Understanding the ‘Law of Christ’ settles the confusion about which Biblical laws apply to God’s people today. Examples of this confusion:
- There are 613 ‘laws of Moses’ in the Old Testament, including the 10 Commandments.
- Do these laws apply to Christians today? If so, which ones and why?
- Should we keep the Sabbath on Saturday?
- What about ‘unclean foods? May we now eat bacon and shrimp?
- Should Christians celebrate God’s feasts–Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles?
- Or, are we free from laws because grace now covers us?
The apostle Paul clearly answered the question about today’s applicability of the Mosaic law by saying, ‘I’m no longer under the law of Moses. Instead, I am under the Law of Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 9:20-21, paraphrased)
But in settling one question Paul raised another… What is the Law of Christ?
In this article, you’ll learn:
- What the Law of Christ is;
- Why it’s the only law that applies to Jesus’ followers today, and;
- How you can walk in accordance with the Law of Christ.
In summary, what is the Law of Christ?
- The Law of Christ is God’s law under the New Covenant, as promised through the prophet Jeremiah.
- In contrast with the Old Covenant’s Law of Moses (written on tablets of stone), the Law of Christ is alive, written on each born-again believer’s heart.
- Under the New Covenant, we’re progressively sanctified by God’s Spirit as we follow the Law of Christ
- The Law of Christ is the path to holiness, spiritual maturity, and eternal life.
- It is the Holy Spirit’s personal mentoring program, tailored to each disciple’s daily situation.
The Law of Christ
The Law of Christ isn’t a set of regulations. It’s not that kind of law. Instead, think of the law of gravity and you’ll be closer to it.
The Law of Christ is the Hard Road That Leads to Life
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.Matthew 7:13-14
So, every human chooses to walk on one of two roads in their life:
- The easy road leads to destruction. Most people choose this wide and easy road that “leads to destruction.”
- But the hard road leads to life. Everyone Christian should walk this road, but Jesus said only a few will do it.
Why is it Hard?
The Law of Christ is not hard because it’s rocky, uphill, or dangerous.
It’s hard because it’s a spiritual road, and we can’t navigate it with our physical senses. We must walk this road by faith, not by sight.
Boundaries vs Centerline
Most laws define boundaries for behavior. We sin if we go past one of these boundaries. This is the mindset of people who practice Torah observance. (The Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament.)
In contrast… instead of trying not to violate a legal boundary, the Law of Christ leads us down the centerline, in righteousness. It doesn’t tell us what not to do. Instead, the Spirit leads us in righteousness, telling us what we should be doing. It’s not about keeping us from sinning. The Law of Christ is about learning to walk in righteousness.
Staying in the center of this path requires us to continually listen and follow the indwelling Holy Spirit–like a blind person being led by the hand. As we’re led by the Spirit, on the centerline, we’re walking in the Law of Christ.
Most Christian believers are carnally-minded. By ‘carnal’ I don’t mean sinful. They’re carnal because they only use their natural senses. They don’t submit their minds to the Holy Spirit’s control. As a result, they’ll inevitably veer into one of the ditches on either side of the road.
- The ditch on the right is legalism. Legalism says we must follow a set of laws or traditions to please God.
- The ditch on the left is lawlessness. Lawlessness says laws no longer apply to us because we’re under grace.
I’ll discuss legalism and lawlessness in more detail later. But first, let’s focus on our main topic–the Law of Christ.
What Is The Law of Christ?
The Law of Christ is God’s ‘New Covenant law’
Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant age during the Last Supper, just before His crucifixion.
This cup is the New Covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you.Luke 22:20. (Also, see Matthew 26:28 and Hebrews 9:2)
The Law of Christ is the law of the New Covenant, but God only mentions it in these two verses:
- “To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.” (1 Cor 9:21)
- “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal 6:2)
Only Two References?
Many will wonder, “If the Law of Christ is so pivotal and important, why doesn’t the Bible refer to it more, and why doesn’t the Bible specifically define it?”
These are fair questions. I believe the two scant references to the Law of Christ, and its undefined nature, are intentional on God’s part… to prevent men from making it into another set of religious rules, which is our natural tendency.
I Will Put My Law Within Them, and I Will Write It On Their Hearts
The prophet Jeremiah wrote,
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”Jeremiah 31:31-34
Contrast Between Old and New Covenants
God wrote the Mosaic Law on tablets of stone. But, under the New Covenant, God now writes the Law of Christ on our hearts. The Law of Christ is the living Word of God, whispered by the Holy Spirit, within each born-again believer’s heart.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.Hebrews 4:12
Five Reasons Why God Replaced the Old Covenant and its Law
1. The Old Covenant and its Laws were Conditional
The New Covenant is unconditional, but the Mosaic Covenant was conditional.
The apostle Paul taught that the New Covenant’s primary foundation is the Abrahamic covenant—not the Mosaic Covenant. This is huge! It fundamentally determines how God redeems His people.
Let’s briefly compare them and you’ll see why this is true.
The Abrahamic covenant was unconditional
That is, God promised to bless Abraham and his seed, who is Christ (per Galatians 3:16) regardless of Abraham’s actions.
“By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand, which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies. And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”Genesis 22:16-18
The main point here is that God promised (and then swore an oath) to bless Abraham and his seed–who is Christ. And, this promise was unconditional.
In contrast, the Mosaic Covenant was conditional
God would bless Israel if they obeyed all His commandments, or He’d curse them if they disobeyed.
Now if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God and are careful to follow all His commandments I am giving you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings will come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the voice of the LORD your God.Deuteronomy 28:1-2
If, however, you do not obey the LORD your God by carefully following all His commandments and statutes I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.Deuteronomy 28:15
Therefore, since our salvation is based on the unconditional Abrahamic Covenant, it isn’t dependent on our ability to earn it through obedience to the law. Instead, we’re saved by believing God’s promise, just as “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.” See Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, 4:9, 4:22, Galatians 3:6, and James 2:23.
2. Carnal Man Can Not Fully Obey the Law
In Romans 7:12 Paul wrote, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.” However, nobody (except Jesus) could keep the Mosaic Law perfectly because we all have hearts of stone.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.Romans 3:23, Ecclesiastes 7:20
3. God Intended the Mosaic System to be Temporary Until the Promised Child Came
According to the passage below, God always intended the Mosaic Covenant and its laws to be temporary. The (conditional) Mosaic Covenant and Law did not replace or change the (unconditional) Abrahamic Covenant in any way. The Mosaic Covenant and laws were only needed until Jesus came; He is the ‘child who was promised.’
This is what I am trying to say: The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise. For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise. Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised.Galatians 3:15-19 NLT
4. When the Priesthood is Changed the Law Must be Changed As Well
The Levitical priesthood (and Mosaic Law) could not make men perfect, but our new High Priest and the Law of Christ can make us perfect. Jesus is now our High Priest according to the Order of Melchizedek, and we’re now under His Law.
Now if perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on this basis the people received the law), why was there still need for another priest to appear—one in the order of Melchizedek and not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed as well.Hebrews 7:11-12
5. The Law of Christ Supersedes the ‘Obsolete’ Mosaic Covenant and Law
For all the reasons above, the Law of Christ supersedes and replaces the Law of Moses and its Levitical priesthood.
In speaking of a New Covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.Hebrews 8:13
After becoming obsolete because of the cross, the Mosaic Covenant, its laws, and the Levitical priesthood languished in Jerusalem another 40 years, then ‘vanished away’ in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the Temple and exiled the surviving Israelites to the four corners of the earth.
The Old Covenant and Laws are Still Scripture
Although we’re not under the authority of the Mosaic Covenant and its laws, we should still respect and learn from them as inspired scripture. They’re “profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness” according to 2 Timothy 3:16.
New Covenant Justification versus Sanctification
Under the New Covenant, God immediately justifies your spirit by faith, apart from any works you do.
Afterward, God’s Spirit sanctifies your soul over your lifetime as you follow the Law of Christ.
Justification By Faith
Under the New Covenant, God declares us righteous (justified) through the faith of Jesus Christ, not through any righteousness of our own.
“a man is not justified by works of law, but through the faith of Christ Jesus, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by the faith of Christ and not by works of law, seeing that by works of law shall no flesh at all be justified.”Galatians 2:16 Concordant Literal New Testament (CLNT)
And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.Philippians 3:9 KJV
Born Again Spirit
When you ask God to forgive you, claiming the blood of Christ as the complete sacrifice for your sins, God immediately forgives you of all your sins and clothes you with Christ’s righteousness. At this moment of conversion, God “begets you again.” That is, God Himself fathers a new spirit within you. This new ‘born again’ spirit is the offspring of God. Your spirit is literally the child of God Himself.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One according to His great mercy having begotten us again to a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ out from the dead…
having been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, by the living and abiding word of God1 Peter 1: 3, 23
- Justification is the immediate result of our repentance and faith in Jesus’ sacrifice.
- Just like Abraham, God declares us righteous through faith–not through law-keeping.
- As a result of justification, God begets a new spirit in us, making us the literal children of God.
- All these actions are immediate and affect us in the spiritual realm, but they don’t change our soul or body.
Justification is God’s remedy for our dead spiritual lives. In contrast, sanctification is God’s remedy for our defiled souls.
Sanctification Through Faith
Having been instantly justified by faith, we then embark on a lifelong journey of sanctification. Sanctification is an ongoing process whereby the Spirit transforms our souls (our mind, will, and emotions) from sinners into holy and mature sons of God.
If I say, “A holy and righteous person will keep the law of God perfectly” two questions immediately pop into most peoples’ heads:
- Which law of God must they keep perfectly?
- How can a person keep the law perfectly?
Which law must we keep to be holy and righteous?
Within the worldwide church today there’s a movement of ‘Messianic’ believers who believe Christians are justified by faith in the Messiah, but afterward, they demonstrate their righteousness by obeying Torah laws that remain applicable today. They don’t specifically define all the Torah laws that are applicable today, but they all agree on a small subset, including the holy days in Leviticus 23 and the unclean food laws in Leviticus 11.
- God defined His holiness requirements in the Torah. Therefore, sin is breaking a Torah commandment
- God doesn’t change. Therefore, God expects Christians to keep His Torah commandments
- The ‘lawless’ believers whom Jesus will ‘cast out’ at His second coming are Christians who don’t walk in obedience to the Torah.
But the New Testament plainly teaches that it’s impossible to attain practical holiness by keeping the Mosaic law. (i.e., Hebrews 7, Romans 4-8, Galatians)
God set the former commandment set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect)Hebrews 7:18
Therefore, since the Mosaic Law was not able to bring people to perfection, God provided a new and living way–the Law of Christ. Hebrews chapter 10 provides a detailed description of how Jesus and the Holy Spirit work together to sanctify us unto perfection.
How Can a Person Keep the Law Perfectly?
Just as we’re justified by faith, and not by law-keeping, so God will sanctify us as we listen to and obey His voice daily.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.Romans 12:2
until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as we mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ.Ephesians 4:13
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a glorious church, without stain or wrinkle or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.Ephesians 5:25-27
How Does the Law of Christ Work?
The Law of Christ is our path to holiness, spiritual Maturity, and eternal life. That sounds nice in theory, but how does it work in practice?
In the Gospel of John, the Samaritan ‘woman at the well’ asked Jesus where God’s people should worship, expecting Him to say ‘in Jerusalem.’ But Jesus responded,
The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.John 4:23
God wants us to worship in spirit and truth–not legalistic obedience, religious tradition, place, or posture. Those are carnal, religious forms of worship. But God looks at our hearts, and He knows our inner motives and desires.
The Law of Christ: Walk in the Spirit
Just before going to the cross, Jesus told His disciples,
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.John 14:15-17
In the past, whenever I read this passage I became frustrated because I didn’t know what Jesus’ commandments were. How could I keep them if I didn’t know what they were? But now I know Jesus intentionally didn’t give us a list of rules to follow.
Instead, immediately after saying “keep My commandments,” Jesus explained how we’ll be able to both know them and keep them. God’s indwelling Spirit continually speaks the Law of Christ within your heart, according to the specific situations and decisions in your daily life. It’s just as Isaiah prophesied:
Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.Isaiah 30:21
The Law of Christ is God’s Individual Mentorship Program
The Law of Christ is how God mentors every listening and obedient disciple toward holiness, perfection, and eternal life.
God didn’t define the Law of Christ on paper. Rather, it’s the Holy Spirit’s personal mentoring program, tailored to your individual maturity level, daily situation, and environment.
In the Gospel of John, chapters 14-16, Jesus went into detail about how the Spirit would indwell us, leading us into all truth.
Read and meditate on these chapters. Internalize what Jesus meant when He said, “Abide in Me, and I in you,” and “I am the vine and you are the branches.”
Those who walk according to the Law of Christ (fellowship and submission to God’s Spirit) will mature into the ‘sons of God.’
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.Romans 8:14
The Law of Christ – Walk in Truth
The Book of Revelation mentions 144,000 end-time saints standing on the heavenly Mount Zion with the resurrected Lamb of God, Jesus. Concerning these 144,000 saints the Word of God testifies:
They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.Revelation 14:4-5
We can glean three things about the Law of Christ in these verses:
- They follow the Lamb wherever He goes. They followed the Spirit’s leading, even when it meant the world around them ridiculing or persecuting them.
- In their mouth, no lie was found. They did not compromise the truth of God’s word. They only spoke the truth, in love.
- They are blameless. The Law of Christ transformed these saints to such a degree that Satan (the accuser of the brethren) cannot find any moral fault to accuse them of in the court of heaven!
So, What Old Testament Laws Still Apply to Christians?
While the Mosaic Covenant and its law are now obsolete, the same God wrote them as wrote the New Testament. So, I believe a good rule of thumb is this: any Old Testament principle or law that God reiterates in the New Testament will still apply under the Law of Christ.
I realize the New Testament leaves a lot of topics in uncertain territory. Also, the New Testament’s guidance is sometimes difficult to confidently comprehend. For example, here are some topics that a knowledgable Bible student can argue either way from scripture:
- Food laws
- The 7th day Sabbath
- Should Christians keep YHWH’s appointed times (Passover, Pentecost, Tabernacles), etc.?
For such topics I believe Paul wrote this admonition:
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.Philippians 2:12
How to Judge the Applicability of Biblical Laws
I’ve answered all these questions for myself and I have peace about them. Here’s the process I use to resolve such questions:
- Study the relevant Old Testament passages. How are they ‘types and shadows’ of New Covenant spiritual realities? (see Hebrews 10:1, Colossians 2:17)
- Study the topic in the New Testament. How do the Old Testament types and shadows apply in the New Covenant context, especially in light of Jesus’ finished work?
- Pray about the topic with an honest desire to know and do the Lord’s will.
- Then make a decision based on the Spirit’s leading. In the future be open to change when new information confronts you. But, otherwise, don’t be double-minded. (James 5:1-8)
Be careful not to fall into either the ditch on the right or on the left–legalism or lawlessness. If you’re sincerely seeking to walk according to the Law of Christ, trust the Holy Spirit. He will guide you.
In the metaphor of the Law of Christ being the road (that leads to life) with a ditch on both sides, legalism is the ditch on the right side.
From early childhood, our parents teach us to follow rules. As adults, knowing our boundaries gives us a sense of security. The carnal man loves rules–whether or not he obeys them. The problem is that obedience to the Law of Moses can neither justify nor sanctify you.
You Cannot Be Justified Through Keeping the Law
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.Romans 3:20
Every Torah-observant Messianic I know agrees that God saves us by faith and not by the works of the law. So, we agree about how God justifies us.
You Cannot Be Sanctified By Keeping the Law
I was a Messianic disciple for 7 years. Recently, my divergence from the Messianic community came as a result of this question–what law are we under now? This is how I discovered the Law of Christ.
As a disciple of Jesus, Jesus and Paul taught that our goal is to become:
- Mature, unto the fullness of the stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)
- Perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)
- Blameless in holiness before our God. (1 Thessalonians 3:13)
The problem with law-keeping as a means of sanctification is that it cannot bring us to this goal. It cannot transform our character. It only provides us with boundaries we should not cross. This applies equally to denominational rules and Torah observance.
As I explained earlier, God always intended the Mosaic Law to be conditional and temporary. Then, the coming of the promised Messiah made the Mosaic covenant and its law obsolete.
I still have a warm relationship with my Messianic brethren. Their zeal to serve God is admirable, but they don’t know about the Law of Christ.
I pray the Lord will use this teaching to help them consider the validity and superiority of the Law of Christ.
Finally, it’s completely natural for our carnal nature to desire a set of rules to follow. But this is not God’s ordained path for us to attain perfection and eternal life.
In the metaphor of the Law of Christ being the road (that leads to life) with a ditch on both sides, lawlessness is the ditch on the left side.
What is Lawlessness?
Speaking of the end time, Jesus prophesied,
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And, because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.Matthew 24:9-13
The Greek word translated as lawlessness is anomia, which means “without law.”
Anomia is used 15 times in the New Testament.
Three Examples of Lawlessness
Here are three verses where anomia refers to people who believe they’re Christians:
- Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’Depart from me, you who practice anomia. (Matthew 7:21-23)
- The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will weed out of His kingdom every cause of sin and all who practice anomia. And they will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matthew 13:41-43)
- He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all anomia and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:14)
The Easy Road vs the Hard Road
The first two examples above refer to people who assume they’re Christians. But, to their surprise, the Lord Jesus rejects them when He returns because they “practice lawlessness.”
The gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.Matthew 7:13
In contrast, the third example shows that Jesus went to the cross to redeem us from all lawlessness, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. The Law of Moses is powerless to achieve this goal. But those who follow the Law of Christ will achieve it.
The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.Matthew 7:14
Now that you’ve learned about the Law of Christ and how it supersedes the Law of Moses (and all other man-made forms of rule-keeping,) will you choose to walk in it?