Law of Christ

OVERVIEW:

Christ not only interpreted the Law of Moses; He replaced the Law of Moses with a higher law with much higher moral standards.  Paul refers to this as the Law of Christ.  The Law of Christ is best illustrated by Matthew 5, where Christ quotes various Old Testament laws, and then, starting with the words, “But I say to you”, for each gives His alternative law, which is at a much higher moral level.  For instance:

He replaced the law against murder with a law against anger.

The revenge-law, which specified “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth”, He completely set aside, commanding His followers to “not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”.

This higher level Law reveals the Father’s heart.  The Father is perfect.  He loves His enemies and has compassion with people.  For that reason the Law of Christ requires His followers to do the same.

When Jesus was asked about the provisions for divorce in the Law of Moses, He referred to the creation account, stating that “the two shall become one flesh”.  When the Pharisees then asked why Moses allowed divorce, Jesus responded as follows:

Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (v8).

This teaches two principles:

Firstly, Christ’s Law is the law as it existed “from the beginning”.

Secondly the Law of Moses was a diluted / watered-down version of the law as it existed “from the beginning” to fit the corrupt condition of the nation.

The question then is, did Christ also replace the Old Testament Sabbath with a much higher Sabbath Law?

INTRODUCTION

This page discusses a principle that is seldom sufficiently appreciated, namely that Christ, through His teachings, did more than to interpret the Old Testament Law; He rather replaced the Law of Moses with a higher law with much higher moral standards.

CHRIST REPLACED THE LAW OF MOSES WITH A HIGHER SYSTEM OF ETHICS.

The Sermon on the Mount provides perhaps the best examples of this.  Here Christ quoted various Old Testament laws, and then, starting by saying, “But I say to you” (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39 and 44), gave a much elevated version of that law.

For instance, the law against adultery He replaced with a law against looking at a woman with lust:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mat 5:27-28)

This is not an interpretation of the seventh commandment, but on a much higher moral level.

The law against murder He replaced with a law against anger:

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘you shall not commit murder … But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty …” (Matthew 5:20-21).

Still talking about people that make one angry or scared, He said: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  Here Christ lifts the standard exponentially by defining even anger is a sin.  Instead of anger He requires us to love even our enemies.

Christ not only replaced the Ten Commandments; he also replaced other Old Testament laws, for instance, God gave to Moses the rule “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” (Lev. 24:20), but now Christ teaches that we should not take revenge:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

This was also how Christ lived and died.  Dying on the cross, in incredible pain and suffering, He still had time to think about His enemies:

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)

THE LAW OF CHRIST REPLACED THE LAW OF MOSES. 

Just before His ascension, Jesus said to His disciples:

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20)

Paul wrote “the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Cor. 14:37) and that he (Paul) is not “without the law of God” because he is “under the law of Christ” (1Cor.  9:21).  He urged Christ’s followers to “fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).  The “Law of Christ” refers Christ’s teachings, which is the higher level law which replaced the Law of Moses.

THE LAW OF CHRIST REVEALS THE FATHER’S HEART.

Christ said:

He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)

“I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me. (John 8:28)

I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak” (John 12:49).

It is therefore proposed that the “Law of Christ” is the pure law as it exists in the Father’s heart.  This is supported by Christ’s conclusion of His teachings in Matthew 5,

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

This means there is no anger or revenge in the Father.  He would never expect more from us that from Himself.  He requires us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35) because He loves His enemies.  He told us to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39) and “I desire compassion” (Matthew 9:13) because that is what the Father is like.  The Bible does sometimes present God as angry or seeking revenge, but it is proposed here that that is simply to explain the infinite One in a way which humans can understand.

God never punishes us because of bad things we have done in the past.  He does punish, but it is always with an eye on the future; to achieve better things for the future, for God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).

The Bible speaks about God’s wrath, and His wrath is a reality, but that does not mean that He becomes angry.  Without God we can do nothing.  He is the invisible Force that constantly protects and upholds us both physically and spiritually.  We are not even aware of all the dangers from which He constantly protects us. His wrath, therefore, is simply to give up those people for whom He can do nothing more.  In Romans 1, where Paul discusses “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v18), he three times wrote that “God gave them over” to their own passions and lusts (v24, 26, 28).  Also with respect to His people Israel, who were “bent on turning from Me”, God said:

How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I surrender you, O Israel? … My heart is turned over within Me, All My compassions are kindled” (Hosea 11:7-8)

Since the Father’s standards are infinitely high, our response should simply be like that of the tax collector:

“standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner’” (Luke 18:13)

GOD GAVE ISRAEL THE LAW IN A FORM WHICH THEY COULD UNDERSTAND.

But, one may protest, if Christ revealed God’s true law, why was the Law of Moses given at a lower level?  Why did God give Israel a watered-down law?

It is proposed that the law was scaled down to fit the corrupt condition of the nation.  Jesus explained this principle in Matthew 19.  When He was asked about the provisions for divorce in the Law of Moses, He said:

Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (v4-6)

Jesus therefore responded to their question by referring to the creation account, not the Law of Moses.  This implies that the Law of Christ is the law as it existed “from the beginning”.  For both marriage (Mat. 19:8) and the seventh day (Mark 2:27) Christ reached over the Law of Moses to derive His elevated principles or laws from the way that things were created to be.

The Pharisees then, still adamant to apply the Law of Moses, asked, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (v7)  Jesus then explained:

Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (v8).

Here we have confirmation that the original law was adapted to Israel’s limited abilities.  God elected Abraham and his seed to be the conduit of His grace to the peoples of the earth.  To Abraham He promised, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3).  But, by the time of Moses, Israel has become a corrupt and enslaved little nation; far removed from the sinless and regal human beings that God created.  Due to the deterioration that comes from thousands of years living in a world filled with sin, Israel would not have been able to keep or even to understand the Laws of God as it existed “from the beginning”.  Therefore, to rescue that weak little nation from their addictive and soul-destroying idolatrous practices.  He gave the Law to Moses in the form that was best for Israel due to their “hardness of heart”.  He gave laws to Israel according to their capacity.  Israel needed simple, clear and practical instructions, linked with severe penalties.

This principle is applicable to all of God’s interactions with His creatures.  God meets people where they are.  He speaks to His hearers words that they are able to understand.  He never expects more from people than what they are able to do or able to bear.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE LAW OF MOSES AND THE LAW OF CHRIST

The point is that Christ went beyond interpreting the Law of Moses; He replaced the Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments with a much higher system of ethics, here referred to as the “Law of Christ”.  Consider some differences between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ:

The Ten Commandments is God’s Law at Satan’s end of the spectrum; it expresses God’s principles in terms of the practical realities of a world controlled by the evil one.  Take, for instance, the commandment not to kill.  It is based on God’s law—to love the people around you as much as you love yourself—but with Satan’s and man’s fallen nature in mind.   The Ten Commandments therefore are but a dim reflection of His original and eternal law.  The Law of Christ describes what the Father wants us to strive for, namely to be like Him, which is unconditional love.

The Law of Moses is an adaptation of God’s eternal law to fit the condition of a specific nation, place and time; to fit the hardness of man’s heart (Mat 19:8).  The Law of Christ is the law as it existed from the beginning.

The Law of Moses is given at a level where sinful man would be able to keep it.  The Laws of Christ, being at such a high level, is impossible for man, in his current condition, to comply with.

The Law of Moses may be read as teaching that one can earn rewards from God.  The Law of Christ emphasizes grace (mercy).

The Law of Moses focuses mostly on external behavior, while Christ’s laws put the emphasis mostly on the drivers of external behavior, namely internal feelings, such as love, hate and compassion.

Most of the Ten Commandments are stated negatively (what you should not do), while most of Christ’s explanations of the laws are stated positively (what you should do: Matt. 5 – let you light shine – be reconciled – make friends quickly with your opponent – turn the other cheek, to mention a few).

The Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for Sabbath breaking (Ex. 31:14), murder (Ex. 21:12), striking or cursing one’s father or mother (Ex. 21:15; Ex. 21:17), adultery (Lev. 20:10), blaspheming the name of the LORD (Lev. 24:16) and various other transgressions.  But Christ said to the woman caught in adultery, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more” (John 8:11).

RELEVANCE

You may ask why the “Law of Christ” is discussed here as part of a discussion of Christ and the Sabbath.  The reason is that when we read what Jesus said about the Sabbath, we have to listen carefully.  If it can be shown that Christ, through His Sabbath teachings, explained the Sabbath principle as at a much higher moral level than the Law of Moses, then it would be possible to conclude that He replaced the Old Testament Sabbath with a much higher Sabbath Law.

Rebuttal of the article “The Law of Christ”

Sabbath: Table of Contents

Next: First two Sabbath healing miracles

25 thoughts on “Law of Christ”

  1. Hi i like the messages please send me sermons of different types and a few of funeral sermons .

    1. Dear Boniface, I do not have sermons available. I would also hesitate using the sermons of other people. We need to get our message from God, not from other people. The best advice I have heard, to prepare sermons, is to specialise in one particular book of the Bible. Select one book (or a number of chapters of a large book) and read it carefully every day for three months, in different translations, considering each word, and restating the concepts in your own words. It may be difficult at first, but after a few weeks it will grow on you. It will become for you a source of joy and a source of many sermons; with the added benefit that your sermons will grow out of God’s Word, and not be the opinions of other people. Andries

  2. sir,good day,im so amazing with your God given wisdom in Bible Interpretation. God bless your ministry

  3. Thank you so much my brother for interpreting God’s word to us not with your own understanding but by the word of God which was in the beginning, today & forever more. Because many people have today misunderstood the law of God & the Grace of God by JESUS CHRIST His son. May Our good Lord bless u in Jesus’ name AMEN!

    1. Request. By God’s word, may you please explain to us about dressing code & the general apearance of God’s children in the church & outside church. Servants & none servants of God in the church today.

      1. Dear Ntale, This is not something I have studied, but I would like to propose the principles from Romans 14, namely that the one that is strong in faith must consider the one that is weak in faith. The one that is strong in faith must not allow his faith to become an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.

  4. Indeed am learning much on how important it is to spend more time reading the BIBLE and praying to GOD for THE HOLY SPIRIT to reveal what I read.

  5. Jesus said “I did not came to destroy the law but to fulfil it” my question is
    1) What laws was Jesus talking about?
    2) How did he fulfill the law?
    3) Is there a difference between commandment and law?

    1. Dear Thomas, Jesus actually said: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (Matthew 5:17). When phrased like this, “Law” refers to the five books of Moses, and “the Law or the Prophets” refers to the entire Old Testament (e.g. Matthew 7:12)).

      Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39). When He was arrested “one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear” (Matthew 26:51. But Jesus said “Put your sword back into its place … How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (verses 52-55). After His resurrection He appeared to two on their way to Damascus. “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). I would propose that the Old Testament is essentially about Jesus, and that He fulfilled the Old Testament by fulfilling everything the Old Testament said about Him.

      I do not make a distinction between commandment and law.

      regards

    2. 1) There are two ways we can know which Law Jesus was referring to here. The first is simple: He doesn’t just say “the Law,” but “the Law and the Prophets.” These terms refer to two specific sections of the OT, the five books of Moses and the major and minor prophets.
      The other way is common sense. Jesus is a Jew talking to Jews. For Him to refer to “the Law” and intend for that term to refer to anything other than what everyone around Him understood it to be, which is the five books of Moses, or God’s Law, that would be both confusing. For Jesus to have taught contrary to His Father’s Law even in the slightest way (not one jot or tittle) would disqualify Him from being the Messiah according to Dt. 13:1-5.

      2) The word translated as “fulfill” at Mt. 5:17 in most English translations is a deliberate mistranslation to force that verse to fit a preconceived doctrine, namely that Jesus abolished the Law. The first problem this presents is that it makes verse 17 self-contradictory. The second problem is that the Greek word translated as fulfill doesn’t mean fulfill as we understand that word today. The word is pleroo (pleh-rah-oh) and means to bring [something] to its most complete state, which is what fulfill used to mean long ago (fill to the full). So the idea of Christ “fulfilling” the Law being understood as Christ nullifying is just bad doctrine based on intentionally sloppy translation.

      3) Yes and no. The Hebrew word for Law is torah and the Hebrew word for commandment is mitzvah, but the only difference is nuance. “The Law” is synonymous with “His commandments.” For a great example of this, take a look at Psalm 119 where God uses a variety of words to all refer to the same thing: His Law.

    1. Dear Fafa, technically, we should worship every day. But I think you are asking whether Christians should meet on Saturday or Sunday. Then my answer is that the Bible does not prescribe a day of meeting. The Ten Commandments prescribe the seventh day as a day of rest. If you ask me whether Christians should rest on Saturday or Sunday, then my answer is that rest is an Old Testament concept; Christ converted the seventh day into a day of work, but to work for the spiritual, emotional and physical health of people, including oneself. Let me not respond to the question whether this is for Saturday or Sunday because I must still publish much on that topic.

    2. Fafa, always base your actions and beliefs on scripture. For example, we read that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, and that is usually interpreted as meaning that we don’t have a weekly Sabbath observance, but does that verse say that the weekly Sabbath observance is done away with, or that we should not do it? No, it does not. So let me give you a verse from God’s word: “‘For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. You shall not do any work; it is a sabbath to the LORD in all your dwellings.” Lev. 23:3 Take a look at Dan. 7:25.

      1. Dear Thomas, you must allow the New Testament to interpret the Older Testament. The New Testament is clear that certain laws, such as the sacrifices, are no longer relevant. So, how do you decide what Old Testament laws remain? As argued in the Law of Christ article, my view is that the Old Testament Law has been replaced, done away with and abolished in its entirety. It has been replaced with the Law of Christ. Christ’s Law is not merely an interpretation of the Law of Moses. Christ’s Law is God’s Law as it always existed. The Law of Moses, and also the Ten Commandments, were a special adaptation of God’s eternal law suitable for that weak group of slaves which God called out of Egypt to be His special people.

  6. Dear Thomas.
    I want to ask you, if the moral laws or the Ten Commandments were abolished by Christ, then why do we have some part e.g murder. stealing and adultery prohibited in some national laws?

    1. Dear Son-of-the-right-hand, Christ replaced the Laws of the Old Testament with much more demanding Laws. Murder has become a law against anger (Mat. 5:20-21). Stealing is now replaced with a law to give to the one who has need (Eph. 4:28). Adultery is now looking at a woman with lust (Mat. 5:27-28). Therefore the two of us are both guilty and our only hope is God’s grace.

  7. May God almighty who created heaven and earth bless your ministry abundantly for interpreting law christ through worldwide.

  8. Mr. van Niekerk, I have prepared a lengthy rebuttal to your piece on the Law of Christ. Would you be willing to post it for consideration and comment by yourself and others?

    1. Hi Thomas, I will be very interested to read your rebuttal. I promise to publish it and I do not mind that you disagree with me, but we will have to make sure that the document complies with certain quality standards. For instance, one thing that I found important is that it must contain a summary.

  9. Mr. van Niekerk,

    It was nice reading your blog and I liked it when you pointed out that Christ interpreted the law. However, one should not say that Christ replaced the law. When Christ explained that, when we’re angry at someone, we already commit murder, He did not allow us to commit murder. The requirement of the law, of not committing murder, remains.

    As you have mentioned, Christ elevated the law to the level of “love our neighbour”. Christ also explained how we should keep the Sabbath. Christ interpreted the sabbath and elevated it to “love your God with all your mind…” but, as I pointed out above, He did not “replace” the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. To keep it holy, we should treat it different than other days. We just have to remember that Sabbath was made for man and it shouldn’t be a burden for us. After all, how can it be a burden if you keep the seventh day holy out of love?

    You mentioned that God’s law is eternal. Christ’s role was to explain it to us and fulfil it, but not to replace it. The law of God is perfect, righteous and Holy. (Ps 19:7, Ps 119:172, Rom 7:12). Christ did not replace the Sabbath with a watered down commandment, but explained to us how it should be a joy to keep it holy and not keep us from doing the good things we should be doing on that day.

    1. Dear Karl, your point of departure seems to be that the Law of Moses is still applicable to Christians. In my view that is not so. Consider the decision of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. Consider the letter to the Galatians, which is a strong argument against circumcision and the Law of Moses.

      If the Law of Moses is not applicable to us, we cannot say that Jesus interpreted the Law; He taught us God’s eternal law as it existed from the beginning.

      The basis for keeping the Sabbath is not the Law of Moses, but Christ’s teachings.

      The other day I heard a preacher say that in Christ’s time the conflict was about how to keep the Sabbath, but in our time the issue is what day to keep. What do you think?

      1. Andries, the decision at the Council of Jerusalem was that gentiles should keep Torah, or did you miss chapter 15 verse 21? They–gentiles coming into the faith–should essentially keep the dietary law, keep the sexual purity laws, go to synagogue on the seventh day, and hear the Torah taught. Regarding Galatians, I think you have it backward. What is your understanding, for example, of Galatians 3:10? Peace.

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