The law of God has relevance to both the Old Covenant and the New. The main difference is that under the Old Covenant the law was written on tablets of stone outside of ourselves, while under the New Covenant, the law is written on our hearts. Heb. 8:10 says,
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel. After those days, says the Lord, I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
If we are to become God’s people, His laws must be written in our hearts. This is not possible under the Old Covenant, because only the Holy Spirit can change the heart. Under the Old Covenant, the law can only regulate our behavior. Under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit writes God’s nature upon our hearts.
Law Defines Sin
The law is the expression of God’s nature. His nature is the standard by which He measures all things. Paul says in Rom. 3:20, “through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” The law teaches us about sin and righteousness. Again, he says in Rom. 7:7,
“Is the law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the law, for I would not have known about coveting if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’.”
The purpose of the law is to define sin. It is a sin to covet, because the law says so. It is a sin to steal, because the law says so. It is a sin to commit murder, because the law says so.
If there is no law against a certain action, then it is not a sin to do it. Rom. 4:15 says, “where there is no law, there also is no violation.” Even under man’s system of justice, one cannot be convicted of violating a law that does not exist. The purpose of any law is to define sin, whether in man’s courts or in the divine court.
No law is capable of perfecting men, because it demands obedience without giving men the power to be obedient. The law regulates behavior but cannot change the heart. This is the law’s weakness, or limitation.
David said that the law itself is “perfect” (Psalm 19:7). The apostle Paul said in Rom. 7:12,
“So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
In Rom. 7:14 Paul even said that “we know that the law is spiritual.” The law is not carnal, nor is it of the devil. It must be respected as holy, sacred, and spiritual.
Even so, we must understand its limitation. The law has no power to save sinners. It can only condemn sin. It has no power to forgive. Only the victims of sin have the power to forgive.
Love and Forgiveness
When Jesus took upon Himself the penalty for the sin of the world, He became the ultimate Victim of sin. This gave him the power to forgive every sin that has ever been committed. When He prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34), He had the right to forgive, because He was the Victim of sin.
To forgive is to extend grace to the sinner. A sinner owes a debt to his victim, because all sin is reckoned as a debt. But the victim of sin has the right to forgive any debt that others owe him.
There are many laws forbidding men to sin, and the law demands that sinners pay restitution to their victims (Exodus 22:1-4). But there is no law that commands the victim to collect the payment. To receive restitution is his right, but not his duty. Forgiveness is his right.
Neither is there any law against the fruit of the Spirit. Gal. 5:22, 23 says,
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
To show love for one’s enemies is not a sin, because the law does not forbid it. So if we forgive our enemies, as Jesus did and as the first Christian martyr did (Acts 7:60), we have not sinned. The law does not command us to take revenge upon those who sin against us. In fact, we are forbidden to do this (Rom. 12:19).
There is no law against love, because the law commands us to love God and our neighbors.
Jesus said in Matt. 22:37-40 that the law is summarized by two laws.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. On these two commandments depend the whole law and the prophets.”
Every law in the Bible tells us how to love God or our neighbor so that we do not sin against them. The divine standard is love, because God is love. That is why there is no law against love. Only the laws of men might forbid men to love one another.
Grace is Not Lawless
Grace is not the absence of law. Neither is grace a license to sin. Paul says in Rom. 6:1 and 2,
“What we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”
Our faith in Christ should result in a change of heart so that we no longer desire to sin. 1 John 3:3 and 4 says,
“Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He [Christ] is pure. Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.”
The good purpose of the law is to teach us what sin is, because man-made cultures often legalize sin. In some cultures, murdering one’s enemy is good. Some cultures allow men to steal from those of a different religion.
In the Western countries, usury and fornication are no longer sin. When ungodly judges sentence thieves to prison terms, Christians often approve, even though prisons prevent the sinners from paying restitution to their victims. Christians should not approve of sin.
If unbelievers in government decide to declare war on weaker nations and to oppress those nations, many Christians agree with their leaders in the name of patriotism. Christians should not approve of sin.
In times like this, we need to know the divine standard that is written in God’s law. If we do not know the law, Christians may practice sin without knowing what they are doing. By putting away the law, Christians may be persuaded that some sins are now righteous acts.
It is not that the knowledge of the law can save anyone. The law lacks the power to save or forgive. All have sinned already, and so the whole world is already condemned (Rom. 3:19, 23). As believers, let us not act as the world acts. We should be different.
Once we have been given grace, we should not continue to practice sin. We should turn away from sin, so that we show our love to God and our neighbors.
Being Under Grace
Paul said in 1 Tim. 1:8,
“But we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully.”
He then explains that the law is made for sinners, not for the righteous. The law has nothing to condemn in those who are righteous. The law has no interest in men unless they sin against God or against their neighbors. If a man violates the rights of his neighbor, then the law demands that the sinner must pay restitution to restore order.
If a man cannot pay restitution, then he is put under the law until the debt is paid. In other words, the law has jurisdiction over sinners only. If a man has no debt that God’s law demands, then he is under grace.
Jesus Christ paid the debt for our sin. This is what puts us under grace. Paul says in Rom. 6:14 and 15,
“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!”
Grace does not give us the right to sin; it sets us free from the power of sin so that we may be obedient to the law of God. When we were slaves to sin, we lived by the law of sin. When we were freed from the law of sin, we began to live in harmony with the law of God.
However, there is still a struggle between our old man of flesh and the new creation man within us. Paul wrote about that struggle in Rom. 7:16-21. He then concludes,
“I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh, the law of sin.”
Paul’s flesh man desired to serve the law of sin, because the flesh is lawlessness; but Paul’s inner man, the new creation man, desired to serve the law of God. Therefore, if we are tempted to sin, we know that it is only the flesh that desires to violate the law of God.
We are new creatures in Christ, having been begotten by the Spirit. Our identity has been transferred from the fleshly man to the new man that was begotten by our heavenly Father by the Holy Spirit. We are not the same person that was born naturally. Our identity has been transferred to a new man, which, by nature, serves the law of God. That is what Paul taught.
The question, then, is this: Who are you? Are you the son of Adam, the sinner, or are you a son of God, the Righteous and Holy One?
If you are a son of Adam, you will remain under the condemnation of the law. If you are a son of God, you are under grace and will serve the law of God by nature.
Some think that they may become righteous by forcing their flesh to act righteously in accordance with God’s law. This is incorrect. The flesh can be restrained, but it will never become righteous. We are new creatures in Christ. 1 John 3:9 says, “That which is begotten by God cannot sin, because he is begotten by God.” As long as we walk according to this new creation man, we will not sin, because the seed of our heavenly Father is in him.