Summary: The law of grace, the law of liberty, the law of love of the New Testament is the law that must distinguish the Christian from the world. Jesus took the whole law and summed it up in loving God and our neighbor.

The new bride said to her husband, "I took the recipe for that cake

you are eating out of my cookbook." "Good," responded the

husband, "It never should have been put in there in the first place."

Some feel this same way about the law being in the Bible. They see

it as only an infringement upon their freedom, and they wish it were

taken out. Others just ignore it, and they express the feelings of the

lawless like this poem of Alfred E. Houseman:

The laws of God, the laws of man,

He may keep that will and can:

Not I, let God and man be decree

Laws for themselves, and not for me.

He wants to be free from all law, but does not realize that this

leads to total bondage rather than freedom. The freedom of the

lawless eliminates everyone else's freedom. One person in a town

with the freedom to use anyone he chose for target practice

eliminates the freedom of all others to walk the streets. Total

freedom from law for one man creates chaos for all men. Paul says

the law exists to protect the law abiding from the lawless. This

includes all of us to some degree, for all men are at least partially

lawless. The value of the law is that it enables us to see our sin and

our lawless nature so that the Gospel of grace really is good news to

us. The law shows us what we are and condemns us. The Gospel

shows us what God is, and what He has done to save us in spite of

what we are. If we fail to respond to the Gospel, the law is still of

great value, for it restrains the evil in us from becoming active, and

if it fails to do that it meets out punishment as a last resort.

Paul makes it clear that the law is aimed at the lawless, and it is

only properly used when used to restrain the lawless. When law is

used in such a way that it becomes a burden to the just, then it is

being used improperly. The Pharisees did this with the law, and

they made it nothing but a heavy burden to the people. All of life

was bound by laws which restrained the freedom of those who were

not lawless, and this was not God's will. The law must be used in

such a way as to allow freedom of the individual to respond to God

in worship and service, and yet restrained him from abuses of

freedom and the inclination to go to extremes. Some in Ephesus had

neglected the value of the law for the Christian, and they went to far

in their freedom. In verses 19 and 20 Paul mentions two men who

rejected conscience and made shipwreck of the faith. They did not

allow the law to do for them what it was meant to do.

Paul is the best example of the balance that should come into

life under grace and law. He was a man free in Christ, and yet he

could say in verse 15 that he was the chief of sinners. He had no

delusions about himself. He knew that he still needed the restraining

power of the law in his life. He knew the law was essential to keep

the Christian conscience sensitive and aware of the need for

forgiveness and cleansing. Who can read the Sermon on the Mount

and not be made aware of the fact that he is still a sinner? When the

law does this it is good, and it is of value in the Christian life. If it

leads only to speculation it is vain and dangerous, for that can

destroy the purpose of it in keeping us aware that we are still


The law is still essential in giving us a standard by which we are

guided. Jesus said that if we keep His commandments we will abide

in His love. The New Testament has its commandments just as the

Old Testament did. To think that grace releases us from obedience

to law is to suggest that God has ceased to be a God of order for New

Testament believers. The fundamental meaning of the Greek word

nomos, which is translated law, is order. The law of nature is the

order of nature. The laws of the land are those rules that keep

society orderly by preventing chaos. God has always been a God of

order because it is a part of His very nature, and so law is eternal

and plays a role in everything God does.

Grace does not release us from law, but only from the bondage

of a law that could not be fulfilled. Jesus did not destroy the law,

but instead He fulfilled it, and He thereby released us from the futile

task of trying to be saved by being perfectly obedient to the law.

This is impossible because our very natures are lawless. We are still

under law, but it is no longer the basis for our relationship with

God. We are saved by grace freely, and so we do not have to fear

condemnation because we cannot keep the law. Now we seek to

keep the law, not to be saved, but in gratitude for being saved.

The person who does not drive 90 miles per hour in a 30 mile

per hour zone because of the penalty for doing so is under the Old

Testament type law in his thinking. The person who does not do so

because he cares about other people and property would not do it

even if there was no external law, and he is operating under New

Testament type law. Law that promotes love and stems from love is

law that is used lawfully for the Christian. If law hinders love and

burdens life, and destroys the joy of freedom in Christ, then it is a

perverted use of law, and it is an unlawful use of the law.

This is illustrated in the concept of the tithe in Scripture. The

Old Testament lays this down as a law, but the New Testament lays

down the principle of giving generously as the Lord blesses. The

Old Testament law leaves no room for freedom. It demands a

definite stated percentage. The New Testament leaves it open, so

there is the freedom to respond from the heart and not just from an

objective standard. This means some give less and some give more

than the ten percent, and this is better, for the gift then is dictated by

an internal response rather than by an external pressure. In the Old

Testament there was no choice, but in the New Testament there is no

compulsion but that of the inner desire to share in the work of God.

We are still under the law of giving, but it is now a law of liberty.

The Old Testament type law is still good for restraining the lawless

just because they fear the punishment, but it is not enough

for the Christian. As long as we do not steal because an eternal law

says not to, we are not being Christian, but are on the same level as

the non-believer. As long as we do not kill just because the law says

not to, we are no different than the children of disobedience who are

restrained by that same law. The Old Testament type law is still

essential for a world where man is fallen, for it is the basis for order

in society. All national law is external law, but all of this kind of law

can only restrain. It can never change the nature of persons. It is

good because it restrains the lawless, but it is inadequate to change

the lawless.

The law of grace, the law of liberty, the law of love of the New

Testament is the law that must distinguish the Christian from the

world. Jesus took the whole law and summed it up in loving God

and our neighbor. In other words, He, by transferring the whole

fulfillment of the law into the inner man through love, eliminated the

need for external laws ideally. If you operate in every circumstance,

and under every condition, in love, you do not need any external law

to restrain or compel you. If I see a need, I do not need a law to

compel me to do something if I love my neighbor as myself. If I have

opportunity to sin, I do not need a law to forbid it if I love God with

all my heart. Love fulfills all the law. Without love we can only

fulfill the law in an Old Testament manner by merely being


If I do not kill a man I am angry with I obey the law not to kill,

but I do not obey the law of love if I remain angry with him and

wish he was dead anyway. Jesus puts this on the level with murder.

If you are angry with a man enough to want to see him dead you

break the internal law of love, and you are guilty, even though you

do not break the eternal law. Jesus lifted law to the level of the

heart, and now the Christian is one who is judged and rewarded, not

according to his conformity to external rules, but to his obedience to

the law of love. However righteous one is in avoiding the breaking

of external laws, if he is not one who responds to God and man in

love, his righteousness is of the Old Testament variety, and is like

that of the Pharisees. Our righteousness must succeed theirs, and

this means ours must be a righteousness of the heart. We need to be

obedient to the law of love, which alone is the proof that Christ

dwells within us.

I am more and more convinced as I study Scripture and history

that the only reliable basis on which to test the reality of one's

salvation is love. Being orthodox, law abiding, and having all the

right knowledge does not get one past the level of the Pharisees.

Only obedience to the law of love reveals that one has been truly

born from above. A man is only really under grace when he is free

from the righteousness that is strictly a matter of obedience to

external law. He who is under grace is one who is led of the Spirit,

and when he obeys an external law it is not just out of fear of

penalty, but out of love for the law giver, and out of love for those

whom the law giver loves.

A Christian will be one who does not feel that God's law is a

burden. It will be a blessing when used lawfully. Someone said,

"Just laws are no restraint upon the freedom of the good, for the

good man desires nothing which a just law will interfere with."

Paul would agree, and so he does not want Christians to abuse the

law by making it a burden, nor does he want to see men ignore its

values. Legalism and libertinism are both dangerous forms of

bondage. Love alone leads to freedom with order, and it combines

the values of both grace and law. May God give us the wisdom to

avoid the two extremes and fulfill the law in love.