The Relationship of The Christian To Law And Grace
The Problem Stated
Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology disagree concerning the relationship of the Christian to the Mosaic Law. Covenant Theology advocates the following position: Christians today are not under the civil and ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law, but they are under the moral aspect (the Ten Commandments) of the Law. Failure to be under the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law is to be lawless. The moral aspect of the Law presents the eternal moral absolutes of God, which are unchangeable. If a person is not under the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law, then that person is unrelated to the eternal, unchangeable, moral absolutes of God. Thus, there are only two alternatives open to the Christian — either be under the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law or be lawless.
In contrast with the Covenant Theology view, Dispensational Theology holds the following position: Christians today are not under any aspect of the Mosaic Law, even the moral aspect. It should be noted that, although the Mosaic Law had three aspects (civil, ceremonial and moral), it functioned as an indivisible unit. Thus, to place oneself under one aspect of the Mosaic Law is to obligate oneself to be under the entire Law. If a person is under the moral aspect of the Law, he is required to keep all the civil and ceremonial regulations as well.
In addition, the fact that a person is not under the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law does not mean that that person is unrelated to the eternal, unchangeable, moral absolutes of God. Although the Mosaic Law did present the eternal, unchangeable, moral absolutes of God, it was only one way of God administering His moral absolutes to one group of people (the nation of Israel) during one period of history (from God’s meeting with Israel at Mount Sinai to the cross of Jesus Christ) [Dt 4:8-14; 5:1-22; Gal. 3:19, 23-25].
Since God’s moral absolutes are eternal, they have been in effect throughout all of history. They were in effect, then, before God instituted the Mosaic Law at Mount Sinai. This means, therefore, that prior to Mount Sinai God administered His unchangeable moral absolutes in ways other than the Mosaic Law way. It also means that God’s eternal moral absolutes can be in effect without the Mosaic Law being in effect.
In addition, it should be noted that before the Mosaic Law was instituted there were people who lived righteous lives in conformity to God’s moral absolutes. Abel (Heb. 11:4), Enoch (Gen. 5:22, 24; Heb. 11:5), Noah (Gen. 6:9; Ezek. 14:14, 20) and Job (Job 1:8; 2:3; Ezek. 14:14, 20) are examples of such people. It is interesting to note that God placed Noah and Job (who lived without the Mosaic Law) in the same category of righteousness as Daniel (who lived under the Mosaic Law) [Ezek. 14:14, 20]. The fact that some people lived righteous lives in conformity to God’s moral absolutes before the Mosaic Law was instituted indicates, two things. First, people can be related to the eternal, unchangeable, moral absolutes of God without being under the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law. Second, it is possible for a person to be free from the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law without being lawless.
Prior to Mount Sinai, God administered His moral absolutes over all of mankind in ways other than the Mosaic Law way. From Mount Sinai to the cross of Jesus Christ, He administered His moral absolutes over Israel in the Mosaic Law way. Since the time of the cross, God has been administering His eternal absolutes over all of mankind in a way which is different from and superior to the Mosaic Law way. The moral absolutes have not changed, but the way of God administering those absolutes has changed. For example, idolatry and adultery have been just as wrong in God’s sight since the time of the cross as they were when the Mosaic Law was in effect, but since the cross God has not required the death penalty for these sins (1 Cor. 6:9-11) as He did require it when the Mosaic Law was m effect (Ex. 22:20; Lev. 20:10). The new, superior way of God administering His moral absolutes is called “grace.”
In light of what has been seen, the Dispensational position prompts two significant conclusions. First, freedom from the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law does not involve freedom from the eternal, unchangeable, moral absolutes of God. It only involves freedom from one way of God administering His absolutes — namely, the Mosaic Law way. Second, there are not just two alternatives open to the Christian — either be under the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law or be lawless. There is a third alternative — be under the grace way of God administering His eternal, unchangeable, moral absolutes, and one will not be lawless.
Evidence That The Mosaic Law Was An Indivisible Unit
Dispensational Theology bases its belief concerning the indivisible nature of the Mosaic Law upon three biblical passages. First, in Galatians 3:10 Paul wrote: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” One of the implications of this statement is as follows: The person who attempted to keep the Mosaic Law was required to keep every aspect of the Law perfectly and continuously. In other words, the Mosaic Law was an indivisible unit. The keeping of one part of it obligated a person to keep every part of it.
Second, in Galatians 5:3 Paul stated: “For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.” Circumcision was one part of the ceremonial aspect of the Mosaic Law. Paul was asserting that submission to only one part of the ceremonial aspect of the Law obligated a person to keep every aspect of the Law. Once again he was emphasizing the indivisible nature of the Law.
Third, James declared: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (Jas. 2:10). James was asserting that the breaking of only one part of the Mosaic Law made a person guilty of breaking the entire Law. The only way that this could be true was if the Mosaic Law were an indivisible unit.
The fact that the Mosaic Law was indivisible by nature has a strong implication concerning the relationship of the Christian to the Mosaic Law. The implication is this: Since the Mosaic Law was indivisible by nature, the Christian who places himself under the moral aspect of it obligates himself to keep every aspect of the Law (the civil, ceremonial and moral).
Evidence That Christians Are Not Under The Mosaic Law
Several Scriptures indicate that Christians are not under the Mosaic Law. Twice in Romans 6:14-15 Paul declared that Christians (including himself) are not under law but under grace. In Romans 7:4 Paul asserted that Christians have become dead to the Law through Christ’s physical death. In the context of this statement, Paul’s point was that the Christian’s death to the Mosaic Law freed him from obligation to it. Again in Romans 7:6 Paul stated that the Christian’s death to the Mosaic Law delivered him from that Law. The word translated delivered meant “to take from the sphere of operation.”1 The Christian, therefore, has been removed from the Mosaic Law’s sphere of operation. He further taught that this removal results in the Christian serving God in the newness of the Spirit, not in the oldness of the Mosaic Law. Thus, the Christian serves God in a sphere of administration of His absolutes which are different from the Mosaic Law sphere or administration.
In Galatians 2:19, Paul declared that he died to the Law with the purpose that he might live to God. The implication is that a believer must be separated from relationship with the Mosaic Law in order to experience true spiritual life. In Galatians 3:19, he indicated that the Mosaic Law was intended to be temporary. It was to be in effect only until the first coming of Jesus Christ, Abraham’s seed. Paul enlarged this concept of the temporary nature of the Law by teaching that the Law functioned as a pedagogue (a moral restrainer or disciplinarian) only until the faith, which came through Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry, arrived. Once that faith arrived, believers were not under the pedagogue (the Law) [Gal. 3:23-25].
In Galatians 5:18, Paul wrote that the person who is led by (controlled by) the Holy Spirit is not under the Law. In Romans 8:14, Paul indicated that it is the Christian who is led by the Spirit. Thus, through his Galatians 5:18 statement, Paul was asserting that the Christian is not under the Law. Then he stated that there is no law against the fruit of the Spirit (which fruit is produced by the Spirit in a believer’s life) [Gal. 5:22-23]. Paul’s point in these statements was as follows: The Holy Spirit produces righteous fruit in the Christian. Since this fruit is righteous by nature, and since the Mosaic Law was ordained to restrain unrighteousness (lawlessness) [Gal. 3:191, it isn’t necessary to have the Mosaic Law in effect to oppose the righteous fruit of the Spirit in the life of a Christian. Thus, the Christian is not under the Mosaic Law.
Paul declared that the Mosaic Law was abolished by Jesus Christ through His physical death on the cross (Eph. 2:15 16). The word translated “abolished” meant “to put out of business” or “to dissolve business relationships.”2 The idea behind this declaration is as follows: From the time that God met with Israel at Mount Sinai to the time of Christs death on the cross. God employed the Mosaic Law as His way of administering His moral absolutes over Israel. But when Christ died, God stopped employing the Mosaic Law; He dissolved His relationship with it; He put the Law out of business. Since God stopped employing the Mosaic Law as His way of administering His moral absolutes over Israel when Christ died, believers since the cross have not been under the Mosaic Law even as a moral rule of life.
According to the writer of Hebrews, the Old Testament Scriptures indicated that eventually the Aaronic priesthood would be replaced by a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 7). Thus, the Old Testament implied that the Aaronic priesthood was temporary. On the basis of the temporary nature of the Aaronic priesthood, the writer of Hebrews carried his teaching a step further by declaring: “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Heb. 7:12). F. F. Bruce stated that the word translated “change” in this statement “implies not merely change but abrogation.”3 Thus, the writer of Hebrews was indicating that, when Jesus Christ abolished the Aaronic priesthood through the establishment of His Melchizedekian priestly ministry, the Mosaic Law which established the Aaronic priesthood was also abolished.
Concerning this teaching by the writer of Hebrews, F. F. Bruce declared the following:
Nor is it only the Aaronic priesthood which must be superseded. That priesthood was instituted under the Mosaic law, and was so integral to it that a change in the priesthood carries with it inevitably a change in the law. If the Aaronic priesthood was instituted for a temporary purpose, to be brought to an end when the age of fulfillment dawned, the same must be true of the law under which that priesthood was introduced, So by his own independent line of argument our author reaches the same conclusion as Paul: the law was a temporary provision, “our tutor to bring us unto Christ… but now that faith is come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3:24f) …. If we like, we may say that Paul has the moral law mainly in mind, whereas the author of Hebrews is concerned more with the ceremonial law — although the distinction between the oral and ceremonial law is one drawn by Christian theologians, not by those who accepted the whole law as the will of God, nor yet by the New Testament writers. But in principle Paul and our author are agreed that the law was a temporary dispensation of God, valid only until Christ came to inaugurate the age of perfection.4
Since Jesus abolished the Mosaic Law when He abolished the Aaronic priesthood, it can be concluded that Christians today are not under the Mosaic Law.
This article has presented evidence for two conclusions. First, the Mosaic Law is an indivisible unit. Thus, if a person places himself under the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law, he obligates himself to keep the entire Law (including the civil and ceremonial aspects). Second, the Christian is not under any aspect of the Mosaic Law.
The next article will explore the fact that Christ established grace as the new way of God administering His eternal, unchangeable, moral absolutes. It will also examine the manner in which God administers His moral absolutes through grace.
- Gerhard Delling, “katargeo.” Theological Dictionary Of The New Testament, Vol. 1, ed. By Gerhard Kittel, trans. and ed. By Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Win, B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), p. 454.
- J. Oliver Buswell, Ten Reasons Why A Christian Does Not Live A Wicked Life (Chicago: Moody Press, 1959), p. 20.
- F. F. Bruce, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, from The New International Commentary On The New Testament, gen. ed., F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), p. 143, footnote 39.
- Ibid., pp. 145-46.