30 March 2020

The Law of Christ

The Law of Christ is a strange phrase found in certain passages of the New Testament. It is never defined in any book included in the Bible. In Galatians 6:2 the phrase appears to mean to "bear one another's burdens," possibly referring to Jesus's assertion of the greatest commandments in Matthew 22:36-40 being to "love the Lord your God" and "love your neighbor as yourself." In Matthew, Jesus asserts that "the whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." Still, the question remains, if there is some law to which Christians are to adhere, what is it?

In Genesis 9:1-17 God makes a covenant with Noah, which is offered to him and all his descendants (all of humanity). This passage is sometimes referred to as the Noahide Law, because of the requirements of the covenant. God promises prosperity, and asks for Noah to adhere to a code of righteousness: to eat no meat of an animal which is still living, to avoid eating blood, to not murder, and to take an accounting (this is thought to mean to establish courts of justice). This law will be largely echoed in Acts 15.

In Genesis 17, God makes another covenant with the nation of Israel and in Exodus 20 gives them the Ten Commandments. These are sometimes numbered differently in different Biblical traditions. In Exodus, only the first two commandments, "I am Yahweh your God... You shall have no other gods before me" and "You shall not make for yourselves an idol... you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them" are written in the first person. The rest of the commandments are written in the third person. This has led some to believe that the first two commandments are required by God for salvation while the others give a guide to the way of righteousness. Regardless, it is important to note that these are part of God's covenant with Israel, and not part of any covenant given to Gentiles (non-Jews).

In Acts 15:1-29, the leaders of the primordial Church (the Church as it was established in the First Century, immediately following Jesus' resurrection) are debating whether the Law of Moses should be required of all Christians. Peter, having received a vision that God had already accepted the Gentile Christians and made them clean even without adherence to the Law, and having witnessed them receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit at the Pentecost, argued that no law should be given to them. Instead, the council wrote a letter, with recommendations to smooth over relations between Jewish and Gentile Christians. These included abstaining from "[food] sacrificed to idols, from blood, from [meat of] strangled [animals], and from sexual immorality" (Acts 15:29).

So what is required of Christians? When we are told that Christ Jesus died for all, there are no restrictions placed on that. He died that all may be saved. There is no law given to us. Salvation comes by God having called us, Christ having made us clean, and the Holy Spirit having chosen to dwell within us. The evidence of salvation therefore is the Holy Spirit. The "law" of Acts 15 is that we attempt to live together in peace. In Matthew it is that we love God and love our neighbors. In Exodus, it is that we embrace God and God alone. In Genesis, it is that we act with justice for ourselves, for each other, and for the natural world, of which we are stewards.

We are saved because God has chosen us. We are righteous because God has shown us how to be righteous and even forgives our shortcomings when we fail to be righteous.

Peace be with you.

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