Does love replace or fulfill God’s Laws and moral principles?
(Study on love, grace and the law)
Scripture reading – James 2:8-12 (NIV): If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convinced by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you also have become a lawbreaker. Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.
This passage follows James’ reasoning with Christian communities that claimed and believed to be living by the principle of God’s love.
James is almost ironic in verse 8 where he says, “Now, if you (really think) you keep the royal law found in the Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’…
James’ discussion is preceded by example from what most likely has become a pattern at their religious gatherings. James does this so gently and tactfully!
Oh, they talked about love, they believed they had love and since they felt they had it, they most likely felt released from many former restrictions attributed to Moses. Saved by grace, claiming salvation by faith alone, grace alone they experienced God’s love and mercy toward themselves. They were recipients of God’s love.
What went wrong?
We read this in James 2:1-4: My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes to your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here is a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
In verse 6 James says: “But you have insulted the poor.”
In verse 5 James says: “Listen my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom promised to those who love Him?”
What is James saying to believers who believed they have the genuine article of love?
Don’t be deceived by how YOU FEEL. There is an objective moral yard stick that defines what love is or is not which you have laid aside. There are types of attitudes and behaviors that are ‘not loving’ as God is. Love can get easily confused with a feelings and attitudes that cater to self-pleasing and self-love.
The word love is too ambiguous and needs clarification.
1 Corinthians 13 gives some broad definitions showing what loves is and is not, how it behaves and behaves not. It is amazing that it tells more of what love is not and what love does not do. Paul combines inner attitudes with outward behaviors.
Manifests positive aspects: “Love is patient, love is kind, rejoices in or with the truth, always protects (others, others reputation, good name, from slanders, from hurts), always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, love never fails.”
Is devoid of negative aspects: “Does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, is not rude is not self-seeking, is not easily made angry, keeps no record of wrongs and hurts caused by others, does not take delight in any wrong or evil (even when this happens to the worst enemy)
Love to be understood needs to be defined by positives and since we are so easily self-deceived and are so self-centered even more so by negatives.
In our study James adds another dimension of love – equal respect for everyone as opposed to favoritism and giving preferential treatment or attention to elite few.
James quotes the OT commandment recorded in Leviticus 19:18: “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” And also verse 33: The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born. LOVE HIM AS YOURSELF.”
Jesus placed this commandment as the 2nd highest in His importance list, preceded only by our “first love” to the Lord Himself. In Matthew 22:36-39 Jesus responds to an expert in the law who tests Him with a question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Here comes Jesus’ reply: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ ‘This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Then Jesus goes on to say: “These two commandments now replace all the rest of all those legalistic laws given through Moses in the OT Torah and instructions of the Prophets. Just love like this and everything else will fall in place because the Spirit will supernaturally, automatically and irresistibly do it in you.”
Is this what Jesus say? What does He say?
Verse 40: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
What is Jesus saying? What is He not saying?
To hang a picture on the wall means that something has to support and hold it in its proper place. The picture cannot hang in space or it will fall.
A child hanging on his dad’s hand or neck means that the child depends on his dad for strength and support. The child does not cease to exist nor does he loose its identity or personality. Dad’s strength and support keeps the weak child secure.
Two great commandments Jesus quoted from Torah do not annul or replace the 10 commandments or the rest of moral instructions and applications of these principles contained in Torah or the OT Prophets.
In His Sermon on the
The word used here as to fulfill means beside other synonymous meanings “to make replete” = expand exceedingly or enormously, blow big.
This is in full agreement with one of the roles of Messiah recorded in the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 42:21: “The Lord is well pleased for His righteousness sake; He will magnify the law and make it honorable.”
Jewish religious leaders and people of Christ’s time perverted the OT “Law and Prophets”. Their narrow minded straight jacket mentality made it a burden.
Jesus came to undo the damage done to the instructions He Himself gave in Old Testament to His people for their good.
How did Jesus “magnify” the law?
Illustration: Until last 20 – 40 years or so many people used to believe unquestionably in
This is what Jesus does with the inspired instructions of His law(s) given in the OT. By His coming, by His life and by His teachings we have “our spiritual eyes open” as the Holy Spirit like a microscope opens our spiritual understanding to the glory and purpose of each command seeing their wise and loving intend and worth (moral and spiritual principle).
Both grace and law are seen in their true glory – no longer antagonists to each other, but unified and complete in the life and teachings of our Savior and Lord.
In OT people did not see the full purpose and beauty of God’s gospel plan or of His moral instructions. Jesus and then the Holy Spirit help us to look at the same things through the spiritual goggles and we are amazed! New vistas open to our spiritual understanding!
David could only pray in Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things from Your law.”
While the OT worthies were able under the inspiration of Holy Spirit see and grasp many wonderful things, it was not until Jesus came that the NT believers’ spiritual eyes started to open to the glories of Christ’s life. In His life grace and law form one inseparable whole that He both puts to our credit and shares with us!
Holy Spirit then provides magnifying goggles to see God’s marvelous and practical purpose behind every commandment, which prior to His coming could be by too many and by far too often perceived negatively.
Paul writing to the Corinthians points out that Jewish people who do not accept Jesus and His teachings, incorrectly relate to the law of God and instructions given through Moses – not seeing their glorious realization in Jesus Christ!
Not by human efforts, but by contemplation of Christ’s love, His teachings and His sacrifice the Holy Spirit transforms believers’ characters – minds, thoughts, feelings and motives into Christ’s likeness.
In His Sermon on the
- murder – resentment, animosity, anger and hate
- adultery – lust
- hiding dishonesty and greed by oaths,
- love, rather than hate toward the enemy, etc.
Some of this is the repetition of OT commands; with the repetition of old truths Jesus adds the enlargement and expansion. Other lessons are a fresh revelation of His own character of love and grace.
Jesus sets up a standard that far exceeds their (and our) low level of morality and spirituality. Jesus presents before amazed listeners standard that is humanly unreachable – Jesus reveals God’s own character traits, His own character of which written instruction is a blueprint that He followed perfectly while on earth!
Jesus did not come to demolish the OT instructions for holy living! He came to set them up in concrete and enlarge, deepen and broaden them.
His agape love we don’t naturally possess. We must first see it in Christ’s life, desire to receive it as the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit after our conversion.
God’s love and grace revealed lead to repentance which as a starting point changes our inner enmity toward God and resentment against His will as expressed in His commands.
Love and grace change resisting attitude to the attitude of a learner (the disciple)
God’s love poured into our lives by Christ’s Spirit teaches us to live in harmony (obedience) to every commandment of God. Partaking in Christ’s life we have a capacity to soar.
Due to our sinful nature’s deceptive nature there is a plumb line of God’s law initially applied from outside.
From the conversion and onward it becomes internalized and written on the inside, both in the mind and in the heart! It also re-educates and properly calibrates our conscience.
This is possible only through His work of grace and by the Holy Spirit – Titus 3:5.6:
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit whom He poured on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
And what does the Holy Spirit do? Romans 5:5: “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Back to our 1st story: Did the recipients of James’ epistle have right understanding of relation of love and works, grace and obedience, love and the law?
I don’t think so. They claimed and believed they did! In their attempt to escape Jewish legalism, they fell into one of the traps of what we today call antinomianism.
They came to believe that intellectual understanding and belief in the tenets of the gospel alongside their self-centered subjective emotional experience of what they believed to be love was all they needed to live as Christians.
In a certain sense they were in the opposite spiritual ditch from the believers in
James tactfully corrects their misunderstanding pointing them to the written precincts of God’s moral law of 10 commandments and to the example of Abraham their father of faith as their necessary guiding compass on their spiritual journey.
Read James 2:8 – 12 and also verses 14 – 24
To make sure that they don’t end up in much worse self-deception, James explains to them that claims of love and faith unless applied in a concrete way can rather quickly derail and make the spiritual life structure crocked. With our sinful natures still part of us, we need the objective standard. Under the provisions of “new covenant” it needs to be internalized by God’s Spirit – see Hebrews 10:14–17.
God law’s first work as applied from outside is to convict, condemn and drive us to Christ. Gospel through grace forgives, cleanses and transforms the heart bringing it into harmony with God’s character and will. Holy Spirit then internalizes principles of God’s law writing them into our hearts and in our minds. His commandments become delight as lived through God’s imparted love.
Without the conviction applied by the Spirit through God’s Law we will never really die to self and thus never experience conversion on the level God desires.
My personal experience – 1st rather general and shallow and then a real conversion.
God’s law vehemently attacks and condemns our sinful nature which is contrary to it. Until “it” or rather “we” “die” we will perceive God’s will as restrictive rather than constructive!
Once we die to self and “are being renewed in the spirit of our minds”, it is here that we find delight in Scriptural instructions, judgments, commandments and counsels. Like Jesus we will testify: “I delight to do your will oh God, Your law (of love and moral truth and righteousness) is within my heart.”