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Ask A Pastor: What is the “law of liberty”?

Question:

In Bible Study this week we were discussing James 2:1-13. When we came to James 2:12  we had a hard time figuring out what was meant by “the law of liberty”. The questions and notes in the study talked about how when Christ died on the cross, the Mosaic law’s purpose to regulate Israelite lives ceased, but its revelatory purpose (to reveal God and his purposes) will always stand. It also talked about how the law of liberty is also called the Law of Christ which liberates us now and is the freedom to do what is right. We were also asked to look up these verses from Romans 8:1-4. As we talked about this and tried to wrap our heads around it, we just got more and more confused and so I want to know, what is meant by the “law of liberty”? In a way that is easier to understand, how has the law of the Old Testament changed with Christ?


Answer:

James is writing here to Christians about what it means to live out their faith in Christ. As such, he is not saying that we under the law as a way to salvation for we are unable to keep the law of God perfectly. We must rely upon Christ alone as he is the end of the law as a way to life and righteousness for everyone who puts their trust in him, because he alone perfectly fulfilled all the conditions of the law on our behalf. Christ therefore abolished the law as a means of justification, not by destroying it, but by fulfilling it, and all who trust in him are thus freed from its demands as a means of attaining a right standing before God. Moreover, Christ has redeemed his people from the curse and condemnation of the law because he, acting as their substitute, took the curse and condemnation that was due to them upon himself. His suffering and death on behalf of his people is therefore the basis for their freedom from the guilt and penalty of the law and the eternal death sentence that the law brings upon all sinners.


Being freed from the demands of the law as a way to life and righteousness does not end the Christian’s obligation to obey God and follow his law as a rule and standard of life and holy living. Rather, in Christ the believer has now been set on a new footing whereby they are empowered by the Spirit to obey the will of God out of love which is the fulfilment of the righteous requirement of the law. God’s law is no longer seen as a threatening, confining burden therefore, but it now confronts the believer as a law of liberty. It is an obligation we discharge in the joyful knowledge that in Christ we have been liberated from the penalty of sin and made free to do the will of God out of love for him who loved us and gave himself for us.


One day Christians will be examined for the way they used their liberty in Christ. Believers and unbelievers will both appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what they have done, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5:10). On that day, the Christian’s work will be shown for what it is; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor. 3:13-15). The Christian will never be rejected or refused entry to heaven on the basis of their own law keeping then, as they are now perfectly accepted in Christ and free from the condemnation of the law in him. Nevertheless, they will still be judged in light of the gospel and their use of the freedom they now enjoy in Christ to serve God out of gratitude for what he has done for them. This verse in James is therefore a sobering call to action on the part of the Christian to now walk in newness of life and do all that they do as unto the Lord, for our speech and conduct in the present will yet be taken into account on the day of judgement.


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