Most people cite Galatians 6:2 as the definition for the new law of Christ: “Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Some also cite the gospel verses, such as Matthew 12:30-31, where Jesus gave a new commandment as the new law of Christ: “30Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” This article will show why a simplistic interpretation and application of the law of Christ, specifically in the context of Galatians 6:2, is not in accordance with the intended meaning in Scriptures.
The purpose of the law
The very first set of law governed mankind even before they received the Ten Commandments from mount Sinai. It began to inhabit their conscience in the form of the knowledge of good and evil after they ate of the forbidden fruit. But whether it’s conscience-based law or the Ten Commandments, they served one purpose: “24The law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 26For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.” (Galatians 3:24-26)
Jesus’ love commandment
Now things get interesting when we come to the New Testament, specifically at the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Most folks automatically assume that the New Covenant, not New Testament, is introduced at the arrival of Jesus, but this is not true. The entire period before the crucifixion and death of Jesus actually signifies the end of the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant would not come into effect until Jesus’ resurrection.
Therefore the whole earthly lifespan of Jesus from birth to death is the transition between the Covenants. During this time many things Jesus spoke of must be understood from the Old Covenant context, while others were about things under the New Covenant that was still to come.
In its appropriate context, Jesus’s pronouncement of the new commandment in Matthew 22:37-39: “30Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” must be understood as one that encompasses the Ten Commandments and more, and it is still one that is fundamentally a condition of the Old Covenant.
During this time, virtually all Israelites lived by the Mosaic laws along with the Ten Commandments. They governed all areas of their lives. Let us do a comparison between the Ten Commandments and Jesus’ new love command. From Paul’s epistles we learn that the law only served as a teacher to lead us to Christ and it does so by making us conscious of sin, it does not give us the righteousness we need, therefore it cannot give life.
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20)
The goal of the law is either to make us conscious of sin, or to make self-righteous people realize that though they may have tried to observe all aspects of the law, they’re still in sin. For example, in Matthew 5:28 Jesus clarified, or amplified, the sin of adultery when he said this: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
In the same manner of communication, Jesus took the Ten Commandments to a higher level by replacing it with the love commandment, however the intended purpose of this commandment is still the same: to convict man of sin, but not to make them become more acceptable to God. It’s much easier for most to keep the “thou shalt not commit murder” but it’s practically impossible for anyone to keep the commandment of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If it’s impossible to keep the Ten Commandments, it’s even more so with the love command. The purpose of any law, as expressed through commandments, is to expose sin and to condemn those who fail. The love command is no exception.
Jesus saves, commandments don’t.
The law of Christ
However some may ask: What about the law of Christ in Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”? Some folks believe that now we have a new law, namely the law of Christ that we have to keep.
Is this law of Christ the same thing as those we we cited earlier, the Ten Commandments and the love commandment that superceded it? If it is, then Paul has come full circle to a contradiction with his teaching on the role of the law. Let’s think about it. Who fulfilled the Ten Commandments? Jesus did, and in doing so he satisfied all the requirements of the law so those who believed in Him may be counted as righteous. Those laws had to do with salvation, not that they can save us, but they served as a schoolmaster, or teacher, to lead us to Christ. Now that we’re already in Christ, what role does this law play in a Christian’s life?
Note the verses leading to Galatians 6:2:
Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. (Galatians 6:1)
Note that Paul addresses the audience here as brothers and sisters, not as unbelievers, therefore the law of Christ in this context is not the same as those that went before. Then he talks about someone who is discovered in some sin, and asks us to restore them. Immediately following that is talk of burdens in the same context. We must ask ourselves what burden can it be but the burden of sin and guilt?
Most people take it to mean a general burden of living, but in this context it can only be a burden of sin and guilt.
In Romans 8:1-2, Paul talks about the law of the spirit of life:
1Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2)
The law of sin and death is just what its name suggests, it condemns people for the sins they commit, but much more than that, it condemns them for their sin nature whether they have committed any sins or not (Romans 5:12). The law of the spirit of life is different, it gives life, it does not contain any commandments that cause man to fail and die upon their failure. It is stated here:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them. (John 3:36)
This law must be the law of Christ, it gives life. Then perhaps, the sinful man’s burden can be lifted upon a reminder of this law of the spirit of life to his broken spirit? Perhaps knowing that God has not forsaken him might help set him free from the sin that pulls him down in the first place? When we do this, use the law of Christ, in its true intended purpose, to take away the load of sin and guilt from the sinner, we will have fulfilled it.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
No one can carry his own burden of sin, let alone carrying this kind of burden for others. Christ alone can, and He has promised to give rest to all those who come to Him.
- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen
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