What is the relation between the law of God and the believer under the New Covenant? What does it mean to be under grace, and not under law (Rom. 6:14)? What does it mean when we say that Christ is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4)?
“Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (13:8-10).
We should see here that the key which unlocks the mystery of law is the key of love. Without that, law becomes a horrible tangle of contradictory condemnations. But without love, the same thing happens to the words of the gospel. Without love the same thing happens to grace. Without love, the same thing happens to everything.
Before addressing the questions surrounding old and new covenants, and Jews and Gentiles, we need to consider what God says in the sun, moon, stars, and what He has implanted in every human heart an ability to understand. There is creation law woven into the fabric of everything. This is a constant standard. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18). The definition of “unrighteousness” is never in flux. “Who will render to every man according to his deeds” (2:6; cf. 3:6). But we have to get down to details. Because men do not acknowledge the majesty of God in creation (which they are obligated to do), they begin their descent into a host of various iniquities, all of which they know to be such (1:24-32). Note v. 32 — knowing the judgment of God they disobey regardless. All men, whether they were in the covenant made at Sinai or not, are sinners. But the Jews were not in a position to judge the Gentiles over their failure to keep this creation law. “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (2:1). The standard is not difficult to distill, but it is impossible to keep in its entirety or purity. Nevertheless the Gentile experience with this revelation was not a total disaster. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law . . .” (2:14-15)
But we still have to understand the relationship of the various kinds of laws we find in the Bible. As already mentioned, there is creation law. With love as the motivation, obedience to creation law looks the same in every age, regardless of whether Christ has come or not. Consider again the list of sins in the first chapter of Romans. There is not a hint, anywhere in the Bible, that the standards of righteousness itself will ever vary. Refusing to steal your neighbor’s mule (when tempted) in 500 B.C. is identical to refusing to steal his mule in 500 A.D. And it is structurally the same as refusing to steal his car. Creation law is that law to which obedience always looks the same.
Redemption law is different. There are a number of the specific requirements set forth in the Old Testament that we no longer observe. These shadow requirements are also addressed in Paul’s argument (14:17). The kingdom of God is not meat and drink — but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. The appearance of obedience to redemption law will therfore vary. The Jews kept the Passover one way, and the way we Gentiles keep it looks completely different — we do it by purging the yeast of malice and wickedness, as Paul says elsewhere. They killed a Passover lamb while we trust in Christ, the ultimate Passover Lamb.
So now we come back to our text. How do we establish the law? Whatever commandment there may be, is summed up in this — love. And has the responsibility to love one another passed away? Did Christ come so that we wouldn’t have to love people anymore? Is the law to love others made void? “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (3:31). Through faith, the law is established, and through love, the law is kept.
If we love this way, we will live. “For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (8:13). The giving of the Spirit does not usher in an era of lawlessness. Rather, the giving of the Spirit ushers in the aeon of self-control.
This is the point of evangelical obedience. Christ is the end (the telos, the point) of the law, for everyone who believes (10:4). Without faith, everything spiritual is condemning law. With faith, and in faith, everything is gospel. The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. Many Christians speak as though this part of the Bible is law, and that other part is gospel. Are you converted? But it is all gospel. Are you unconverted? It is all law — and who will deliver you from the body of death?