Mysteries of the Kingdom

            in awe of scripture, viewing it through the lens of the kingship of Jesus

Christians Under the Law

    I was in the promised land, the great state of Texas. It is the only corner of America where consumer goods can be sold for twice as much if the manufacturer just shapes it to look like the state in which it is sold. We consumed Texas shaped waffles for breakfast, Lone Star beer with lunch, and Texmex dinner. Stopping at the tire store before returning to my home state, I was greeted by a Texas sized smile on a jovial young tire salesman.

    Once I had handed over the car keys, our conversation turned to spiritual things. I learned all too quickly that he ascribed to Seventh Day Adventism, as he challenged me to defend worshipping on Sundays. I did not take the bait, shifting instead to discuss our mutual faith in Jesus. His challenge however, is one with which many Christians have a very hard time. Can we in good conscience really enjoy bacon and work on Saturdays while also claiming to follow Jesus? He is after all, the One who said:

"Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
(Matthew 5:19)

    One school of Protestant theology is called "Dispensationalism." Dispensational theology (or "DT" for short) avoids the tension in the law by claiming that the law applies only to Israel. They say the law was not "dispensed" or "given" to the church. DT does not seem to fully dodge the problem though, since Jesus said "Whoever . . ." in Matthew 5:19, not, "The Israeli who . . ."

    Another prominent school of theology is called "Covenant Theology" or "CT" for short. CT views the law as fulfilled by Jesus, with the "moral" commandments continuing while the "ceremonial" commandments no longer apply according to CT, because the ceremonial commands point to Jesus whose work has been completed. I don't believe CT solves the question any better than DT though. After all, Jesus said, ". . . these commandments . . ." He did not say, ". . . these moral commandments . . ." The distinction between moral and ceremonial commandments does not seem to dodge the issue.

    Rather than dismiss the law of Moses, Jesus threatened in Matthew 5:17 to "fill up" the law. A lot of Bible translations say "fulfill" in that verse instead of "fill up," but the word literally means "fill up." Matthew 5:18 says, "fulfilled" in some translations which is correct since it draws from a different Greek word. Notice what Jesus did in the rest of Matthew chapter five: He filled up the law so that it became harder than ever to obey:
  • He filled up the law against murder so that hatred, name-calling, and even disagreements make people subject to God's wrath.
  • He filled up the law against adultery so that even a lustful glance puts someone in danger of hell.
  • He filled up the eye-for-an-eye law so that if anyone makes an unjust demand of us, we have to comply with their demand and give even more than they demand.
    King Jesus did not let us avoid the law based on a dispensation or a distinction between moral and ceremonial. He filled up the law so that it demands more than even a tire salesman from Texas could perform.

    When police officers pull speeders off of the road, they have the power to condemn speeders because of road signs. Without signs showing a speed maximum, police officers cannot condemn people of speeding. In Romans 5:13, Paul said something very similar: "For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law." Driving 75 miles an hour on a residential road is sin (error), but driving 75mph past a 45mph road sign is rebellion.

    When Jesus filled up the law, He made sure everyone knew they were not just sinners, but rebels. Until He filled up the law, I could have told myself that hating someone is bad, but at least it is not rebellion against God. Until He filled up the law, I could have told myself that a lustful gaze is bad, but at least it is not rebellion against God. Thanks to the preaching of Jesus, we now know that everyone born of Adam is a rebel against God's law. The purpose of the law is to make impossible for anyone to defend themselves:

"Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God."
(Romans 3:19)

    The only way to get out from under the law is to die. In Romans 7, Paul said:

"Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? . . . Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ . . . we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter."

    We died through the body of Jesus in order to be free from the letter of the law so that we can serve God in the spirit of the law. The official Greek text of Eastern Orthodoxy does not capitalize "spirit" in Romans 7:6. We serve God with the help of the Holy Spirit, but we serve in the spirit of the law. That is to say, we serve in the divine intent of the law.

    It's like the road signs on the highway no longer apply to us, but the purpose of the road signs still apply. In the oldness of the letter of the law, a police officer can write me a ticket for driving 56mph in a 55mph zone. In the newness of the spirit of the law, I have to drive safely. If everyone on the road is traveling 70mph, it is not safe for me or for the drivers around me to drive 55mph. If I drive 65mph for the safety of everyone on the road, then officer can ticket me for speeding. Yet if everyone else was traveling 70mph, and I drove 65mph for the sake of their safety, I served my community in the spirit or intent of the law: public safety.

    When the law says to rest on the Sabbath day, it speaks to those who are under the law. The spirit of the law is to worship God every moment of everyday. We Christians are not under the letter of resting and worshipping all day on Saturdays. We serve in the spirit of resting in King Jesus and worshipping God all day, every day.

"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."
(Matthew 11:28-29)

 "Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
(1Thessalonians 5:16-18)

    The only way to escape the law is to die. The tire salesman in Texas was unaware that I had died and was free from the letter of the law to serve instead in the divine intent of the law.
Not one jot or tittle of the law has passed away. As Christians, we serve in the divine intent of the entire law and not in the letter of it.

Except where otherwise noted, all Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
"Christians Under the Law" by Matthew Bryan was first published at
November 11th, 2015. All rights reserved.