In my Sunday School class the other day, the question arose, under the New Covenant, are we still governed by the law? A lively discussion ensued.
Someone quoted Jesus, who said in Matthew 5:17:
Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil.
The other side of the argument quoted Paul, who preached constantly that we are no longer under the law. Among other statements Paul made on the subject, he said in Galatians 3:24-25:
So that the law is become our tutor to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor.
Without going into the theology of how the law led us to Jesus, this statement makes it clear that once we accept Him in faith we are no longer under the law that led us there. How can this be?
Is the Bible contradicting itself here? Is it saying in one place that the law still applies and in another that it doesn’t? How can these two positions be reconciled? If the scripture is inerrant, which it is, how can it make two such seemingly opposing statements?
To me, there is no real conflict here. God hasn’t changed His mind and decided it’s okay for us to murder, or commit adultery or steal or do any of the other things He forbade in His commandments, other than the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, which was superseded by the New Covenant.
The law itself wasn’t repealed by the New Covenant. It was the way God applied the law to us that changed. In Jeremiah 31:33, God announced His New Covenant as follows:
But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, says the Lord, I will put My law within them, and on their hearts will I write it; and I will be their God, and they will be My people.
Under the Old Covenant, the law was applied externally. God said don’t do this, and the people were expected not to do it. But even at the time He gave it, God knew human beings could not keep up an externally given law. It’s our nature to look a law in the face and decide we want to disobey it.
When I was a teenager and under the authority of my parents, if they said don’t do this, even though I realized they said it for my own good, I wanted to try it. To see what it felt like, or to see if I could get away with it, or for whatever reason. I saw the law of my parents as a challenge.
Knowing that, God gave us a New Covenant under which He would place His Holy Spirit inside of each believer to lead us in lawfulness. Rather than tell us, don’t do this, He would work inside of us to make it our own desire not to do this.
As human beings, we still have that nature within us to disobey, but the Holy Spirit is constantly at work chipping away at that lawlessness, changing our nature to conform with God’s own nature. We all resist that work within us, but the less we resist it, the closer the Holy Spirit will come to completing the work. It won’t be complete in any of us in this lifetime, but hopefully we’re closer today than we were yesterday.
If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
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