“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
The law of Christ misunderstood
Some people read this verse out of its context, as if it suddenly fell from the sky, and they conclude that there is a new law given by God under the New Covenant, called the law of Christ, in contrast with the Law which they call “the Law of the Old Testament”. They say the Christian does not have to keep the Law of God (which they call the Law of the Old Testament), because the Christian is not under the Law anymore, but he should keep the law of Christ in order to be saved. They think the law of Christ is a certain set of commandments, different from the commandments of the Law. Of course, this shows that they have not understood that the law of Christ is not a law of works; this is clearly explained in the same Epistle (Galatians) and in other parts of the New Testament: “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3) So Paul tells the Galatians that not only justification, but sanctification also is not by the Law of works, but by a law of faith, a law in which we do not do in order to be saved, but we receive (hear) by faith: “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.” (Romans 3:27) Is it a law of works by which we are justified? Paul answers no, but by the law of faith! Thus he says the law of faith is not a law of works; it’s not a set of rules to be kept in order to be saved. “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” (Romans 11:6) Paul explains this again in the Epistle to the Galatians: “And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.” (Galatians 3:12) In order to understand well what the law of Christ is, all the above misunderstandings should be clarified by God’s Word. So let’s go step by step.
The meaning of the word “law”
First, the word law in the New Testament does not always mean a law of works or of commandments. For many people the word law makes them automatically think of a set of rules, a set of “do”s and “don’t do”s. But we have seen above how the law of faith is not a law of works; on the contrary, the law of faith is contrasted with the Law of works. Then what does the word law mean in such contexts? It means principle. It is about the principle that governs how things happen in a certain system. Paul uses this word law in the sense of principle in many places in the New Testament; I will quote here some of the passages where this meaning is obvious for the word law:
In Romans 7, Paul explains how there is in him a nature of sin, the flesh, in which nothing good dwells (see Romans 7:18), and which is governed by a very bad law: “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.” (Romans 7:21) The NASB translators rightly translated here the Greek word for law (nomon) as principle. It is obvious that Paul is not talking about the Law of God here, because he said in the same chapter that the Law of God is holy, not bad (see Romans 7:12). It is also obvious that Paul is not talking about a certain set of rules and commandments that are to be kept by Paul, but about the principle of sin which is in him. Paul further explains this fact in Romans 8 where more than one law or principle are mentioned: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:2-3) In this passage, three times the word law is used, but only once it refers to the Law of commandments: 1. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus; 2. the law of sin and death; 3. the Law. We will see how the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is the law of Christ which we are studying. That’s number 1. Number 3 is the Law of God. Number 2 is the law of sin and death. What is this law of sin and death? As we have seen above, this is not the Law of God, because the Law of God is not a law of sin and death! The Law of God is holy and good; sin is not good. Christ was born under the Law (see Galatians 4:4); so if the Law were the law of sin and death, then Jesus was born under the law of sin and death! Then Jesus was a sinner! May it never be! Then what is this law of sin and death? It is that same principle that we saw Paul described above in Romans 7:21, i.e. the flesh that is present in Paul and which is the principle of sin in him, the principle that cannot do anything but sin, the nature that cannot please God (see Romans 8:6-8). This principle is the principle of death, first because this nature, the flesh, is separated from God spiritually, and this is spiritual death; and secondly because this principle is leading those who are in the flesh to eternal death; for the wages of sin is death (see Romans 6:23). More details about this law of sin are found in our article A true Christian is a saint — Perfection in Christ.
Now that we have understood what the word law means in the expression “law of Christ”, so we know that the law of Christ is the principle that governs everything in the Covenant that Christ made. We will see more about this principle of Christ after we clarify how there are not two Laws of God, one of the Old Testament and another of the New Testament, as this is a dangerous misunderstanding introduced above in our introductory paragraph.
The difference between the Law and the Old Covenant —
The Law is established by the law of Christ
There is only one Law of God, and this Law is for all times, for all people, for the Old and New Covenants. The Law of God is to be respected and kept not only by the Old Covenant saints, but also by the New Covenant saints. Christ did not bring another Law to replace the Law which was given to Moses, but in all His sermons He explained the Law and gave the real deep meaning of that Law. What came in Christ was not another Law, but the fulfillment of the Law, the essence to which the Law pointed. While the Law was given through Moses, Grace and truth came in Christ: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) Christ fulfilled the Law, and He did not abolish it. We are saved to love God’s Law. When we’re saved by faith alone, we do not nullify the Law, but we establish the Law through faith (and not through works of the Law): “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Romans 3:31) The Law will never be abolished. The Old Covenant was abolished, not the Law. The Lord Jesus abolished the Old Covenant and established the New Covenant. But the Lord did not abolish the Law: “Think not that I am come to make void the law or the prophets; I am not come to make void, but to fulfil.” (Matthew 5:17) If the Law were abolished, it would not be sinful to murder… It is the Law that says that we should not murder; and all the commandments. The Law was not abolished, but the Old Covenant was abolished; the general rule has changed, but the Law has not changed. There was a change in how we keep the Law; today it’s by faith that we keep the Law. That’s the change that happened to the Law: the general rule, the Covenant has changed. Under the Old Covenant, the saints were those who realized they could not keep the Law by the works of the Law, and thus they realized that the Law pointed to Christ, so they were justified by faith. They still had to keep the works of the Law according to the Old Covenant principle, i.e. they had to keep the ordinances of the Law which some call the ceremonial and civil laws; they had to do this until the Perfect, Jesus Christ, came. When Christ came the principle that governs everything in the keeping of the Law has changed. While before it was by the keeping of the ordinances that the Jews had to try to keep the Law, now it’s by faith that we establish the Law. Yes, the Old Covenant saints also had to have faith, but faith was not the ruling principle then; in Paul’s words, “the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.” (Galatians 3:12) Under the Old Covenant things were not governed by the law of faith, but by the Law of works, so the Old Covenant is the Covenant of the Law, that’s why there is a confusion in many people who confuse the Old Covenant with the Law and think they are the same. It is because things under the Old Covenant are governed by the Law of works. But the same Law points to the law of faith which was to come under the New Covenant and which would not abolish the Law; on the contrary, it has established the Law: “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (Romans 3:21) The righteousness of faith is without the Law (i.e. without keeping the works of the Law), and yet it does not contradict the Law; it is witnessed by the Law. So under the New Covenant, the law or principle of faith came: “But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.” (Galatians 3:23) The Old Covenant saints, although they were children, but looked like slaves: “Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.” (Galatians 4:1-2) Now that the principle of faith is the ruling principle, so we are governed by the law of liberty by which the Law is fulfilled in us. We died to the Law so that we may do God’s Will expressed in the Law, because the Law was weak, not in itself, but because of the flesh, because of the sin which is in me, just as Paul explained: “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh” (Romans 8:3). We are freed from sin to obey the Law, to obey it as sons, and not as slaves. We are not under the Law, but under Grace, i.e. we are not to keep the Law in order to be saved, but we keep the Law because we are saved: this is the law of Christ, the law of faith and of liberty. And this very fact is the reason why sin shall not be master over us: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for ye are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
This does not in any way mean that the Law is bad, but it means that sin is bad. The Law is holy and the commandment is holy: “So that the law indeed [is] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” (Romans 7:12) Because of sin which is in me, the Law cannot save me: “Did then that which is good become death to me? Far be the thought. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death to me by that which is good; in order that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am fleshly, sold under sin.” (Romans 7:13-14) The Law can only save me by leading me to Christ, it can only save me by the Spirit, by faith. So the Law leads us to Christ. We admit that we can’t keep the Law perfectly, so we come to the Savior, and thus the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in us by the Spirit: “in order that the righteous requirement of the law should be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to flesh but according to Spirit.” (Romans 8:4) We are saved to love the Law of God: “Oh how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97) We are saved for holiness.
Brief: It is Christ (who is God) who gave the Law to Israel through Moses. The Old Covenant was according to the Law, i.e. the Jews had to keep the works of the Law in order to be saved. No human could keep the Law in this way, i.e. in the way of the Old Covenant; no one could keep the Law by the works of the Law, therefore there was a need for a better Covenant, the New Covenant, in which we keep or fulfill or establish the Law not by the works of the Law, but by faith, as under the New Covenant the Law is written on our hearts and is not mere outward commandments that do not find a responding nature in us; under the New Covenant the new nature in Christ is the responding heart that loves God’s Law. God explained this through Jeremiah the prophet when He promised to make this New Covenant: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33) The Epistle to the Hebrews explains in details why that Old Covenant had to be replaced by this better Covenant, the New Covenant.
The law of Christ:
The principle of the Gospel, of faith, of God’s Righteousness, of liberty, of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus
Thus in brief the law or principle of Christ is the Gospel: We keep God’s Law because we are saved and not in order to be saved. This means that we keep the Law by faith and not by the works of the Law. So the law of Christ is the law of faith: we are saved by faith and not by our works.
The principle of works (or the Law of works) is this: You keep God’s Law in order to be saved.
The Bible says no one can keep God’s Law in order to be saved, because we are sinners by nature; even the believer cannot keep the Law by the flesh, as Paul explained in Romans 7.
In other words, the law of Christ is that principle which the Apostles always use to incite Christians to do good works: the principle of the Gospel, i.e. that we are justified before God by faith alone, and thus we have peace with God in Christ Jesus, and thus we are in God’s Grace in Christ Jesus; we have a new nature, the nature in Christ, and this nature loves to do God’s Will, loves to obey God’s Law. The Grace of God teaches us to do all righteousness (see Titus 2:11-13), i.e. the Lord Jesus works in us and through us God’s Will.
I will now give some examples of passages where the Apostles use this law or principle of Christ to incite believers to good works, and which by the way should be used today also to incite believers to good works, instead of using legalistic principles as many do today… I will underline in each passage the part which is the principle or law of Christ:
“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27)
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus“ (Philippians 2:3-5)
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
“Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds“ (Colossians 3:9)
“Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” (1 Peter 1:22-23)
“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1 John 3:9)
Now, to fulfill the law of Christ means to walk according to the Spirit, and not according to a set of commandments and rules. Paul explained: “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4) Paul had explained that this is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which freed us from the law of sin and death: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2) James explains that in this way faith is perfected by its works: “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” (James 2:21-23) James said that Abraham’s work of offering his son in Genesis 22 fulfilled the Scripture, i.e. the words that God had already said in Genesis 15. In other terms, James was saying that God already knew in Genesis 15 that Abraham would obey Him, therefore He counted his faith to him for righteousness! God already knew that Abraham had a genuine saving faith. So what does James mean by “was faith made perfect”? He means “faith was perfected, was completely shown in action, was proven as genuine”; he did not mean that Abraham’s faith was not perfectly genuine already, just as Hebrews did not mean that Christ was not perfect when it said: “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:10); again: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). Christ was made perfect through sufferings, i.e. He practically lived the completeness of suffering and thus the perfection of His Nature was revealed practically and thus He saved us. In the same way, true perfect and genuine faith expresses and proves and demonstrates itself completely and in a perfect way through the works of obedience that it does, therefore James said that faith was made perfect by its works. This is how the law of faith, the law of Christ is fulfilled. James calls the Law as fulfilled by the law of Christ by the expression “law of liberty” (see James 1:25 and James 2:12).
The works of faith are the fruit of the Spirit which is love and all what love includes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, fidelity, meekness, self-control: against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23) When a person is justified according to the principle of Christ (the law of Christ), then according to the same principle of Christ he will have this fruit of the Spirit, and thus the law of Christ will continuously be fulfilled by him. A detailed study of this truth is found in our article: The relation between justification and sanctification. Thus practically the law of Christ is the principle of love, and yet not the principle of keeping the commandment of love which is already found in the Law in order to be saved, but the principle of loving because the Lord loved us first (see 1 John 4:19), the principle of love flowing from the new nature, as Paul explained; Paul explained how the principle of justification by faith alone (the law of Christ) will surely give the fruit of glorifying God in all what we do: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5) This love which is built on the principle or law of Christ will fulfill all what is revealed in the Law, the whole Law.
As the principle of justification by faith alone will certainly lead to the fruit of love, then Paul (and all the Apostles) use this principle to encourage the believers to do good works, so that they may not do the works legalistically and so that their obedience will not be legalistic. Thus Paul tells the Galatians: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) In other words: “Care for each other according to the principle of faith and love, according to the Spirit, and not in a legalistic way (i.e. not trying to earn Heaven by what you do)”.
And just as the commandment of loving God from all our being and our neighbors as ourselves will be fulfilled by this principle of Christ according to the New Covenant and not according to the ordinances of the Old Covenant, in the same way all the other commandments of the Law also will be fulfilled in us by faith and not by the works of the Law. It is wrong to call this Law as “the Old Testament Law”. There is nothing called “the Old Testament Law”. The Bible never calls it “the Old Testament Law”. It is very simply and clearly the Law of God, and the Law of God is for all people. And Jesus was very clear concerning the Law:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)
We cannot annul any of the commandments of the Law with any kind of misunderstanding concerning their application. Our righteousness should SURPASS that of the scribes and Pharisees. That means we should LOVE the Law of God and really live according to the Will of God from all our heart. So, just as our Lord said, all men need to be born again. If our righteousness should SURPASS the external hypocrite legalistic righteousness of the Pharisees, this doesn’t mean that we will annul some commandments to do that. The right way is to obey God in the Spirit.
So we establish the Law by faith:
“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:31)
We don’t keep the Law by works, but by faith. We keep the whole Law by faith.
So “we are not under Law” does not mean we will disobey the Law. It is true that we (whoever are in Christ by true faith) are not under Law, and that means that we are not saved by the Law, but we are under Grace, and that means we don’t serve sins, but we LOVE the Law of God.
Moreover, we are not under the Old Covenant, and this means we won’t follow the EXTERNAL ordinances of the Law that are only a shadow of Christ:
“Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day– things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17)
So we DO keep the substance of the Law, and that substance belongs to Christ. We don’t merely follow external ordinances. We follow their real substance, the spiritual application and meaning. So we don’t simply dismiss the Law. We establish it by faith, and thus the Law is fulfilled in us who walk according to the Spirit, and not according to the flesh:
“in order that the righteous requirement of the law should be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to flesh but according to Spirit.” (Romans 8:4)
As soon as we dismiss the Law or any commandment of the Law, we will be walking according to the flesh. Also, as soon as we try to keep the Law and its commandments by external works, we will also be walking according to the flesh.
So we establish the Law by FAITH in CHRIST. We fulfill the Law by the SPIRIT., i.e. spiritually. We keep its substance that belongs to Christ. Christ is the substance of all what you read in the Law. And that spiritual substance cannot be understood by those who are still in the flesh:
“For they that are according to flesh mind the things of the flesh; and they that are according to Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh [is] death; but the mind of the Spirit life and peace. Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God; for neither indeed can it be: and they that are in flesh cannot please God. “ (Romans 8:5-8)
“But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.“ (1 Corinthians 2:14)
And, as “the Law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14) , so the natural man who is in the flesh does not and cannot accept the Law. And immature Christians also may seem like the fleshly natural man by doing and understanding things in a very immature way. So maturity in Christ is needed.
Now, as the natural man who is in the flesh is not even able to subject himself to the Law of God, and as he does not accept the things of the Spirit of God and they are foolishness to him, so don’t even expect a worldly natural man or a false Christian to accept what we have seen above; he will wonder what all this means, what it means to obey the Law by faith and not by works, because he has not received the justification by faith alone; he still sees God as an angry Judge and sees himself as a slave who cannot please his Master… Such a person will think “the law of Christ” means a set of rules he should obey in order to be saved, because rules make the slaves feel safe, as they don’t know what their master wants… If you’re still in your sins and have not experienced the new birth by the Spirit, then you will surely not understand how you will fulfill the law of Christ (which actually is not fulfilled by something you do, but by what Christ does by His Spirit in and through you if you are born of God), because you think about it in a worldly and fleshly manner that does not agree with the Will of God. If you don’t have the mind of Christ, i.e. you don’t think the way He thinks, you will not be able to understand.
BY FAITH, according to the principle of the Gospel or of the New Covenant (the law of Christ), we keep the spiritual Law, i.e. all the commandments of the Law, because we LOVE the Law of God:
“O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalm 119:97)
The law of Christ is the principle of the New Covenant, i.e. the principle of faith, just as the law of commandments in ordinances is the principle of the Old Covenant which Christ has abolished (see Ephesians 2:15).
All Glory to God in our Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace be with you!
Disciple of Jesus Christ
Note: More details about how the Law is established by faith under the New Covenant are found in the following articles: