the law has been fulfilled. [by love]
Jesus perfectly fulfilled all the requirements of the law on our behalf. For this reason the law does not have any claim on us, no requirement for us to do, nor any requirement for punishment should we fail to do. How much of the law have we been set free from? 100%... all of it!
Earlier Jesus had said...
Uphold the law. [out of love]
The question comes to this, how do we uphold a law that we are no longer are bound by? In Romans chapter 4, following that verse, Paul clearly speaks of a righteousness that comes solely by faith. Though righteousness is the focus of both (the law and faith), the righteousness found in love (through faith) is quite different than that of the law, not in results but in the means. Since the focus becomes living in love, it's no surprise that Paul's reference to the law being fulfilled in Roman 13:10 is the last time he mentions the law in Romans [after having referenced it more than 70 times before this point].
Love says 'what can I do to please God?' Then Love teaches us to try.
While some will say that not imposing at least some of the law on Christians will lead to lawlessness [perhaps leading to a charge of my teaching antinomianism], our freedom to live and act totally in love comes with this admonition.
Living in love, completely free, does not give excuse to sin. Rather because of Whom we love most of all, it compels us to avoid sin. The old law has been replaced with the "perfect law that gives freedom (KJV, 'perfect law of liberty')", the law of love. Love is the perfect fulfillment.
It's should be no surprise that both Paul and James continue their passages by pointing out some specific outworking of loving your neighbor...
Returning to a passage that we examined earlier and the verses which follow; we can see that Paul too saw a new law in effect for the believer. He called it the "law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus"...
Later Paul again emphasized that he was not under the old law, but under this new law which he called "Christ's law."
Through this new law, which works from the inside out (versus the old law which dealt with externals), all "the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us." It is the Spirit of God who empowers us to set our minds on spiritual things and subsequently to do these things. We, who are now dead to the law, now live solely by faith. Our righteousness for salvation and life was not (and cannot be) gained through the law.
The writer of Hebrews, quoting from Jeremiah 31:33, testifies that this changed law is inward-out - in harmony with the other New Testament passages we have already examined.
John simply summarized the new law of freedom in this fashion...
Romans 13:11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
Love says 'now,' unlike the law which says 'as necessary'.
Now is the time to reach the lost; now is the time to correct and teach the weak.
As was stated earlier, our love for God compels us to not only to avoid sin, but to live out this love that He has given us.
While some well meaning individuals try and take believers back to the law, using terms of "Christian duty", scriptures clearly teaches only one duty for the believer: love! The bottom line: love God, live free, and love others.
Believers are not under the old law, having been set free from it to live by the new law of love, because the old law was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. This in no way leaves believers without a law to do as they please. Rather through an inward-out working, God enables us to live out the righteousness of Christ.
The old law still serves the purpose of convicting sinners and remains an integral part of presenting the gospel to the lost.
Further, the law as a reflection of the Holiness of God still pertains to the believer, wherein it shows us the moral standard (perfection) of God's holiness. This in no way requires the re-imposition of the ceremonial aspects of the law, or the civil laws used by Israel. In fact it does not re-impose any of the law; it merely restates aspects of the law to give example of how we may live out the new law of love.
How do I love God and my neighbor as myself? Even in the New Testament the Ten Commandments provide perfect examples. While no longer a law to live under or having penalties for failure to keep perfectly, these old laws still show the 'how' of the new law of love. Consider again what Paul said in Romans...
From this, we know specifically that not murdering, not stealing, not coveting, and not committing adultery are all ways to live out "love your neighbor as yourself."
The first three of the Ten Commandments provide specifics on what it means to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind."
The last six of the Ten Commandments, all pertain to loving your neighbor as yourself. When Paul said that "love does no harm to a neighbor (Romans 13:10)" these commandments all define things that, if broken, would cause harm to a neighbor.
The fourth commandment actually provides example of something that will help you in all aspects of life, in living out your love for God and your neighbors.
In the New Testament, Jesus specifically clarified the purpose of this command.
Having a day of rest was to benefit mankind. As a believer this principle still applies. If I have a day of rest I will be better equipped to serve God and love my neighbors (and family too!). Plus taking time to gather together with other believer on that day is clearly expressed elsewhere in scriptures as being beneficial to other believers and to me (Hebrews 10:24-25). Not being bound by the old law (and its' penalty, see Exodus 31:15), this day of rest no longer must be the seventh day, a fact that enabled the early church to move the common day of gathering to the first day of the week in celebration of the resurrection - a day that became known as "the Lord's Day."
Teach the law to unbelievers... let it do its' work of convicting of
sin. Use the moral aspects of the law as examples for believers. But,
believer, don't be enslaved again to the law. Live in freedom, and
never use your freedom as a cover-up to sin. Live out the new law of
love! The law of love fulfills the old Law and will produce the
results that the old Law demanded (but could never produce).
But what about offerings and sacrifices?
While many would be quick to say that sacrifices no longer pertain to the church, the new form is often associated with offerings. While tithing is a related topic, and one that needs to be understood in light of the new law of love; it is a topic that we have chosen to look at separately. In the oft used formula of "tithes and offerings", here we want to consider the offerings. While the tithe is often demanded as necessary giving, offerings are usually held to now be freewill. Yet for emphasis, the appeals for such are quite regularly in the fashion of, "God wants you to give sacrificially!" In other words, the one making the appeal has now tied offerings and sacrifices together. Still others will say that the offerings given should be the first and best, claiming the requirement that they be "first fruits." To be fair, more would make that requirement concerning the tithe, but enough would at least extend it to include the (sacrificial) offerings that I feel it necessary to address it here.
As we have already seen, in their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the entirety of the old law's regulations no longer apply to the believer. This is without exception. The same law that could not save us, can not produce righteousness in us now. Righteousness comes from living by faith and fulfilling the law of love. Every sacrifice, every offering, was offered (past tense) on my behalf by Jesus Christ; fulfilled perfectly for me.
Again, we live by the regulations of a new law, the law of love! When we consider sacrifices and offerings based solely on the requirements of this law of Christ, it provides understanding of what is now required for all believers.
Am I saying that there are no sacrifices or offerings under the law of love? By no means! The new law establishes a completely new standard, one that should never be confused by the minutia of the old.
First a quick look at sacrifices and offerings under the Old Law.
Offerings were particular types of sacrifices, during the Law and even before the Law (first references include Genesis 8:20 and dual references Genesis 31:54 & Genesis 46:1). Peace offerings or fellowship offerings are first spoken of in Exodus 20:24, as part of the sacrifices pertaining to the altar. (Leviticus 1-3 ties burnt, grain, and peace offerings together as a unified whole, separate from sin and guilt offerings which are addressed in the following chapters). Drink offerings are associated with the grain offerings (Numbers 15:1-15). While fellowship offerings did have forms that could be offered as an expression of thanks, as a result of a vow, or as a freewill offering (Leviticus 7:11-16), they were fellowship (or peace) offerings because sacrifices were necessary to come into the presence of God even for joyful reasons.
A person was never to appear before God (at His sanctuary) empty-handed. This was especially in regards to the three mandatory times per year that every male adult was required to be at the temple. While "freewill" in regards to the proportion given, it was still a mandated sacrifice, as all of these "offerings" were (Deuteronomy 16:10).
The purpose of every sacrifice in the Old Testament can be summarized as being required for either the forgiveness of sins, or to enable a person to come into the presence of God (...to have fellowship with Him).
Once again, the Old Law compelled people to keep these precepts by the letter of what was written... "What must I do to please God?"
Under the new law of love, our high priest (and sacrifice) fulfilled forever the requirements of all the sacrifices of the Old Law. This includes the Old Testament "offerings" that were all tied to sacrifices. We no long HAVE to do anything to please God. The question, under the law of love, always remains "... what can I do to please God?" The motivation is not the letter of the old law, but a compelling zeal that comes solely from love.
Automatically this means that any sacrifice or offering in the New Testament, while accomplishing perhaps some of the same things, will be totally different in motivation and administration. Since all offerings in the Old Testament were part of sacrifices (...truly a legal system based on sacrifices), a good place to start in examining the New is with sacrifices as well.
Did you follow that? Our spiritual act of worship, under the new law of love, is the continually, unceasing, presentation of our bodies as a living sacrifice. Our entire life should be seeking to use this body to do good in every aspect of our lives (secret, private, and public). This does not pertain solely to money or giving things to others; it focuses even more so on how I live in everything I do. When we stop and consider that the law of love teaches us to seek to please God, there is no better way to please God than to be imitators of Him...
Jesus' sacrifice and offering was not just on the cross of Calvary, it was also that He lived the perfect life of service and obedience on our behalf. In the details, this included providing for the care of His mother at His death (John 19:26-27). Based on this it should be no surprise that the example Paul gives, of living out this law of love, would include instruction for us to do the same in providing for our own families (1 Timothy 5:8). If Jesus' entire life was a sacrifice and offering, imitating Him in this area is equally considered our sacrifice and offering - though it can never accomplish what Jesus has already accomplished for us, nor is there any need for it to. [As an aside, I would like to ask why do so many people look at dropping money in an offering plate as a true sacrifice, or at least a 'better' sacrifice than providing for their family, giving to the poor, or giving of their time?]
The only one who can impress God is God. Under the law of love we do not use our actions as an attempted means of impressing God, or to earn favor or blessing. They are nothing more or less than an act of worship showing our eternal gratitude for what Jesus has already done for us (Romans 12:1).
Unlike the Old Law, under this new Law of Love, our sacrifices/offerings are not on occasion, they are continual. Everything we do, at every hour of the day, every day of the year should be a continuous sacrifice. Even the believing prisoner confined in chains can still offer this sacrifice...
The very next verse gives even more example of how this continual sacrifice can be lived out. Notice that none of this requires you to be in any manmade sanctuary or designated location.
Paul provides another specific example of how people were doing good and sharing... in reference to himself. Even as Hebrews 13:16 calls this a sacrifice; Paul, in the passage to follow, calls it both an offering and sacrifice. Using the descriptive term "fragrant" to describe this act could be an illusion to the way the Old Law required a continual offering of fragrant incense (Exodus 30:7-8) but I believe it was looking more to the fulfillment of this in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2). This would be in keeping with the end-times scene revealed to us from heaven which speaks of the prayers of the saints being bowls full of incense (Revelation 5:8). A life of service is as much a life of prayer as are spoken words.
While giving and providing for those in missions, and in preaching and teaching the gospel, may be distributed through the church (or those designated by the church), the responsibility of the New Law of Love rests solely with the individual. We give out of what we have, not to create hardship for ourselves and our families, but to help those in need; motivated (or compelled) totally out of love.
Paul compares the way of this new living sacrifice to the symbolism of a specific Old Testament sacrifice, the drink offering. The drink offering was in use before the giving of the law (Genesis 35:14) and during the time of the law (Numbers 28:7). During the time of God's judgment on Israel for their disobedience, one of the specific sins referenced was the pouring out of drink offerings to other gods (Jeremiah 32:29).
With Jesus using wine as symbolic for blood (Mark 14:23-25) and the law stating that life is in the blood (Deuteronomy 12:23-24), the picture of wine being poured out is that of a life being poured out. This is the symbolism that Paul employed concerning his own life in service to Jesus Christ.
So too our lives should be poured out in service, in doing good and sharing, fulfilling this new law of love. Every believer is in fulltime service to Jesus Christ regardless of their occupation! It's through the ministry of all believers, in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, that (by the grace of God) many more become offerings to God. The goal of Paul's ministry was to see more of these living sacrifices...
Written by Brent
of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2004.