New Testament Perspective on the Law

This is a continuation of a short series examining Biblical perspectives on the law. The first post looked at the Old Testament perspective.

In the last post, I wrote about my desire to understand the law.

Is it good or is it bad?

There are conflicting perspectives. Wanting to see it the way God sees it, I went to the Word and took note of what God himself and the pillars of the faith said about it.

Here’s what I found in the New Testament.

The Savior

Our Savior was the Word made flesh (John 1:14).  Every word of God ever spoken put on flesh and dwelt among us.  The law of God became man.  And he used the Word that made up his very being to fight the devil when he was in the wilderness for 40 days. Three times, he quoted from Deuteronomy, one of the books of the law:

Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4, quoting Deut 8:3)

Not only did he use the Word to fight against the lies and temptation of the enemy, but he also taught that the law and the prophets would remain unchanged until the heaven and earth pass away, at which point all prophesied events would have come to pass.  At that point, everything would have been accomplished – not just salvation that he provided at the cross, but also everything that scripture prophesies to take place after that point. In the Sermon on the Mount, he said:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,  not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

What did He mean when he said that our righteousness would have to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees?  Weren’t the Pharisees super-righteous?  Not according to the Savior. So what exactly was his issue with them? Listen to this:

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. (Mark 7:8)

To the Savior, the law was good, but the traditions of men were bad.

John

John is one of the disciples who has the clearest perspective on the law.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4)

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:2-3)

I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. And now I ask you, dear lady – not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning – that we love one another.  And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. (2 John 4-6)

To John, the law – the same law the Father gave in the beginning – was good.

James

Keeping in mind that the only “word” the New Testament believers had was the Old Testament, listen to what James says:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, his is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away, and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. (James 1:22-25)

To James, the law was liberating and perfect.

Peter

Again, keep in mind that the only “word” at the time Peter penned his letters was the Old Testament scriptures.

Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.”   And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25 quoting Isaiah 40:8)

For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2 Peter 2:21)

To Peter, the law is good.

Summary

If we just had the Old Testament and these words of the Savior Himself as well as several of His disciples, we’d have to come to the conclusion that the law of God is good.

But … then there’s Paul.  Anyone who has ever read Paul knows he has striking words against the law. How do on earth do we process Paul in light of the positive law perspectives we’ve been looking at?  We’ll tackle these questions in the next post.

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