Are we lawless Christians?

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We have been considering what the Scriptures say about the Law. We have seen that we are released from the Law (Romans 7:6). Does that mean that we are lawless? Are we lawless Christians?

The New Testament Scriptures show that we are no longer under the Law of Moses. If Christians are no longer under the Law, does that mean that we are lawless?

The Scriptures speak of our freedom in Christ. Does that mean that we free to do whatever we want to do?

1.      Released from the Law

The coming of Jesus Christ was not a minor event in the history of salvation. The eternal God took upon himself the form of a man. He became a real man while continuing to be truly God. He took upon himself not only our human nature, but on the cross, he took upon himself the sins of the entire world. He suffered, bled, and died as the spotless, perfect, Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice once and for all for the sins that you and I and every other human being has ever committed. Then God raised him from the dead. The wages of sin is death, but he paid the penalty of sin. His blood was shed to pay the penalty of sin. His body was broken to break the power of sin. Romans 4:25 says that Christ was delivered — i.e. crucified — for our sins and that he was raised for our justification. We are confronted with his incarnation, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his miracles, his death on the cross for you and me, his resurrection from the dead, and 40 days later, his ascension to the right hand of his Father where he intercedes for you and me. Things cannot go on as usual. Everything has changed. When God dies and rises again, we cannot think that we are made right with him by following a list of rules.

As we have seen in recent weeks, the Old Covenant announced and pointed to the New Covenant. The Law of Moses was a parenthesis in the plan of God. The real deal was the Promise, the Promise that God had made to Abraham and ratified by the Prophets. Even the Law prophesied Christ the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But when Christ died, we died to the Law. As the body of Christ was torn, the curtain into the Holy of Holies, which was 18 meters high and 9 meters wide, was torn from top to bottom showing that God has opened a new and living way into his presence for us. Things cannot remain the same:

Hebrews 10:19-20 ESV Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh,

The Son of God came and died and rose again. Everything has changed. We cannot go on living as if we were under the law: “Do this, do that!” No! The message of the gospel is not “Do this.” The message of the gospel is “Done!” “It is finished!”

So everything has changed for us. Hear these words:

Romans 7:4 ESV Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law…

Romans 7:6 ESV But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive…

Romans 6:14 ESV …you are not under law but under grace.

Galatians 3:13 ESV Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…

Galatians 3:23-25 ESV Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,

The Scriptures also speak clearly of the fact that we are free.

John 8:32 ESV and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:36 NLT So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.

Galatians 5:1 ESV For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

So these verses tell us that we are no longer under the Law because Christ came to set us free from the Law. We are therefore not to go back to the Law.

So does that mean that we can live however we want? Does that mean that we can continue to live the way we used to live before we became Christians?

That is what some people accused the Apostle Paul of saying. Paul explained in Romans 3 how our unrighteousness showed off the glorious righteousness of God, just like a candle glows all the brighter on a dark night. So some said, “Let’s keep on sinning! It makes God’s righteousness shine even more!” Paul speaks of these people in…

Romans 3:8 ESV And why not do evil that good may come?– as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

But that is not the gospel. Our liberty in Christ is not a license to sin.

The verses that I quoted moments ago go on to explain that we are no longer under the Law because God has given us what the Law could not give us: God has given us His Holy Spirit so that we may live righteously.

Romans 7:6 ESV But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Galatians 3:13-14 ESV Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us… so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

When the apostle tells us that we are no longer under the law but under grace, he is explaining that grace enables us to live righteous lives:

Romans 6:14 ESV For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

Some people think that grace means that we can continue to sin. Not at all! Again Paul confronts this sinful way of thinking in…

Romans 6:1-4 NLT Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

When Jesus promised freedom, he was not promising freedom to sin. He was promising freedom from sin. When he spoke of knowing the truth and being set free he said,

John 8:34-36 ESV “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

The good news of the gospel is that we do not have to be slaves to sin. Jesus came to set us free.

So what does all that mean? It means that being set free from the Law does not free us to continue to sin. Grace is not only unmerited favor. Grace is not only an undeserved kindness from God whereby he forgives us for all the rebellion and animosity and hatred toward him that is expressed by our sin. Grace is the power of God — the power of the Holy Spirit in us — to live in a way that is pleasing to God.

So grace is the power to desire and to do what pleases God:

Philippians 2:13 NLT For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Titus 2:11-12 ESV For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…

2.      The Problem with the Law

As we begin reading the New Testament, it becomes clear that freedom does not mean that we have a license to sin. Being in Christ does not mean that we can lie, or steal, or take the Lord’s name in vain, or covet someone’s iPhone or his wife. There are many passages in the New Testament that tell us that these works of the sinful nature are out of place in the life of the regenerated Christian. In fact, the Word of God contains severe warnings that we would do well to heed:

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NLT Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people– none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.

Ephesians 5:3-7 NLT Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. 4 Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes– these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. 5 You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. 6 Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. 7 Don’t participate in the things these people do.

Now some of that sounds like the Ten Commandments: no idolatry, no stealing, no lying, no adultery, no coveting. The coming of Christ into the world did not make evil things good! His coming did not make sinful things less sinful! Sin is still sinful. And God is still holy, and he commands us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Here is the problem with the Law of Moses. The Law was external. It was a written code, written on stone tablets rather than on the heart of man. The Law of Moses was powerless to change man’s heart.

But in the New Covenant, the very Spirit of Christ comes into our hearts and begins His work of changing us into the image of Christ. What does that mean? It means that God is in the character building business and by His Spirit in us, he is working to make us to be more and more like His Son.

In each of the passages that I just quoted, the Apostle Paul goes on to talk about the change that Christ makes in our lives when we are in Christ:

1 Corinthians 6:11 NLT Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Galatians 5:22-23 NLT But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Ephesians 5:8 NLT For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!

3.      Are We Lawless?

But the question remains: Are we lawless? Do we as Christians have no law? We will have to consider the evidence of the New Covenant, i.e. the New Testament.

The message of the New Testament is clear: you do not become a Christian by following rules or by obeying laws. A Christian is someone who is born of the Spirit of God. He has repented of his sin and has believed the message that it is done: Christ did everything that we needed for salvation. This is what the Word of God says in…

Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

So we are still left with the question: As Christians, do we or do we not have a law to guide us in the decisions that we must make from day to day, hour to hour, and minute to minute?

To answer that question, we must turn to 1 Corinthians 9.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is talking about his freedom. Actually, he is telling the Corinthians that they should follow his example. For the sake of the gospel so that souls would be won to Christ, Paul did not make use of all his freedom. He did not make use of all of his rights. For example, he had the right to be married to a believing wife, but he was not married. He had the right to take a salary for his ministry, but he did not. His concern was winning people to Christ. This is what he said in…

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 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. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

Now Paul says some remarkable things in this passage. It is frequently misunderstood by many who only quote part of it out of context. But this passage is important for our understanding of the role of law because in just two verses, verses 20 and 21, Paul uses the word “law” nine times!

  • “Under the law” – 5 times
  • “Outside the law” – 4 times

All that in just two verses.

Paul also uses the word “win” five times. He wants to

  • “Win more of them” (v. 19)
  • “Win Jews” (v. 20)
  • “Win those under the law” (v. 20)
  • “Win those outside the law” (v. 21)
  • “Win the weak”” (v. 22)

His mission is to “save some” that he might “share with them” in the blessings of the gospel (v. 22-23). So Paul talks about how he related to various groups of people in order to win them to Christ.

“To the Jews,” he said, “I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.”

Now that is a most remarkable statement, and it gives us great insight into the mind of this great missionary apostle. “To the Jews, I became as a Jew,” he said. Wait just a minute! Paul was a Jew! This is what he says about himself in another letter:

Philippians 3:5 NLT I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin– a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law.

So how does he say that he became as a Jew to the Jews?

Here we see that Christ changes everything. Paul’s real identity does not depend on the circumstances of his birth, where he was born, who his parents were, or even his personal past. He real identity is in Christ. He recognizes that God had set him apart even before he was born (Galatians 1:15). His citizenship is now in heaven (Philippians 3:20). When we come to Christ, we recognize that we belong to his lordship. He is our Lord, our Master, our God. Being American or Australian or Austrian or ni-Vanuatu or Vietnamese is secondary to our new identity as citizens of heaven.

More importantly, Paul realizes that being a Jew will not save him and that we do not have to become Jews in order to be right with God. We do not have to adopt Jewish culture or Jewish practices or the Jewish calendar. We do not have to worship on the Sabbath to be right with God, and worshiping on the Sabbath will certainly not make us right with God. Nonetheless, Paul says that he became as a Jew in order to win Jews to Christ. He could fit in with them. He could even go to the synagogue on the Sabbath in order to share the Good News with Jews that Jesus Christ came to do what keeping the Sabbath could never do: Jesus Christ came to make us right with God.

As if that was not enough, Paul makes an even more startling statement:

1 Corinthians 9:20 ESV …To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.

Here the Apostle clearly states that he is not under the Law. Yet, because the Law is not sin (Romans 7:7), Paul can follow certain practices of the Law in order to win those who are under the Law. So he can follow the Jewish practice of making a vow and cutting his hair (Acts 18:18; 21:23-27), for example, to reach his own people, the Jews. His desire is to win people to Christ.

Romans 10:1-4 ESV Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Paul says that the Jews are wrong think that they can get right with God by clinging to the Law. But he will become as one who is under the Law to reach them, though he plainly says that he is not himself under the Law.

In his desire to see people saved, the Apostle tries to win not only people who are under the Law, but people who are “outside the law”:

1 Corinthians 9:21 ESV 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.

Who are these people who are “outside the Law”? They are Gentiles, like me and most of you. The Old Covenant of the Law was not made with us; it was made with the Israelites. So we are outside the Law. The Apostle Paul was sent by God as a missionary to the Gentiles. He adapted to the various cultures of the Gentiles. The old saying is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” To some extent, that was Paul’s method. “To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law.” But immediately, Paul adds a qualification, just as he had with the previous statement. Though he became as one outside the law, he immediately adds that he was not outside the law of God.

Does everything depend on culture? Is right and wrong only a matter of culture? If we are not under the Law, how do we know what is right and what is wrong? If we are not under the Law, how do we know what we should do and what we should not do? When you are in Rome, can you do everything that the Romans do?

No, Paul says. “I am not outside the law of God.” What does that mean? He has just said that he is not under the Law. Now he says that he is not outside the law of God. So he is neither under the Law nor outside the law of God. Paul the Christian, yes, Paul the Apostle tells us Christians that we are neither under the Law nor outside the law of God. We are not under the Law of Moses, but we are not left to our own devices. This is not simply a question of everyone doing what is right in his own eyes. The next phrase gives us the answer to our question. We are not under the Law of Moses and we are not outside the law of God for we are “under the law of Christ.” Hear him again,

1 Corinthians 9:21 ESV 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.

Paul will never change the Good News of the gospel. But he will become all things to all people, that by all means he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22). His heart’s desire and prayer for them was that they might be saved. Sounds like love to me. What do you think?

4.      The Law of Christ

Clearly then, the Christian is not under the Law of Moses because Christ has come. Christ is the end of the Law for everyone who believes. But now that Christ has come, we are under the law of Christ.

Paul uses the phrase “the law of Christ” one other time and that in his letter to the Galatians:

Galatians 6:2 ESV Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

It is important to note that Paul uses the word “law” 32 times in this letter to the Galatians. In fact, he gives a thorough thrashing to the Judaizers who want to make Jews out of Christians. They want to put these new believers under the Law of Moses. Paul will have none of it. What they are preaching is a distortion, a twisting of the gospel, Paul says in Galatians 1:7. Listen to some of what Paul says about the Law of Moses in this letter:

2:16 we know that a person is not justified by works of the law…

2:19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.

2:21 … if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

3:10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse…

3:11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law…

3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…

5:4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.

5:18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

This is the very first letter of Paul. He mentions the word “law” 32 times. In the first four chapters, he has thoroughly rebuked the Judaizers who insisted on keeping the Law as a requirement for salvation. It is hardly surprising that sabbatarians avoid the epistles of the Apostle Paul. You cannot believe the New Testament and believe that the Sabbath is binding on Christians.

But now he warns about the opposite error: lawlessness, the idea that Christians are free to do whatever they want to do. Not so, Paul says.

Galatians 5:13 ESV …you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

Love? What’s love got to do with it? Just yesterday I was in a store that was playing that song over the sound system. What’s love got to do with it?

Everything.

Galatians 5:13-14 ESV For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

What’s love got to do with it? Everything in the world since love fulfills the law.

Now Paul is no situation ethicist.[1] It is not a question of loving God and doing as you please. Not at all. He does not hesitate to list offenses that are completely incompatible with love for God and neighbor:

Galatians 5:19-21 NLT When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

We are not under the Law of Moses. Rather, we live by the Spirit of God:

Galatians 5:18 ESV But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Paul tells us just four verses later, that the fruit of the Spirit is love.

A few verses later in Galatians 6:2, he tells us,

Galatians 6:2 ESV Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

There it is! The law of Christ! Bearing one another’s burdens is an expression of the love of Christ. Again Galatians 5:14 tells us,

Galatians 5:14 ESV For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

One day a lawyer asked Jesus a question to test him:

Matthew 22:36-40 ESV “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

James, the half brother of Jesus, called the law of Christ the “royal law.”

James 2:8 ESV If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

Jesus did not say, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you keep the Sabbath.” This is what he said in

John 13:34-35 ESV A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This is not a list of laws written on stone. This is a changed heart. Love comes from the heart. Jesus came to cleanse us from sin, to set us free from the power of sin, and to put his love in our hearts. We are not lawless. We are under the law of Christ, the law to love God with all our hearts and to love one another as Christ loved us.

What must you do to be saved? It’s not a question of going to church on a certain day of the week. What must you do? You must believe and receive Jesus Christ as the Lord of your life. Call out to him. Ask him to come into you. He will save you. Only trust him now.

See also “Seventh Day Adventism”:

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