The Law of Christ (1)
A reader asks, “I would like to ask your view of the law of Christ (I Cor. 9:20-21). What exactly is the law of Christ and how does it, if at all, differ from the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament?”
There is much confusion on this issue, especially in the controversy over the error of Antinomianism. There is a growing notion abroad, fanned by the Federal Vision, that the good works of the law have to be performed by the believer and added to faith in order to secure salvation. It is all part of a conditional salvation, which makes our salvation rest on our works. Those who deny conditional salvation are then slandered as hyper-Calvinists. The truth concerning God’s moral law plays an important part in the controversy but there are few who understand it properly, i.e., biblically.
The Decalogue was given to Israel from Mount Sinai. It is a codification of God’s law that is imbedded in the creation itself. According to Romans 1:18-32 and Romans 2:14-15, even the pagans, who do not have the sacred Scriptures, know the law in their consciences but God gave it to His people from Sinai on two tables of stone.
The Ten Commandments are, therefore, God’s unchangeable moral will for man whom He originally created in His own likeness. The Triune God formed every creature with the specific purpose of glorifying Him in its own unique way. Man was created to glorify God by living a holy life as He Himself is holy, and thus representing the Most High as head of the creation.
That man fell does not change the law in any respect, as the Arminian alleges. The keeping of the law is the fundamental way in which man must live as God’s friend-servant and that remains true for all time. Whether man can keep that law or not makes no difference. This is the conditio sine qua non for man to have fellowship with God. Even though man’s depravity is so complete that he cannot even will to do what God commands, he is still required to keep the law and violation of it means everlasting hell.
God is the infinitely holy One. He created man in His own image, which included holiness. If man (in Adam) refused to obey that law and fell into total depravity, this is not God’s fault but man’s own fault. That law remains unchangeably the same throughout history and into eternity. There is no difference between the law of the Old Testament and the New.
God had another purpose in mind in giving Israel His law from Sinai. God had eternally determined to save a church out of the fallen human race through His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The law was given as a schoolmaster to lead Israel to Christ (Gal. 3:24). To fallen Adam and Eve, God promised the seed of the woman who would crush the head of Satan and deliver His people from the misery of sin and death (Gen. 3:15). Believing Israel lived in constant anticipation of the coming of that Deliverer.
But they often had to be taught to look for their Redeemer, even as we need to be taught the same as we await our Lord’s second coming. One means was the law, which, as Paul expresses it, was a schoolmaster to bring the people to Christ.
It worked this way. God had, in His saving grace, so worked in the hearts of His people that they heard and learned that salvation included a keeping of the law. “Do this,” God had said, “and live.” But believing Israel, hearing this, could only cry out in anguish, “We can’t, we can’t.” And the law said, “Cursed is he that keepeth not all the words of this law” (cf. Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10). It was to them that the gospel came: “Look to Him who is to come. Hope in the promise of God who will send the Redeemer!”
The words of our Lord must have come as refreshing water to the thirsty soul, when He cried to those who were labouring and heavily laden with the curses of the law crushing them, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). “You do not have to keep the law in order to become God’s people. I have come to do what you cannot do!”
The law still has that purpose today, as our beloved Heidelberg Catechism has it: “Whence knowest thou thy misery? Out of the law of God” (Q. & A. 3).
The law says, “Keep me and live, and accursed art thou if thou keepest me not.” All I can say is, “I can’t, I can’t. Woe is me.” It is the gospel that comes with good news: “Go to Christ, go to Him. In Christ and His work, not yours, is hope to be found.”
When I go to church, it is after a week of toil in which I have sinned. The burden of sin weighs heavily on my soul. I do not come to church, in the first place, to hear the minister say to me, “You must do this; this is your calling. I admonish you that you must fulfil this command to come to God.” My only response is, “I tried. I can’t. Is it all hopeless?” I go to church to hear what Christ did for me! That is the gospel! That is what I want to hear! That is what I need!
But there is more. Christ not only paid the necessary cost of eternal hell for us but He also earned for us the fullness of salvation, now and eternally in heaven. While this includes all the blessings of salvation, I want to call your attention to one in particular.
After a description of Israel’s terrible sins in Ezekiel 16, God speaks of His covenant promise in verses 60-63. God says that His anger towards us for breaking His law is pacified (63). Besides this covenant blessing of the forgiveness of sins, there is another blessing of the new covenant: God’s writing His law in our hearts.
Hebrews 8:8-10, quoting Jeremiah 31:31-33, says, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel ... Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers … For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.”
It is the same law given to Adam at his creation and codified for Israel at Sinai that is now written in our minds and on our hearts. That is, salvation by Christ has as one of its wonderful blessings the spiritual ability to keep God’s law (though never perfectly in this life).
By His irresistible grace in the new covenant, God has written on our hearts the law of love, love for Him and our neighbour, as summed in the Decalogue of Moses. For us, the Ten Commandments have become the law of Christ! Prof. Hanko