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The Law of Christ: A Theological Proposal Chapter 6 But Under the Law of Christ

A. Blake White
It is clear that we are not under the Mosaic law, but that does not mean we are autonomous individuals. What then, is the law of Christ? Is it the case that New Covenant Theology believes that only what Jesus taught is the standard for believers today? For example, P.G. Nelson describes New Covenant Theology this way in his essay, Christian Morality: Jesus Teaching on the Law.1 I think this is a misrepresentation of New Covenant Theology. There may be some bloggers out there who espouse such a view, but I certainly disagree and have not read anyone who teaches this. While the law of Christ certainly includes the teaching of Jesus, it is more complex than simply what Jesus taught. The law of Christ is difficult to define due to the fact that there is limited biblical data. The phrase law of Christ is only used one time in the Greek New Testament in Galatians 6:2. First Corinthians 9:21 uses the phrase in-lawed to Christ (ennomos Christou), though most English translations render this phrase as law of Christ. Since Paul does not explain what this phrase means, it is likely that his congregations were well aware of this phrase and its meaning.2 With such little exegetical data, we proceed with a theological proposal. First, it must be emphasized that believers fulfill the law of Christ by the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit (cf. Ezek 36:26-27).3 Second, and as mentioned above, and worth mentioning again and again, the obedience of believers flows from a right standing with God. New Testament scholar Richard Longenecker defines the law of Christ as the prescriptive principles stemming from the heart of the gospel (usually embodied in the example and teachings of Jesus), which are meant to be applied to specific situations by the direction and enablement of the Holy Spirit, being always motivated and conditioned by love.4 I think this is a suitable definition. I would only add that the teaching of the Apostles, which for us is the New Testament, is also
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P.G Nelson, Christian Morality: Jesus Teaching on the Law, Themelios 32, no. 1 (October 2006): 4. Graham Stanton, The Law of Christ: A Neglected Theological Gem?, in Reading Texts, Seeking Wisdom, ed. David F. Ford and Graham Stanton (London: SCM Press, 2003), 173. 3 Adeyemi, The Law of Christ, 449. 4 Longenecker, Galatians, 275-76.

included in the law of Christ. The law of Christ is the demand of God on new covenant Christians who are no longer bound to the Mosaic law. 5 The law of Christ is the law of God for those who live on this side of the resurrection, the new covenant counterpart to the Mosaic law. God has an eternal moral will; for the old covenant Jew, this was expressed in the Mosaic law. For the new covenant Christian, this moral will is expressed in the law of Christ. However, it is important to note that the two are dislike in many ways. For example, as Douglas Moo writes, Christian behavior is now guided directly by the law of Christ. This law does not consist of legal prescriptions and ordinances, but of the teaching and example of Jesus and the apostles, the central demand of love, and the guiding influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.6 The law of Christ is not an exhaustive list of rules but principles centered on love, guided by the Spirit, and drawn from the example and teachings of Christ and his apostles, and ultimately drawn from the entire canon viewed through the lens of Jesus Christ. 7 So as we will see, the law of Christ contains specific commandments, but believers are also to be led by the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 18, 25) and be transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2).8 I want to propose the following five points regarding the law of Christ: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. The law of Christ is the law of love. The law of Christ is Christs example. The law of Christ is the teaching of Christ. The law of Christ is the teaching of Christs apostles. The law of Christ is the whole canon interpreted in light of Christ.

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Moo, The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ, 215. Moo, The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses, 343. 7 Ibid., 357, 361; Longenecker, Paul: Apostle of Liberty, 191. 8 Ibid., 370; Thielman, Law and Liberty in the Ethics of Paul, 72.