Making Sense of the Law of Liberty
Does the phrase “Law of Liberty” seem like an oxymoron to you? Much like the terms: “Genuine Imitation,” or “Jumbo Shrimp?”
In James’ last example of the sin of showing partiality and favoritism, he stated that conviction comes by the law. In this next section, he further explains this “law of liberty” and how we are judged by it.
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”
When I use a wider lens to look at all I’ve read in James so far, I see the context of breaking any part of the law, versus how I am to live out my faith. Is my faith real and alive? Or is it dead?
Correct understanding of the law will help me correctly live out my faith.
The best way to gain understanding is to EXPLORE what God’s Word says about the Law. I can do this a couple of different ways: in the LOOK section, I can explore cross references, or I can open the WORD SEARCH feature and type in the word “Law.”
Let’s just say the word “law” appears in the Bible a LOT!!
As a disclaimer, I’m not writing a theological treatise on “The Law,” but I’m looking for God’s Word to teach me more about God’s Law.
The Old Testament Covenant Law
These were the commandments given by God to His people Israel, through Moses in Exodus 19-31. We know a small part of them as The Ten Commandments, but God’s Holy Law encompassed every last area of behavior and how His people relate to Him and to each other.
Their salvation was found in adhering to this Law and this same law was practiced by the Jewish people during Jesus’ ministry and by none “better” than the Scribes and Pharisees.
The Law in the New Covenant
Even in the Old Testament, God gave a glimpse of a New Covenant that would change the way we understand the Law.
The prophet Jeremiah said:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, `Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34
We see in this prophecy that God will write His law in our hearts and we will KNOW Him.
How will He do this? By sending His Son Jesus.
What Jesus Said About the Law
As Immanuel, God With Us, Jesus perfectly kept the entire Old Testament Law. But His birth, life, death and resurrection did something for us: it paid the penalty for our INABILITY to keep the Law.
In so doing, Jesus fulfilled the law, but he did not abolish it.
“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letteror stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Matthew 5:16-18
Jesus changed the way we interact with the law that now lives in our hearts.
When asked which is the greatest law, Jesus summed it up this way:
“And He said to him, `YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, `YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
What God Wants Me to Understand About His Law
How the Law fits into the New Covenant of Jesus is tricky! There is still some mystery involved, but I do know this: God’s Law is written on my heart in the form of my conscience as well as His written law I find in His Word.
God still asks me to obey Him and His Word.
But my salvation is found in my faith in Christ and His work on the cross, not in my strict adherence to the Law.
“For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” John 1:17.
Bottom line: the Law gives me freedom — liberty! How? Freedom to live in grace, not bound by the yoke of original law, or my sinful appetites. I’m free to obey God’s laws out of gratitude and joy, and as an act of worship of my Savior.
Thank you Lord for the freedom that comes in your law of liberty. I’m not oppressed by keeping it, but there is joy in obedience. Further, there is forgiveness when I break it. Thank you for Jesus and His payment of the penalty of my sin and the gift of eternal life and freedom. I’m reminded of His words, “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36).