January 2019: I recently revisited some articles I wrote several years ago and made some necessary changes to my understanding of the “new law” of the New Covenant. These center on what Jesus was doing when He gave His “But I say unto you” statements in Matthew 5. Or, to put it another way, these changes concern whether Jesus was giving Christians a new law to obey.
In chapter 8 of his Gospel, John tells us about the incident of the woman the scribes and Pharisees caught in the act of adultery and brought to Jesus. Most people who have read John 8 likely remember that Jesus ended His encounter with the woman by telling her that He didn’t condemn her, and, “Go your way. From now on, sin no more.” We see forgiveness, but we also see a command to stop sinning. This leaves a question: Was Jesus’ forgiveness dependent on the woman’s obedience? The answer to this question teaches us much about the relationship between grace and works.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Although it is alluded to in other Scriptures, this is the only place in all the Bible that uses the phrase “law of Christ.” What is the law of Christ? As Christians, we should have more than vague ideas about something so connected to Jesus Christ as His law. Is the law of Christ a set of commandments like the Ten Commandments? Is it one command, love, that can be expressed in slightly more detail as “bear one another’s burdens”? Is it the law that Jeremiah prophesied God would put in our inward parts and write on our hearts? (Jeremiah 31:33). Let’s find out.
Do you know that apples and oranges are not the same thing? Sure you do. I’m sure you also know that elephants and crocodiles are not the same. What about light and dark? That’s right, they’re not the same. These are pretty simple concepts. It is amazing, then, that so many preachers have such a gigantic problem with understanding that the law of the Old Covenant and the law of the New Covenant are not the same. The Bible clearly distinguishes the two.
A. The question stems from a statement I made in another article. I began by quoting a nineteenth-century Baptist preacher:
Notice what the Baptist preacher, Gilbert Beebe, wrote in 1869: “There are but few lessons in the gospel, which the saints have been more slow to learn and fully comprehend, than that of our release from the law, and marriage to Christ” (“Loosed From the Law“).
Beebe’s claim that this is a lesson that the saints are slow to learn can be seen in the battle Christian conservatives have fought to allow the Ten Commandments to be posted in public places. I understand the issues of religious freedoms and free speech involved, but why the Ten Commandments? Why not the Sermon on the Mount? Or the Golden Rule, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31). Another example can be heard in many churches every Sunday morning. If you attend one of these churches, you will likely see the pastor stand at the pulpit and read the Ten Commandments every Sunday morning. But this is an error.
“Dead to the Law“
In part 1, we saw that Catholic and Reformed theologians (as well as others) divide the Mosaic Law into three parts—civil, ceremonial, and moral. They then assert that, while what they call the civil and ceremonial laws are not binding on Christians, the moral laws are still binding. But the Bible reveals the Mosaic Law as a unified whole that cannot be divided. It is either all still binding—and we should be offering sacrifices, not wearing mixed fabric clothing, putting fringes on our garments, not letting bastards into our assemblies, etc.—or none of it is.
I want to set the record straight concerning the New Covenant and the law. Several times, in just the past couple of weeks alone, I have had it made clear to me that many people simply do not grasp the relationship of the New Covenant to the laws of the Old Covenant, specifically the Ten Commandments. Even prominent theologians, who should know the distinctions of each system of theology, get this relationship wrong. Possibly because of this weak understanding, there has now been a move to try to reach a compromise between New Covenant Theology and Reformed Theology.