The Gospel of Christ and the "Law" of God
Some are erroneously teaching that when the word "law" is used in the New Testament it is always referring to the "Torah". However, to determine how the term "Law" is used in the New Testament one must always consider the historical and linguistic context of the particular passage of scripture under consideration. There are different uses of the term "law" to at times mean 1.) the Decalogue, 2.) the entire Torah at times, 3.) the Mosaic old covenant of "obey and live" at times, 4.) the Levitical ceremonies at times, 5.) the "carnal nature" at times, and 6.) the "new man in Christ".
Romans Paul throughout his epistle to the Romans varies in his use of the term "law". In Romans the second and third chapter he uses the Decalogue to define sin and bring all the world into condemnation. Even those Gentiles who do not have the written law show that they have a general knowledge of the law of right and wrong "written in their hearts" which convicts them of sin and guilt. It is in the context of using the Law as a definer of sin that Paul speaks in Romans 1-6.
Then in Romans 7 and 8 Paul refers to the "law of sin" and the "law of the Spirit" to refer to the old carnal sin nature and the new spiritual nature that is implanted within the heart of those who are newly "married to Christ". Paul in Romans makes it clear that, because all are born in sin and continually fall short of the Law's righteousness, all must be "justified" (to be set right before the Law) by faith alone in the sinless life and atoning death of Christ. It is in this context that Paul says that Christ is the "end of the Law for righteousness (justification) for all who believe". To be "delivered from the Law" in Pauline terminology is to be set free from the penalty of the Law and from using ones obedience to the Law for ones justification before God.
Paul makes it very clear that the life of a Christian is one of continual warfare between his new spiritual mind and his old carnal mind. The old nature, the flesh, is at enmity with the Law of God while the new nature which is born of the Spirit delights in the Law and seeks to obey the commandments — not to be justified by this obedience though but rather because the Christian is already justified by faith in the doing and dying of Christ. Paul expresses this in Romans 7:12-8:2
"Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. 13 Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin , working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin . 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law , that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin . 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death."
The moral "Law" of God, the Ten Commandments, in Pauline teaching is holy and good. It is spiritual and it reaches not merely to the outward deeds of the individual but even to the inner motives of the heart. The failure of those who seek to be accepted before God on the basis of their obedience to the Law is that they fail to see only the outward letter of the Law and are blind to the spiritual requirements of the Law to be loving and kind even in the very depths of the heart. No one is able to perfectly fulfill the righteousness demanded by God's Law, because even our good works motivated by the Holy Spirit need to have the "salt" of the imputed righteousness of Christ added to them in order for them to be accepted before God. Thus Paul could say of the Judaising circumcision party who were seeking to distort the apostolic Christian faith that they were "ignorant of the righteousness of God" and were seeking to be accepted on the basis of their performance to the letter of the commandments.
Once one understands Paul's over-all thesis, one can understand that when Paul says "we establish the Law", he is declaring that by obedience to the Law no flesh can be justified, however Paul can also say that through the Spirit, God writes the Law upon the heart of the believer and the "righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in us" and begins to be revealed in the life of the believer.
Philippians Paul always realizes that this inward righteousness that the Spirit places in the heart of the born-again Christian is never able to justify us, because the sanctified obedience of the Christian is always in need of continual justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ. Paul himself never claims to have reached perfect righteousness in his sanctified life but affirms that he continually reaches out for it.
"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect, but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." Phil 3:12-14
In these very revealing thoughts, Paul shows that he continually is reaching out to reveal the perfect life of Christ in his personal sanctified life which he affirms that he already has by imputation by having been justified in Christ.
Hebrews It is mostly in his epistle to the Hebrews where he uses "law" to refer to the old covenant and the Levitical ceremonies of the Torah which have passed away and met their fulfillment in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the New Covenant which has replaced the old "law" with its symbols, shadows, and sacrifices. But even here Paul speaks of writing the "law" in the hearts of the believer in Christ whose sins are forgiven by faith in the atoning death of Christ's sinless life.
Ephesians In Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, he is clearly stating that the new covenant has abolished the prohibitive rules of the Levitical law which outlawed uncircumcised Gentiles from worshipping God.
"For he is the peace between us, and has made the two (Jews and Gentiles) into one and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, actually destroying in his own person the hostility caused by the rules and decrees of the Law." Eph: 2:14,15
In stating this Paul is declaring that the rules requiring circumcision of all Gentiles are made void in Christ. Paul is in no way inferring that the Ten Commandments are made void in these verses.
James The epistle of James is dealing entirely with the Decalogue. The "Law" of which James speaks is clearly the commandments of God as they relate to the daily life of the believer. James makes clear that those who are justified believers in Christ will be seeking to obey the Ten Commandments. Here the ceremonial Levitical law is not being urged upon the believing community but rather the moral Law of God as a guide in the moral decisions of all who name the name of Jesus. The repentant forgiven believer in Christ will be continually seeking to turn away from his transgressions of God's holy Law. Now as a follower of Christ he is to be continually seeking to conform his life to the commandments of God. Thus James could say that a professed faith in Christ which does not embrace the commandments of God as the rule of ones life is a dead counterfeit faith.
Summary In considering the use of the term "Law" in the New Testament, it is very clear that for anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus, there can be no talk of separating the "law of the Spirit" in Christian sanctification from obedience to the good and holy and just moral Law of God, the Ten Commandments. This can only be attempted by those who foolishly fail to understand Paul's gospel of the justification of death-deserving repentant sinners by the unmerited grace of God through faith alone in the sinless life and atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary.
For the repentant sinner, his new born-again life in the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ begins in faith in the atoning blood of Christ and ends in faith in the atoning blood of Christ. And the fruit of this glorious gospel of God's unmerited grace is that the righteousness of the Law will begin to be fulfilled in those indwelt by the Holy Spirit and who begin to walk in the newness of life unto all good works and deeds of righteousness.