What is the function of biblical law in the believers life? There are typically two streams that run with a view of God’s law. One is legalism, which teaches that an individual can earn favor with God by his obedience to the law. The other view is antinomianism, which teaches that we are saved by grace and are not longer under the law. In the midst of this confusion perhaps there is a better way to view the law of God. Let’s allow God Himself to define the law’s role in our lives and not our preconceived ideas.
The Law Kills Us
Those who are genuine believers in Christ know that their salvation cannot be grounded in their own works of the law, “...not by works of righteousness which we did ourselves, but according to His mercy He saved us,...that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:5-7). The believer’s justification before God is grounded instead in the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:11; Rom. 5:19); it is His imputed righteousness that makes us right before the judgment seat of God (2 Cor. 5:21). “A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28). The grace of God is what saves us, “by grace have you been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God--not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8). The Scripture clearly is antagonistic to legalism. So, what role then does the law play in our salvation.
The word of God instructs that the law kills the believer, “I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died” (Rom. 7:9); “who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end,” (2 Cor. 3:6-7). The law of God convicts us of our sin and brings the death sentence upon us. This is not a physical death or even a spiritual death but rather a covenantal death. The law of God strikes a deathblow to the covenant with Satan that we once had and then after the covenantal death we are resurrected to new life under the New Covenant. The law does not save us. Grace does. Grace does not eliminate the law (Rom. 3:31). Once in the New Covenant a believers delight should be in the law of God (Ps. 119:62-64). What role then does the law have once a person is resurrected to new life?
The Law is Not a Burden
The Apostle John puts the law in the proper place in the Christian’s life, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). This verse says two things in particular that pulls the proverbial rug out from under the antinomians feet. First, it connects loving God to keeping His commandments. Love is a hijacked word in our present culture. It is viewed only as a subjective sensual feeling. God on the other hand defines love as an objective obedient action. To display that a believer loves the God they claim to serve they will strive to keep His commandments. Love is displayed by keeping the law of God. Second, this verse says that God’s commandments are not burdensome. To the believer who has been changed by grace, keeping God’s commandments is not a burden. It is a delight! The law of God has been written on their hearts, “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Rom. 2:15). Paul repeated this point in the book of Hebrews, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds” (Heb. 10:16). One sign of a person being a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) is they will no longer view the law as a burden and will view it as a guide for righteous living.
There is a better way to view God’s law. I hope that is clear now. The law of God kills us driving us to Christ and then in the New Covenant relationship with Christ He drives us to the law as a guide for our lives. Law and grace are not antagonistic with one another. They are harmonious.
Contributor / Eric Stewart
Eric Stewart is the Lead Pastor of ONElife Church in Flint, MI.