The Law of Christ: 1 Corinthians 9:21

Todd Braye
Todd Braye
Opening Remarks: ‘In the wake of Galatians’ is how I would describe where we are as a church. And that’s an awesome place to be. We’ve learned so much in the past two or so years. We’ve learned that Christ has set us free from the law. Believers are released from the Mosaic Covenant ‘in toto.’ Believers do not need the guardianship of the law because Christ, the very substance of the law, the one to whom the law pointed, dwells in them by His Spirit.  We’ve seen that the law was a temporary covenant; it was put in force some 400 years after the Abrahamic. And it ended with the work of Christ on the cross.  For freedom Christ has set us free. For freedom Christ lived on the earth and died upon the tree. Christians are free from the Law of Moses; they are not under it; it does not hover over them as some weighty, unattainable standard. It doesn’t command us with its commands. It doesn’t taunt or burden us with its curses. The apostle has made it abundantly clear: believers in Christ are not under the law. Believers live in a new age. Believers live post-cross.  Believers are completely unshackled from the chains of that covenant summarily defined as the ten commandments.
To live otherwise is to do so dangerously. Remember what Paul says in Galatians 5:3. He says that anyone who subjects himself to part of the law is obligated to keep all of it. “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.” It’s an all or nothing deal. You can’t just pick and choose. You can’t just slice and dice the law according to your preference and keep part of it (as if you could). Do that and Paul says Christ is of no benefit to you. You have fallen from grace. This is why this ought to make us sit up and pay close attention. This is why the subject before us ought to deeply stir our hearts. This is why we need to be vigilant about this. Get this wrong and we’re doomed. Get this wrong and we’re in big trouble; the benefits of Christ to us are at stake. Submission to the law equals severance from Christ.
This is why Paul wrote Galatians in such a bombastic tone. This is why he was so dogmatic. This is why he pulled no punches; he was fighting for Galatian souls. And he was fighting for us! Do not think for a second this has no relevance for us. The Galatians were duped by those zealous for the law covenant. They were bewitched, seduced, entranced by those who insisted that covenant remained in force. And Paul calls them fools! “O foolish Galatians,” He says. “Who has bewitched you!” Who has so influenced you that you are spell-bound! The Judaizers were the old guard. Zealous for the law, they were the established guardians of orthodoxy, the theological oaks of the faith. But they did not esteem Christ and his work as they should have. Christ wasn’t enough in their eyes. The cross, and all its implications for redemptive, salvation history, in the grand scheme of promise-fulfillment, eluded them. They did not grasp the full weight of the cross and its consequences. Which is to say, at best, they misinterpreted the Scriptures. Do these guys still exist? They do! You know they do. Whether or not they know what they do is a matter of another sort.
In any case, the apostle makes it very clear to us: To not be under law is to be led by the Spirit. Nowhere in all of Scripture does Paul say ‘Walk by the law.’ ‘Let the law lead you.’ ‘Be led by the law.’ ‘Be conformed to the Law.’ ‘Make sure the Law is your guide in sanctification.’ You won’t find him saying these things. Neither does he, or any other New Testament writer, provide a bullet point list for us to help us on our way. If we think of the NT in such terms, I think we grossly misunderstand the NT. The NT isn’t that. The NT is, rather, an exposition of the New Covenant (which is an entirely different thing).   And within that exposition, Paul exhorts the Galatians, and believers everywhere in every century, to “Walk by the Spirit.” In Galatians 5:18 he writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” By this he means ‘walk by the power of the Spirit.’ A few verses later he writes, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” By this he means ‘walk according to the standard of, or keep in step with, the Spirit.’ Paul is not advocating a kind of subjective, ‘willy-nillyism’ here, where everyone gets to decide what the standard is, that is, what suits the individual. If you think that’s what Paul means, let me be as simple as I can be: you’re wrong.  Neither is Paul teaching God directly and immediately speaks to believers, and even allows certain behaviors, certain sinful behaviors in any given situation. If you think that let me be as clear as I can: you are wrong. Never forget the Spirit of God is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit demands and produces holiness, not sinfulness, not charismatic nonsense.
The Law of Christ
There is yet another consideration in all this. As I aim to pull us together in these things, as I labor to ensure we together see Christ in ALL His glory and sufficiency, I draw your attention to the law of Christ. Paul speaks of it in Galatians 6:2. There he says

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill (or conform to, or obey) the law of Christ.

And in 1st Corinthians 9:20-21 he writes

20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.

The question is not “Is obedience required?” Paul is abundantly clear both here and elsewhere. Obedience is required. Take Romans 6:1 and 2 for example: “Are we to continue is sin that grace may abound? By no means! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”  A few verses later, in verse 17, Paul speaks of the Romans, once slaves of sin, obeying its demands, as having become “obedient from the heart to that standard of teaching to which [they] were committed.” Back in the opening chapter of Romans, in the opening verses, Paul even says obedience is the very purpose of his apostleship. Romans 1:1-5 (Just listen for the Christ-centeredness, how everything points to & climaxes with Him here):

1 “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations…”

Obedience is not at issue. Members of the New Covenant obey. They are obligated to obey. Freedom from Law does not negate the necessity for and even existence of obedience. In fact, New Covenant members are expressly identified in 1st Peter as those “in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ.” Freedom from the Law ‘in toto’ does not equal freedom from obedience to Christ. What it actually means for the believer creates a theological necessity, an inner obligation, an undeniable impelling unto obedience. So, obedience is not at issue. The question, at issue, is “What is the law of Christ?”
We’ve been here before. We’ve addressed this to some degree. But before we press on in our studies together, I want to address this again and ‘press it home.’ I do so because in my estimation, it is crucial to understand. My first and governing concern is understanding what God has in fact said. Truth matters. Second, I make much of it because our happiness in God is at stake. Joy matters. Third, I make much of this because the glory of Christ is at stake. See this the way you should, and you behold the glory & sufficiency of Christ as never before. Finally, I press this because holiness is at stake. This is the will of God: your sanctification. He chose us in Christ before the dawn of time that we should be holy.
So, what is the law of Christ? In my studies, I came across an article that listed 8 answers. I won’t bore you with them. But know this: Common to all was an external-ness. Common to all was the notion that this law is written on the pages of Scripture somewhere. Some say Christ commands love. So, love, they say, is that law. Some say that law is the teaching found in the New Testament, the commands, imperatives, exhortations of Christ and His apostles. I say this is not the law of Christ. I say the Law of Christ is not external. I say the law of Christ is not written on the pages of Scripture. I’ll tell you what I am convinced the Law of Christ is. And then I’ll show you why I say what I say. So here it is: The law of Christ is the indwelling Christ.  By His Spirit, Christ indwells every believer. This is the Law of Christ! It’s not external; it’s internal.
Why I say this is rooted in the prophecies of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. But first, a close look at 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 sets us up. Paul writes (look at it with me):

20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law [4x Paul uses the same preposition/word for ‘under.’ Remember that. ]. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.

Lots of stuff going on here; but what is crucial for us to understand is this: the 5th time Paul says ‘under,’ that is when he writes ‘under the law of Christ,’ he doesn’t say ‘under.’ The 5th time that preposition occurs the translators made a judgment call. And I’m convinced it’s the wrong one. What Paul actually wrote is not ‘under the law of Christ,’ but ‘in law of Christ,’ or, depending on which Greek manuscript is before you, ‘in-lawed to Christ.’   So, lost in the translation is the contrast between the ‘under-ness’ of the old, Mosaic Law, and the ‘in-ness’ of the new law of Christ, that is Christ Himself, or that law which comes from Christ, a law which is not outside or external, but internal. There is an ‘in-ness’ here, one that is often missed. “The freshness of the strawberry cannot be kept in any extract” (ATR). That is to say, there’s always something lost in translation.  The freshness of the Greek cannot be kept in any other language. But I hope you smell this!
Now we go to Jeremiah 31. There the prophet Jeremiah gives prophecy to the New Covenant. God promises to make a New Covenant with His people. He says this New Covenant will not be like the one He made before. It won’t be like the one He made at Sinai. It won’t be written on tablets of stone. It won’t have the same form. It won’t even contain the same demands, since a covenant cannot be divorced from its stipulations. And then He says in Jeremiah 31:33,

…this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.

New covenant. Not like the one made before. Not like the one at Sinai. Not external, written on tablets of stone. But within them, written on their hearts. In-ness!
Next is Ezekiel. He also prophesied the New Covenant. In chapter 36, verse 27 he promised this, that God would put His Spirit within His people, and cause them to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules. New covenant. Not like the one made before. New form. Not external. Written not on tablets of stone, but on their hearts. In-ness.  In-ness!
Next is Isaiah. Isaiah 42, beginning with the vey first verse:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
Thus says God, the Lord,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,

This is incredible. God says to His servant, to His Son, that He will give Him as a covenant for the people!!! New covenant. New form. Not written on some document. Not on tablets of stone. Not with an alphabet. But a Person.  Christ is the New Law. Christ is the New Covenant. Paul is not under the Law of Moses; he’s not under anything. He’s actually ‘in the law of Christ,’ or ‘inlawed to Christ’ or ‘in the law which comes from Christ that is His Spirit.’ Galatians confirms this interpretation. In chapter 4, verse 6 Paul states that God has sent the Spirit of His Son into the hearts of believers. And where I would expect him to say, ‘Obey the law…walk by the law,’ the apostle says (in 5:25) walk, or keep in step with, or obey the Spirit. Therefore, I conclude, on the basis of these Scriptures, that the Law of Christ is the Spirit of Christ. It is not external, but internal, on the heart. It is not a list of imperatives inked on a page, but a Person etched on the soul by His Spirit. This is not to say the instruction given in the NT is to be ignored as a thing not needed. NT imperatives and commands do have a role to play. They are needed.  But they must be read and understood from these vantage points: The law of Christ is the Spirit of Christ indwelling every believer. This is the atmosphere the Christian enjoys. He is in Christ. But Christ is also in him. Christ indwells us by His Spirit. He who rose from the dead, who is the very agent of creation, indwells every believer.  This creates a necessity, a theological necessity. It’s a necessity in which one is impelled to action. The Spirit causes action. God is at work in the believer, both to will and to work his good pleasure (Phil.2:12).
The second vantage point is this: The NT is the exposition of the New Covenant. So when reading or hearing any NT imperative or command, hear it with New Covenant ears. Christ is in you. God is at work in you. The Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells you. You can therefore obey. You will obey from the inside out, that is, of course, if you keep in step with the Spirit and not quench the Spirit.
Third, and this is crucial: The Spirit authored the NT. Therefore, the indwelling Spirit will not contradict what the NT says.  There is consistency and complete harmony between the Spirit and the NT Scripture.  The NT confirms the Spirit’s leading. So, if we’re not loving or patient or exercising self-control we’re not being led by the Spirit.  If we’re not pursuing holiness, if we’re not striving after righteousness, we’re not being led by the Spirit. The Spirit-filled husband loves his wife. The Spirit-filled wife respects and submits to her husband, you see. This is not charismatic nonsense. Neither is this legalism or moralism. It’s actually authentic Christian living by the power of the Spirit, by the law of Christ!
Do you know anything of this? Are you in-lawed to Christ? Do you know anything of the in-ness of this Law? Are you a member of the New Covenant? How does one become such a member? Jesus said, “You must be born again.” That’s a simple statement, not a command. You must be born again. Jesus is commanding anything here. He’s just stating a fact. You must be born again. What must one do to be born again? What must one do to be born? Answer: Nothing! We do not bear ourselves. We are never the ones working on our birthdays; our mothers however! They don’t call it labor for no reason. We did not bear ourselves; we were born! We were completely passive. We simply had a ride from darkness to light. And then we cried! That was how we were born the first time. That’s also how the second birth occurs. In other words, no one can give themselves the second birth. No sinner can will his own spiritual ride from darkness to light. That’s God’s work. God does that by His Spirit and His word. Believers “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
But this excuses no man! This excuses no one without exception. That no man can will his second birth does not exclude him from the demands God places upon him. If anyone is this room is not a member of the New Covenant, given birth a second time, a birth from above, a spiritual birth, then hear this: God demands of you that you turn from yourself and your sin and sins and trust in Christ.  The God who is declares to all men everywhere that they repent and be repentant. He has fixed a day of judgment. And Christ will be that Judge. You will meet Christ. That is without question.  The question is “Will He greet you as your worst enemy, or your loving Savior?”  Unbeliever, what keeps you from Christ? Is it your pride? And don’t confuse the issue here: I speak not of local church membership. I speak of New Covenant membership. We can be members of the first and not be of the second. Shame on us if we allow an unbeliever, one who is not joined to Christ by faith and in whom the Spirit resides, to be a church member. We do such one a disservice, encouraging self-deception.  If you are not joined to Christ, if you have no sense of the indwelling Christ, if there is no inner compulsion to strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord, then turn and trust. Fix your eyes on Christ. Look at Christ. Gaze at the cross. He will not cast you out nor turn you away. What keeps you from Him? What keeps you from receiving Him with open arms?
To you believer, I say this: Do we spend far too much time musing over indwelling sin and not enough rejoicing in the reality of an indwelling Christ? This is for you to consider of yourself. Decide this for yourself with you on the ‘hot seat.’ And with you there, ask yourself this: “Do I make far too many allowances for my lack of growth on account of indwelling sin?  Should the indwelling Christ not guarantee a measure of growth in obedient, godly, righteous living?”  Don’t misunderstand. The Bible is clear. Perfectionism is a lie. But if a man drank ten energy drinks, say 10 Red Bulls, his day would look much different than if he hadn’t, right? I mean, he ‘d have the energy of a Malcolm Kuntz!  Should we not expect the same spiritually? If the Spirit of the living Christ resides in us, have we not been blessed with power for growth in the knowledge and grace of Christ? I have seen God at work in you. Please don’t misunderstand. God is good. We are growing. But we can grow more. You love. Love each other all the more. Outdo each other in love by the power of the indwelling Christ, the Law of Christ, the Holy Spirit.
There’s one more thing before we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Flip over to Colossians 2. In verse 16, Paul begins with the word “Therefore.” “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you” and then he lists things representing the old, Mosaic Law, things he says are a shadow of Christ who is the very substance. So, let’s ask what the therefore is there for. Verses 16 and 17 are grounded upon what comes just prior to that. And what comes prior to that is nothing short of amazing.  What comes before that is this (verse 14): “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”  The work of God in Christ is in view here.  Paul says that nailed to the cross and thus set aside and canceled is ‘the record of debt that stood against us with it legal demands.’ In Christ, God nailed this record, this document to the cross. What is this document? It is a record of debt to be sure. O the bliss of that glorious thought. Our sin, not in part but the whole was nailed to the cross and we bear it no more…! But that’s not all this document is. This document “stands against us with legal demands!” This document condemns us! This document curses us! This document says “Do or die!” This document is, in other words the old, Mosaic Covenant! Which means beloved,– “Two covenants were nailed to the Cross.  But only one went to the grave!  Two covenants were nailed to the Cross, but only one walked out of the tomb!  Two covenants were nailed to the Cross, but only one ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father in glory!  Two covenants were nailed to the Cross, but only one has indwelt the Body of Christ since Pentecost!” The ministry of death was crushed to death. Life is ours and ours to live by the Spirit!
1.The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001 (Ga 5:3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
2. The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001 (1 Co 9:20–21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
3. The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001 (Ro 1:1–5). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
4. The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001 (Is 42:1–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
5. The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001 (Col 2:14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
6. J.T. Jeffrey, “The Silence of the New Covenant.”

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