In my last post I discussed the relationship of the Law of God to the believer. While the
Law is the standard for how believers are to live, it is no longer in the form of a covenant of
works where they must do it in order to obtain, secure, or keep eternal life. The Lord Jesus came
as the Last Adam and was born under the Law in order to fulfill its righteous requirements. As
we saw last time, the Law as a covenant of works has both a promise of blessing and a threat of a
curse based on one’s performance to it. If at any point the person under the Law fails to perfectly
and perpetually keep it, then he is cursed with eternal death (Gal. 3:10). However, if one
personally, perfectly, and perpetually keeps the Law, then that person is rewarded with eternal
life. In Luke 10, when the lawyer asked Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus
said that he needed to do the Law (keep it perfectly at all times and in all ways) in order to live
(gain eternal life). This covenant of works is encapsulated in the phrase “do this and live” (Luke
10:28; cf. Lev. 18:5). Thankfully, our glorious Lord Jesus was born under this Law as a covenant
of works and fulfilled it by personally, perfectly, and perpetually obeying it as an Adam - that is,
as a representative for his people. Because of his perfect obedience to the Law, he earned eternal
life for himself and those whom he represented. Believers simply trust in Jesus’ perfect
obedience to the Law and his earning the reward of eternal life and receive it as a free gift.
Now, while the Law no longer remains a covenant of works for believers, it still remains
as a rule of life for them - that is, it tells them how they are to live their life. It is the expression
of God’s very will (Rom. 2:18) and is commanded to New Testament Christians (Rom. 13:9-10;
Gal. 5:13-14). Understanding this distinction of the Law - the Law as a covenant of works versus
the Law as a rule of life - helps us to make sense of Scripture and accurately interpret and apply
it to our lives. When Paul says that we are not under the Law but under grace (Rom. 6:14), he
does not mean that we are not under the content of the Law (i.e. the Ten Commandments).
Rather, what Paul means is that we are not under the Law as a covenant of works (“do this in
order to obtain, secure, or keep eternal life/heaven). Those who do not hold to this distinction
tend to think that what Paul means by not being under the Law is that we are no longer under the
Ten Commandments, but a new “Law of Christ.” Now, what this ends up functionally being is
all of the Ten Commandments except for the 4th Commandment (keeping the Sabbath).
Nevertheless, stripping away one of God’s Commandments is quite substantial. Just as we would
call a person who disregards the 7th Commandment (do not commit adultery) or the 8th
Commandment (do not steal) immoral, so someone who breaks the 4th Commandment is likewise
immoral. We must understand this distinction between a covenant of works and a rule of life. We
are not under the Law as a covenant of works where we must do it in order to live. Rather, the
Law is a rule of life for believers (how they are to live) where they first live because of their
union with Christ and therefore do it. Believers are still to “do,” however, they do from life and
not for life. This is how the reformers understood the distinction between the Law of God and the
Law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21). The content of the moral Law 9the Ten Commandments) do not
change. Rather, the relationship to the Law changes. Rather than doing for life (under the Law of
God), the believer now does the Law from life. This is what it means to be under the Law of
Christ: because Christ has fulfilled the Law as a covenant of works for us, we now keep it, not as
a covenant of works, but as a rule of life.
Brian Onstead is pastor of Trinity Bible Church in Powell, WY (https://tbcwyoming.com/). He was born and raised in Omaha, NE where he was saved and met his wife Jackie. He then spent three years in San Diego, CA where he attended Westminster Seminary California and the Institute for Reformed Baptist Studies. After graduating in 2015, he moved to Montana where he pastored a church for 4 years. In 2019, he moved to Powell, WY where he currently resides. He and his wife have been married for 10 years and have two young children. You can find his sermons on sermon audio and follow him on Twitter (@brianonstead).
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