Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
What is the meaning of the phrase “the law of Christ”?
The phrase you quote is found in both 1 Corinthians 9:21 and Galatians 6:2. We should examine both passages.
1. The Problem: The role of the law in the Christian life continues to be debated. This is based partly on the fact that Paul wrote about the law in both negative and positive terms—something ended, yet was established by faith. It is also based on the Protestant dichotomy between law and gospel. Consequently, the “law of Christ” is often understood to designate that which took the place of the Old Testament law in the Christian church. For some, this law represents the ethical teachings of Christ, or the law of love that allegedly has taken the place of the Jewish law. But these possibilities are simply schol¬arly guesses. Fortunately, many New Testament scholars realize that the dichotomy between faith/gospel and law does not come from Paul, something Adventists have always believed and taught (cf. Rom. 9:30-32).
2. Galatians 6:2: It is true that within its context the “law of Christ” is directly connected to Christian love as the fulfill¬ment of the law (Gal. 5:14). In Galatians 6:2 a specific illustration of this principle is provided: “Carry each other’s burdens [loving each other], and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (NIV). This does not mean that the law of love has replaced the Old Testament law, but that the law is truly fulfilled when obedience is an expression of Christian love. Yes, the principle of love summarizes the law, but it does not do away with it. This is corroborated by the fact that the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, 23 is grounded on principles of God’s law.
More to the point is Romans 13:8, in which Paul repeats the idea that love fulfills the law, then proceeds to quote a few commandments from the Ten Command¬ments to show that love expresses itself in obedience to them (verse 9). The fact that Paul reaffirms obedience to the Ten Commandments (e.g., Rom. 7:7; Eph. 4:28; 5:3-5; 6:1-3; Col. 3:5) clearly shows that summarizing the law in love does not bring the law to an end.
3. 1 Corinthians 9:21: In this passage Paul speaks about his willingness to adapt to his audience in order to accomplish his mis¬sion: “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law” (NIV). Paul in principle equates God’s law with Christ’s law! What does this mean? The “law of Christ” simply means the law as taught and exemplified in the life of Christ (e.g., Matt. 5:17-32), not the law as taught by Jewish leaders. In Christ one finds the true intent of the law, and in that sense it has become the law of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 3:12-16). This is the law established by faith in its proper place (Rom. 3:31). Obedience to the law flows from love, not from an attempt to find acceptance by God. Christ did not do away with the moral values of God’s law as found in the Old Testament.