The believer's relationship to the law of God has been a long debated subject and a point of division among those who claim to believe the Gospel. Some claim that God's law is the believer's rule of conduct and obedience. Their opponents accuse them of being legalists. Others deny that God's law is the believer's rule of conduct and obedience. Their opponents accuse them of being antinomians (without law). Some claim that New Testament believers are still under the Ten Commandments as a rule of conduct while others claim that New Testament believers are not under the Ten Commandments. Some say that Christ, not the law, is the believer's rule of conduct and obedience.
The controversy could be settled by right definitions of the law and the Gospel. God's Gospel is the preaching of the particulars concerning God's promise of salvation conditioned on Christ alone, based upon Christ's righteousness imputed to sinners. Everyone who truly believes this promise knows the God who made the promise and therefore should expect God to fulfill it.
We know that the Holy Spirit of promise would never promote a legal or mercenary spirit of bondage in the heirs of the promise. This demands that the believer's obedience and worship be motivated by the certainty of salvation based on the imputed righteousness of Christ. The law of God which is the believer's rule of conduct now in the Gospel Economy. In the New Covenant or Gospel Economy God has clearly established the believer's rule of conduct in the precepts of the Gospel as declared by Christ and His apostles. There is not a single part of the believer's walk and conduct before God or man which is not clearly revealed in the New Testament.
The believer's obedience, guided by these Gospel precepts, is neither the cause nor the ground of salvation. The only cause of salvation is God's love, and the only ground of salvation is Christ's righteousness imputed. The believer's obedience to God's law only evidences salvation.
When referring to God's law, many restrict their meaning to the Old Covenant and Mount Sinai, or the Ten Commandments, as given and imposed by God to the nation Israel. Others simply mean God's revealed will by way of commandment in any generation. When God speaks, it is by way of revelation and/or commandment. Just as there were specific precepts expressed by God for which believers in the Old Testament were responsible, there are specific precepts expressed by God for which believers in the New Testament are responsible. Compare the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus 20 with many of the commandments recorded in the New Testament epistles. For example: 1 John 5:21; Colossians 3:8; Ephesians 6:1; 1 Corinthians 10:8; Ephesians 4:28; Colossians 3:9; Hebrews 13:5.
All of these are direct commands from God to His people. How are we to view these things? Are we to conclude that the Old Testament laws were binding upon those people while the New Testament precepts are mere suggestions and good advice? We know better than this. Does this mean then that believers in the New Testament are under the rule of the Ten Commandments? No. Believers in the New Covenant are not under the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are not our rule of conduct. As God's people under the Old Covenant had specific rules binding upon them whereby they were to express their love, gratitude, and reverence to God, believers under the New Covenant have specific rules binding upon them whereby they are to express their love, gratitude, and reverence to God. All that is binding upon believers in the New Covenant is revealed in the New Testament just as all that was binding upon God's people in the Old Covenant was revealed. Does this mean that we are commanded to obey God's commands in order to be saved, or to become holy, or to be recommended unto God? Of course not! That would be legalism which is opposed to grace! This brings us to the next issue.
What Is Legalism?
Before we label anyone a legalist or in bondage we must understand what legalism is and what spiritual bondage is. Many claim that anyone who says the law of God, in whatever capacity or however defined, is his rule of life is a legalist or under bondage. Some imply that even the presence of law is legalism or bondage. Some say that anyone who claims any commitment to the law of God is a legalist or under bondage. This is not so. Consider the New Testament Scriptures listed previously. This is God's Word and God's Word is law. It is His revealed will by way of commandment. These are not mere suggestions. A true believer who looks upon such Scriptures as commandments from God and therefore his rule of conduct and obedience, is not a legalist nor is he under bondage. It does not mean that he is trying to reinstate or put people under the Old Covenant or, as many suggests, "flee to Mount Sinai" for life and assurance.
We affirm that God's holy law revealed in the Gospel Economy is the saved sinner's rule of conduct and obedience. This does not make any of God's saints legalists, nor does it put any of them under bondage. One of the best proofs that this is possible is believers who lived under the Old Covenant law. For example, Moses, David, Isaiah, and all other Old Testament saints who lived during the Mosaic Economy were diligent and careful to participate in the Old Covenant laws and ordinances established and ordained by God. These laws and ordinances were their rule of conduct and obedience at that time. None of these believers however were legalists or under spiritual bondage. In contrast to believers under the Old Covenant, unbelievers (the majority of Israel who lived under and participated in the same laws and ordinances) were legalists and under bondage. This should give us a Biblical definition of legalism. Read Romans 9:31-10:3.
A legalist is a person who vainly imagines that righteousness and holiness is obtained, improved, or conditioned upon personal obedience to the law of God. He believes that salvation, final glory, or some part of this, is conditioned on what he does or what he may think he is enabled to do. A legalist is not one who simply seeks to live by the rule of the Ten Commandments but one who makes his obedience to the law of God the basis of justification, sanctification, and reward in Heaven. A legalist is one who seeks to add his obedience to Christ's righteousness to gain or improve a favorable relationship with God. And in so doing he makes the blood of Christ and the grace of God of non-effect to himself (Gal. 2:21; 5:1). A legalist is one who believes that salvation is conditioned on the sinner in some way or to some degree. He is one who expects God either to save him, keep him saved, bless him, favor him, or bring him to final glory based on something other than the merits of Christ's obedience and death, His righteousness imputed and received by faith.
The believer's only righteousness before God is the righteousness of Christ imputed to him by grace alone. Christ is the Lord our Righteousness. Any sinner who has not submitted to the imputed righteousness of Christ as the only ground of salvation is a legalist. This is evidenced by a refusal to repent, to confess that before justifying faith he was an active idolater, a servant of sin, living in sin, bringing forth fruit unto death, even though he was religious and appeared righteous unto men, even though he may have professed to believe in Jesus. This is spiritual bondage. So legalism and spiritual bondage is seeking salvation or any part of it based on anything other than the righteousness of Christ freely imputed and received by faith.
God's Design In Salvation
We must view all things and settle all issues, including the believer's relationship to God's law, in view of God's whole purpose in salvation. God's design in the salvation of sinners is, first, that every attribute of His redemptive character be honored. God's design in this salvation, secondly, is that Christ have the preeminence and be exalted in His mediatorial glory. These two designs are vitally connected. God's design in salvation, thirdly, is that all grounds of boasting on the part of the saved sinner be excluded.
We can conclude from God's design in salvation, and from the Gospel, which is God's promise of eternal salvation and final glory conditioned on Christ alone, that any person who claims that God's law is his rule of life and who means that his obedience under the law saves him, keeps him saved, makes him holy and fit for heaven, or secures his final glorification in Heaven, is a legalist. We can also conclude that a person who claims that God's law is his rule of life and who means that God's revealed will by way of commandment is the standard and guide of his conduct is not necessarily a legalist. God's law as it has been revealed in any given generation, even in the Old Covenant, was never intended to be a way of salvation or holiness. The law of God has always been given to slay sinners from having any hope of salvation based on their best efforts at morality. "Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound" (Rom. 5:20).
The Bible shows us plainly that a believer's efforts towards obedience are to be the results of justifying faith. They are to be performed from the spirit of adoption and liberty, not bondage and legalism. Where obedience is motivated by the certainty of salvation and final glory conditioned on Christ alone, legalism and bondage are excluded. This is the freedom that God's people have to serve God acceptably. This is the liberty in which we are commanded to "stand fast" (Gal. 5:1). Every exhortation given in Scripture for us to obey God's revealed will is given to justified sinners based upon the love of God in conditioning all of salvation upon Christ and sending Christ into the world to meet those conditions. When this is applied to a sinner's heart (mind, affections, and will) that sinner comes from being a "servant of sin" to being a "servant of righteousness" (Rom. 6:17-18). This is not because his obedience meets the standard of God's righteousness. His obedience even as a saved sinner still falls way short of God's holy standard. In this light all believers must continue to say, "O wretched man that I am." But he is a "servant of righteousness" in that he now is enabled to serve God and obey God in the spirit of grace, love, and adoption, motivated by the love of Christ which constrains him. He is no longer an unwilling slave. He is a bondslave of Christ.
GOD REQUIRES OBEDIENCE FROM HIS PEOPLE. The obedience that God requires is summed up in the two great commandments - Love God supremely and love our neighbor as ourselves. The obedience and love that God requires is guided by His law, His revealed will by way of commandment. A believing sinner must obey God, else there is no salvation (Rom. 6:13-16). Faith without works is dead. But God requires no obedience or works that are legal and mercenary. Obedience is in no way a condition sinners must meet in order to earn, merit, attain, or qualify themselves for salvation, holiness, or final glory. Character and conduct is important in salvation, but it is totally excluded as to the ground of salvation. True obedience begins with believing God's Gospel which is the greatest act of obedience a sinner can perform. Any obedience done apart from faith, apart from the certainty of final glory based on the merits of Christ's obedience and death, is fruit unto death. Acceptable obedience is the obedience performed by a justified sinner motivated by grace. It is the fruit of grace not the source. Where there is no fruit there is no life.
It is impossible for any sinner who truly hears and believes God's promise to have any legal or mercenary notions of salvation conditioned on the sinner. Those who believe the promise, who freely receive Christ's righteousness imputed as the only ground of salvation, see plainly that before justifying faith they were active idolaters and all their efforts at religion and morality were fruit unto death. Before justifying faith, when we thought that God had saved us based on conditions we had met, or had been enabled to meet, we were worshipping and serving a god of our imaginations which was no god at all.
Again, the promise itself forbids any notion of salvation conditioned on the sinner in any way. Justifying faith excludes all boasting, all notions of salvation conditioned on anything other than Christ. Saving repentance forbids any notions of salvation conditioned on the sinner. Perseverance excludes all notions of salvation, including final glory, conditioned on the sinner, because those who believe God's promise are to expect God to fulfill that promise. We see how God is glorified in the fulfilling of His promise. Christ's mediatorial glory is actively engaged in bringing us to Heaven, according to the promise, and Christ's righteousness imputed and received by faith entitles us to Heaven in such a way that is consistent with strict law and inflexible justice. All grounds of boasting are excluded in the believing of this promise (Rom 3:27).
God's Law Defined and Distinguished
What is God's law? In Matthew 4:4 Christ said, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Keeping in mind that believers in the New Testament are guided by God's law as defined in the precepts of the Gospel Economy as declared by Christ and His apostles, we need to say a word concerning the law of God in general.
The law simply stated is God's revealed will by way of commandment given as man's rule conduct and obedience. It is sometimes referred to as God's word, God's rule, God's testimony, God's precepts, and God's doctrine. The law of God in general is that standard of conduct which is no respecter of persons. It requires perfect holiness in thought, motive, word, and deed. It was given to Adam from the very beginning. As stated before, it is summarized in "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" and "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matt. 22:37-39). It has never been a rule by which any sinner could obtain eternal life, holiness, or acceptance with God. "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). It has always been that perfect rule by which we should judge sin and righteousness. This is how it exposes our depravity and the impossibility of any sinner being justified based on character and conduct.
How, then, could it be said to be a believer's rule? Again, it is not the believer's rule by which he can obtain or achieve salvation, holiness, or favor with God. But every believer is guided by this perfect law of love. It can only be viewed as a believer's rule in the following sense:
1. It slays a believer from any notions of salvation (or any part of it) conditioned on our best obedience, and, therefore, it drives a believer to Christ for all righteousness and salvation. God's holy law is the standard by which a believer can compare himself to Christ and see that his best efforts at obedience "come short of the glory of God." He sees that his obedience cannot contribute in any way to the ground of his salvation. This causes him to say, "If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?" (Ps. 130:3). It causes him, then, to rest in Christ and trust Him for all righteousness. "Unto you therefore which believe he is precious" (1 Peter 2:7).
2. It is the guide of a believer's conduct, the substance of the love which God requires, and the goal of his desired conformity to Christ. Many seem to think that when God saves us, from then on obedience comes naturally, even spontaneously. They claim we no longer need rules and regulations, specific guidelines. All we need, they say, is love. This not only denies God's testimony, but it questions God's wisdom and design in giving us specific guidelines. It is also simply not true in our experience. A life of obedience involves a continual struggle between the flesh and the spirit. It is a constant process of "casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).
Due to our remaining self-love, self-righteousness, and pride, we must always labor, not to be saved or made holy, but to bow to God's revealed will when it crosses our own sinful wills. We must continue always in the task of "the renewing of (our) mind(s), that (we) may prove what that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God" (Rom. 12:2). The main struggle in the warfare of the flesh and the spirit is to fight self-righteous and legal notions that our obedience in some way recommends us to God or makes us holy. The law of God is the standard by which we see that our obedience cannot make us holy. But at the same time it is that standard at which we are to aim in order to be conformed to the image of Christ our Lord who kept God's law perfectly. In Christ we see that the substance of love is the law of God. We know that Christ loved the Father perfectly because He obeyed the Father perfectly.
Consider this issue. Some say, "Law is not my rule. Love is." What do they mean by this? We know that it is God's revealed will that we as believing sinners love God supremely and love our neighbor as ourselves. All the duties contained in God's law are but various forms and manifestations of love! Here we can plainly see the wisdom and reasonableness of God's law. Every particular contained in each command is directly related to love for God and love for our neighbor. But what kind of love does God require? How far should we go? Can we determine this for ourselves? Is the kind of love that God requires of us spontaneous in our day to day living? A serious consideration of God's testimony and an honest evaluation of ourselves will prove to us that it is only by God's law that we see the substance of the love he requires. This kind of love is not natural to sinners, not even saved sinners who are still plagued with remaining sin and self love.
What does God's word say about this love? Love works NO ill. Love blesses them that persecute us. Love overcomes evil with good. Love is jealous for the character of God and the pre-eminence of Christ. In every area of life love forbids evil and demands good. Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Far too many professing Christians have ruined their own souls and sealed the veil over their own hearts by believing that the Christian's rule of life is Christ's law of love when by this they mean something mystical, something intangible, some emotional feeling towards our neighbor. Love is our rule of duty, but this love has substance. Love has always been guided by God's revealed will by way of command. If this were not true then every man would be a law unto himself. By this law is the knowledge of sin. It is this law of love that cannot pronounce any sinner righteous based on our best attempts at obedience, based on the personal character and conduct of the best saint. This law requires perfect and continual love for our worst enemy and forbids the least degree of coldness of affection at any time towards those who would destroy us if they could.
The duties of love which reveal God's will are difficult for us even to attempt and impossible for us to perform perfectly in this world. No person can attempt to comply with it in a way that is pleasing to God except those who are motivated by the certainty of salvation based on Christ's righteousness alone. Based on His righteousness the sincere desires and attempts to love God and our neighbor, along with our realization that we always come so short, is well pleasing to our gracious heavenly Father. WE ARE EXHORTED TO PERFECT LOVE, WHICH HAS SUBSTANCE, WHICH MANIFESTS ITSELF IN DEEDS, WITHOUT LEGAL FEAR OF PUNISHMENT OR MERCENARY PROMISES OF REWARDS. God the Holy Spirit never encourages believers to perform any of these duties in such a way that would give us confidence in the flesh or cause us to expect any blessing from God based on anything other than the imputed righteousness of Christ.
These specific things are to be our rule of conduct. None of these things are binding upon a believer for the purpose of attaining life, maintaining life, nor for making a believer holy or certain for Heaven. All this is obtained and secured by Christ alone. But as love is our rule, these specific things are the substance of love which is guided by law. Many object to this language saying, "Christ, not law, is my rule of life;" or "Love, not law, is my rule of life." Usually when they speak of law they are referring to Mount Sinai and the Ten Commandments. Let us address this issue briefly.
Are We Under The Ten Commandments?
Does the fact that God's revealed will by way of commandment, God's law, mean that believers in the New Testament are under the Ten Commandments? NO. The Ten Commandments as they were given at Mount Sinai to Israel is not the New Testament believer's rule of conduct and obedience. The Ten Commandments was part of the Old Covenant, the Mosaic Economy. The whole Mosaic Economy has been abolished by way of fulfillment by Christ. The Old Covenant was instituted by God for the nation Israel and for a limited period of time. It served its purpose, and then God removed it. To understand its purpose it must be viewed as a whole unit. Different aspects of the Old Covenant can be distinguished (moral, ceremonial, civil) for the purposes of studying its particulars. But these cannot be separated from that covenant. We cannot say that one part is abolished while another part remains.
The Bible tells us plainly that believers under the New Covenant are not come to Mount Sinai. Read Hebrews 12:18-24. We are come to Mount Zion. This is symbolic language that explains how we are not under any part of the Old Covenant as a rule of conduct and obedience. We are guided by the precepts of the Gospel Economy. The Ten Commandments as they were given at Mount Sinai to the people of the nation of Israel have been abolished along with the whole Old Covenant.
The Old Covenant (Mosaic Economy) and the New Covenant (Gospel Economy) are two separate and distinct covenants. Each distinct covenant has its own mediator, temple, priesthood, altar, sacrifice, ordinances and laws. The Old Covenant was ratified by the blood of animals. The New Covenant was ratified by the precious blood of Christ. The Old Covenant, including the Ten Commandments, has been abolished by the establishment of the New Covenant, including the precepts of the Gospel (Heb. 7:12, 14; 8:3-4; 9:22) (Heb. 7:18; 8:13; 9:10; 10:9; Cor. 3:7, 11).
The Ten Commandments, which included strict sabbath keeping, was a vital part of the Old Covenant as was the ceremonial law. The whole economy was instituted by God to regulate the worship and obedience of the nation Israel in the land of promise. It was to be in effect until the coming of Christ. The main purpose of the Old Covenant was to be a "schoolmaster" to lead those who were under it to Christ for salvation. The Ten Commandments and all its particulars were given to expose their guilt and defilement and discourage them from any notion of eternal salvation based on their obedience. It was to show them the impossibility of salvation or any part of it conditioned on the sinner. It proved that God could not be just and justify any sinner based on that sinner's character and conduct. The ceremonial law and all its particulars typified and foreshadowed Christ and what was to be accomplished in eternal salvation by Him alone. All of its elements taught the Gospel principles of SUBSTITUTION, SATISFACTION, and IMPUTATION, so that sinners would see and believe that all of salvation must be conditioned on Christ by whose righteousness alone God could be just to justify the ungodly.
The persons unto whom the Ten Commandments were given were the natural descendants of Abraham as a nation. It began and ended with Israel in the land given them by promise. It was God's appointed system of religion and government designed for that nation for a limited period of time to keep them separate from other nations and to point them to Christ for eternal salvation. The establishment of the Gospel Economy by Christ meant the abolishment of the Mosaic Economy (Heb. 8:13). This meant a change in the whole law.
"For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a [change] also of the law." (Heb. 7:12)
The life of the Old Covenant was in the priesthood. The priesthood typified Christ and His eternal priesthood. When He came and fulfilled the duties of His priestly office, the Old Covenant priesthood was abolished along with the whole Mosaic Economy. When the priesthood changed, this meant a change in the whole law. Christ has made all things new. A new order, an entirely new system of ordinances and worship, is revealed and declared in the Gospel Economy, the New Covenant. All things for which believers under the New Covenant are responsible are revealed and declared in the New Testament. Laws and ordinances for which believers under the Old Covenant were responsible are not our rule of practice and conduct today.
For example, the nation Israel (including true believers) under the Old Covenant was responsible to laws of circumcision, diet, tithing, strict sabbath keeping, along with laws of sacrifice and other ceremonies prescribed by God for them. In order to remain in that nation temporally each individual, even true believers, had to comply with these rules. These laws and ordinances were their rule of conduct and obedience as long as that covenant was in force. This included the penalties also. For example, the commandment to remember the sabbath and the one for children to honor their parents both carried with them the penalty of death for offenders. Believers today are not bound by these laws as such, nor are we subject to the death penalty assigned to these laws.
All this proves that the Old Covenant has been abolished and replaced with a New Covenant. Every mention in the Old Testament of Christ's coming in time and the calling of the Gentiles was a reminder of the abolishment of the Old Covenant. Christ was not the surety, the temple, the priest, altar, or sacrifice of the Old Covenant. These were all types and pictures, but not the substance. Consider also that everyone who has ever been lost in any generation is lost based on the covenant of works God made with Adam. Everyone who has ever been saved in any generation is saved based on the covenant of grace made with Christ. No one was ever eternally lost or saved based on the Old Covenant.
The Law and The Gospel
It is a marvelous display of God's wisdom, grace, and truth that by way of the Gospel the justification of sinners based on the imputed righteousness of Christ is brought into intimate connection with the same law that condemned them based on their character and conduct. The law works wrath. The Gospel proclaims reconciliation. The two are connected by means of a redemption. The doctrine of salvation revealed in the Gospel presupposes the reality of sin revealed by God's law. Since all men are sinners, there can be no salvation based upon man's works. Sin exists wherever perfect obedience to God's law is not found. There is no perfect obedience among men. "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10). "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).
The law condemns a sinner based on character and conduct. It cannot pronounce a sinner holy and righteous based on anything he does or may be enabled to do. Yet in salvation the law of God must pronounce a sinner holy and righteous if God is to be both a just God and a Savior. We conclude then that man's works and efforts must be excluded from the ground of salvation. Man, by nature or practice, has no righteousness, and he cannot produce one. Thank God that the Gospel reveals another righteousness that men have no part in producing - the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sinners are commanded to trust Him alone for all righteousness.
One of the most glorious things about this great salvation is that the same law that pronounced a sinner condemned and unclean based on his character and conduct pronounces a sinner justified and holy based on the righteousness of Christ imputed to him (Rom. 3:21-22). The Gospel reveals that Christ, as the Substitute of God's elect, having their sins imputed to Him, died under the curse of the law. He satisfied both law and justice in order to redeem His sheep. All whom Christ represented will be able to say, "I have kept God's law perfectly, not in my own person, but in the Person of Christ my Substitute." They will be able to say, "I have suffered the penalty due to all my sins, not in my own person, but in the Person of Christ my Substitute."
God's law is "holy and just and good" (Rom. 7:12). The goal of the law is justification and life. This goal can be attained only by righteousness. This is what God requires. God's law is the enemy of every sinner who seeks this goal of righteousness by his works and efforts at obedience. God's law is not the enemy of any sinner who seeks this goal of righteousness by faith in Christ. "For Christ the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Rom. 10:4). True believers attain the goal of the law based on their oneness with Christ. In this sense believers are dead to the law. In this sense the law has no claim upon a believer. The law of God, having found its fulfillment of righteousness based on the merits of Christ imputed to the believer, has no claim upon the believer to keep any of its precepts or to suffer its penalty in order to be saved, made holy, or to be finally glorified.
Believers are in an unchangeable state of justification based on the imputed righteousness of Christ without the deeds of the law. All obligations to the law as far as attaining its goal of righteousness is concerned have ceased for a sinner who is united to Christ. Any attempts at obedience aimed at saving ourselves, keeping ourselves saved, making ourselves holy, or securing our final glory, are forbidden because this is legalism and bondage. All obedience is to be motivated by the fact that all these blessings have been attained by virtue of our oneness with Christ based on His righteousness imputed. But that obedience which is done from a spirit of liberty can be and is guided by God's law, God's revealed will. God's holy law has always been and will always be that fixed rule of righteousness summed up in "love God supremely," and "love our neighbors as ourselves." All who are redeemed and justified in Christ are responsible to this law. This in no way brings a justified sinner into legalism and bondage because:
1. Believers already have a righteousness and holiness that satisfies the law. God's law demands our eternal blessedness based on the righteousness of Christ freely imputed; and
2. All encouragements and commands to obedience are directed towards justified sinners and motivated by the certainty of salvation and final glory based upon the same righteousness of Christ freely imputed.
This excludes any legal, mercenary notions that our salvation is in any way conditioned on our obedience, our personal righteousness, or our perseverance. It excludes any efforts performed to be seen of men. We are to expect no blessing from God, temporal or spiritual, based on the merit of personal obedience as if we could earn something from God. We are to walk and obey expecting God to bless as He sees fit based on the merits of Christ's obedience unto death as our Substitute and Surety. We are to attribute no prosperity to our own goodness but only to the goodness of God. And especially the eternal blessings of grace, all grace here and all glory hereafter, are not to be attributed in any way to our own obedience and goodness but only to God's goodness and grace in Christ. So God does require obedience from his people, but it is the obedience of a justified sinner motivated by God's love which is revealed in His promise of eternal salvation and final glory based on the imputed righteousness of Christ.
God's law has always been the guide of a believer's obedience, conduct, and love. The obedience even of a justified sinner is not spontaneous and natural. Although we do have a holy principle of fear, love, and obedience, although we do have the law of God written on our hearts, we are still plagued with an evil principle (remaining self-love, pride, self righteousness). There is a warfare within every believer wherein he struggles daily with sin. In many areas we must be instructed and guided by God's law to know, first, how far short our obedience and love comes of what they ought to be. This keeps us ever looking to Christ for all of salvation, while we cry, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:25). This keeps us ever saying, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ," (Gal. 6:14). Next, this shows us continually the standard for which we are to aim. The law for example says not only love our brethren but love our enemies. There are many times that we would seek to justify ourselves were it not for God's testimony in this area. Those who claim that this is spontaneous are denying their own sinnerhood and denying the warfare of the flesh and the spirit.
If God's law were not the justified sinner's standard of sin and righteousness, he would have no set rule by which to compare his character and conduct. He could not know how far short he comes of God's glory in Christ. He would be a law unto himself. How do we interpret Romans 6:14 in light of this? "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). This does not mean that we have no written rules, regulations, and guidelines. It means that the law of God in a believer's case has been totally satisfied. Therefore the law cannot condemn a justified sinner nor can it demand any obedience to its commands in a legal way. Justified sinners are under grace, and grace reigns through the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 5:21) which is perfect satisfaction to God's law and justice. Read Galatians 4:4-5:
To say that God has not given specific guidelines whereby we know the particulars of this law, whereby we see how far short we come of the perfect love, and whereby we aim to be conformed to the image of Christ, is to deny a multitude of Scripture and to question God's wisdom in revealing these things. If we say that God's law has been abolished as the believer's rule of conduct, we would have to say that there is no sin, because "where there is no law, there is no sin." From such a principle it would follow that God's law could neither be regarded as a fixed rule of righteousness and holiness nor an invariable test of sin and iniquity. We could then set our own standards of love and end up thinking highly of ourselves rather than seeing the reality of true love guided by God's law. Consider how men and women fool themselves into thinking they love their neighbor the way they ought to. Even believers can fall into such delusion until we are confronted with God's specific testimony concerning perfect love. Take some time and read of the magnitude and depth of real love in I Corinthians 13 and Romans 12. These examples not only show how far short we come in real love, but it also shows the love that is in every believer in principle by the grace of God, and that for which we should aim in deed. Every commandment God gives in the New Testament is a fixed rule that should guide our love to God and to our neighbor.
We see then that the justified sinner does not have to fear God's law. He has already sought and attained the goal of the law not by works of righteousness which he has done but by the righteousness of Christ alone. Rules and regulations are not the problem. When God gives us specific rules by which to guide our conduct and worship, we can rest assured that none of these rules are given to promote legalism and bondage. The Old Covenant was not given to Israel to promote legalism and bondage. It was given to be their schoolmaster to lead them unto Christ. It was given to guide their whole economy according to God's providential goodness and mercy upon them. They had rules and regulations under the Old Covenant. We have rules and regulations under the New Covenant. God's goal in all this is to lead us to Christ for righteousness and eternal life and to glorify Himself through an obedient and grateful people.
One who claims that God's law (the precepts of the Gospel Economy) is not his rule of conduct is making a statement that will not stand on Scriptural testimony. We as believers can and should say that, for example, "Lie not one to another" is a rule, a law, that we should endeavor to keep, not to be saved, not to be sanctified or made holy, not for rewards in Heaven, and not to attain final glory. We should endeavor to tell the truth because we are God's people, redeemed by Christ, and made righteous by His grace. To say that this specific command, or any command of the New Testament, is our rule of conduct and obedience is not fleeing to Mount Sinai for sanctification. The problem is not with God's law nor with a person trying to obey God's law. The problem lies in the motive. Remember, the believer's only righteousness before God is the righteousness of Christ imputed to him by grace alone. Christ is the Lord our Righteousness. Any sinner who has not submitted to the imputed righteousness of Christ as the only ground of salvation is a legalist. The righteousness of Christ alone establishes the believer's relationship to God and to God's law. It establishes the nature and the place of all means of grace, of the fruit of the Spirit, and of all acceptable obedience.