If we are truly no longer under the Old Covenant, if we are dead to the Law, are the theonomists correct in labeling us “antinomian” (against the Law)? Or is this just a false dichotomy? If we are no longer under the Law, does that mean we can do whatever we want? What should our lives look like now?
Let’s start off with what the Bible tells us.
Rom. 6:14-15 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!
Well, this verse certainly does away with any notion of being free to sin. Since sin is lawlessness, and we are not to sin, then there must be a law, but what is it? This verse tells us that the opposite of being under the Law is being under grace. What does it mean to be under grace? To be under something carries a connotation of authority. The Law no longer has any authority over the Israelite and it never had any authority over the Gentile. So many of us, myself included, put ourselves under a law that never had any jurisdiction over us to begin with! Now that is bondage!
To be under grace simply means to be under the authority of the grace of God, to be joined with Christ. The Law represents the Old Covenant, while grace represents all that Jesus did for us under the New Covenant. If we are living under grace, we are living in Christ, we are walking with Him, we are abiding in Him, we are obeying Him, we are enjoying all His blessings that He bestows upon us daily.
So what is sin under the New Covenant then? If we have just determined that none of the Old Covenant applies to us as Christians, certainly we must have some sort of guidelines to follow. Look at what the Lord promised us:
Hebrews 8:10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
So we know that God has given us His laws and they are written on our hearts and they are in our minds. This is the beauty of the being under the New Covenant. We no longer have an external code of conduct to follow. We don’t have a list of rules that we need to dissect to find all the nuances and minutiae; we don’t have to be pharisaical in order to know if we are following God’s laws for us now. God has given us a new heart! That new heart is tender and desires to please God. It is not like those stone tablets that were inflexible and hard as rock. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit now, the living Spirit of the Almighty God, and we have the mind of Christ. The nation of Israel was led by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. They had long lists of rules which were impossible to keep. They lived under the yoke of a works-based covenant which brought them nothing but curses and death. We have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us now, leading us. We live in the newness of life and can rest in Jesus! Our hearts have been regenerated and written upon with love. We don’t become perfect overnight; in fact, sanctification is a life-long process. But God has literally changed our hearts and He has written His laws on our hearts and our minds.
That sounds terribly subjective. What if I think something is a sin and you don’t? What if I think I am free to do something which would be quite offensive to you? Did God just leave us to a subjective interpretation of His laws written on our hearts? No. Of course not. I believe that He gave us some very specific written instructions in His Word, but that the underlying motive behind all those instructions is written deep in our hearts so that when we are truly regenerated, we will naturally desire to follow His laws.
The New Covenant actually uses several different terms to describe the laws that apply to us now. Let’s look at them briefly.
Romans 3:27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.
Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.
Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
James 1:25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
James 2:12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
It is not our purpose in this article to address these laws in depth, but do you see the contrast between these laws of the New Covenant and that of the old? The old covenant had laws that were works-based; the New Covenant’s laws are based on faith. The old covenant had the law of sin and death, while the New Covenant brings us the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. The old covenant was the Law of Moses, while we are now under the law of Christ. The old covenant was a heavy yoke of bondage which even the Israelites couldn’t bear, but we are under the perfect law of liberty.
James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well;
Both covenants had this royal law, however, the royal law of love. What was the difference? Was there any? Again, under the old covenant, this was an external constraint, written in stone. Under the New Covenant, this law is written on our hearts, providing internal motivation, but it is not the only law written on our hearts.
But first, let us determine how we are to know what our law is now. What rule of life are we under? We don’t have a list like the Ten Commandments in the New Covenant, so how do we know? It seems that while the Law of the old covenant came through Moses, the law of the New Covenant comes through both Jesus and His apostles, specifically Paul. Here are a few verses that tell us so.
Matt. 17:5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!”
Matt. 28:18-20 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Acts 1:1-2 The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen,
1 Corinthians 14:37 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I [Paul] write to you are the commandments of the Lord.
I Thess. 4:1-2 Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; for you know what commandments we [Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy] gave you through the Lord Jesus.
II Pet. 3:1-2 Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior,
So now we know that everything that Jesus and Paul and other apostles commanded are what we are supposed to obey. It is important to keep in mind the context of each specific command, though, and make sure that those commands were actually for us. For example, when Christ told the rich young ruler to go and sell everything he had, give the money to the poor and follow Jesus, we have to realize that He was not giving us that command. But the majority of the commands in the New Covenant are for us.
Now that we understand that Christ and His apostles have given us specific commandments, we need to realize that God actually expects us to obey them.
John 14:15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
John 14:21 “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.”
And these commands to obey His commands are actually fulfilling a greater commandment — to love God. Notice how often God tells us to love God and love others, and this is just a tiny sample:
Matt. 22:37-39 Jesus said to him, “’You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
John 15:12 This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
1 John 3:23 And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.
1 John 4:21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
It certainly seems that there are two commandments written on our hearts: love God and love others. I am trying to find any commands in the New Covenant that don’t fall into these two categories. Under the old covenant, there were laws that pertained to diet or clothing types or pruning trees, etc. — lots of laws that didn’t specifically fall under the categories of loving God or loving others, other than the fact that obeying God’s commands was loving Him. But it seems that all of the New Covenant can be boiled down to loving God and loving others.
So what kinds of laws would fall under these two greatest commandments? Wouldn’t they be moral types of law? Let’s look at some examples of laws that we are given in the New Covenant.
Romans 13:8-10 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
I like this one because it tells us that not only were these five of the Ten Commandments based on loving your neighbor, but these five are commands in the New Covenant as well, as they are part of loving your neighbor. These sound pretty moral to me.
I Corinthians 10:14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
1 Thessalonians 1:9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
Those look a lot like the first two commandments of those Ten Commandments to me!
Ephesians 6:2 “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise:
Another commandment repeated.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
The third commandment is about the words that come out of our mouth. While this is not a duplicate of that commandment, it is about the same topic. Mike tells me there are at least four New Covenant passages that speak against using profanity. Maybe someone can help me out here.
So far, I count nine of the Ten Commandments repeated as commands in the New Covenant. These are all moral commands. The Bible still tells us that we are to obey certain moral laws and it lays it out clearly which ones they are. Of course we still obey moral commands. We just need to understand where our moral commands come from, and it is not from the Ten Commandments.
We are also given a few lists of sins throughout the New Covenant as well. I will just list a couple.
Rom. 1:28-32 those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.
Gal 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
There are many, many more lists that give us our code of law under the New Covenant such as the fruit of the Spirit and all the one another commands. If we look for them, they are as plain as the nose on our face.
Are there any laws in the Law of Moses that theonomists want to press upon us that are not repeated in the New Covenant? I can think of two off the top of my head. Tithing and the Sabbath. Now, if we remember our previous articles, we know that that Law was given only to Israel, not to the Gentiles. We remember that the Law of Moses, that old covenant, was abolished at the cross. We know that the law was always treated as one complete code of law, so everything in that Law was completed and fulfilled in Christ; no part of that Law applies to us anymore. It never did. But we have many of the same laws that were in that covenant.
Let me explain. We would all agree that stealing is wrong; it’s a sin. But why is it a sin? Because the Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not steal”? Or because Eph. 4:28 says, “Let him who stole steal no longer”? They both say the same thing! But the law from Exodus has no jurisdiction over us. We are not under the authority of that Law. We are under the New Covenant, so stealing would be a sin based upon Eph. 4:28, not Ex. 20:15. We can understand it in light of our modern-day society as well. Stealing is a crime in America. Stealing is also a crime in Britain. If someone in North Dakota steals, which law are they breaking? Just because both countries have the same law does not mean that they both have jurisdiction over the same individuals. They don’t. And just because both covenants have some of the same laws does not mean that they both have jurisdiction over us as believers. They don’t. Only one code of law has authority over us — the New Covenant.
Let’s get back to tithing and the Sabbath for a minute. Even the theonomists agree that certain parts of the Law of Moses were done away with — what they call the ceremonial parts. Remember that God does not divide them up this way, but He does talk specifically in Hebrews about everything being associated with the temple system of worship being abolished. Let’s think about that for a minute. What was the purpose of the tithes? To fund the sacrificial system and the priests and Levites who carried out the sacrificial system. Sounds like that should be abolished on that basis alone, but remember that the Law of Moses was one complete code of Law that was fully abolished at the cross anyway. And for those wondering, cheerful giving from the heart is what we are commanded to do in the New Covenant.
How about the Sabbath?
Col. 2:14-17 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. … So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
The Sabbath was a part of that handwriting of requirements, which was contrary, but was nailed to the cross. The Sabbath was a shadow of what was to come — Christ. While there are other aspects of the Sabbath that we could talk about, such as entering His rest, do you remember what is different about the Fourth Commandment in comparison to other nine?
Ex. 31:12-17 “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: “Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’”
The Sabbath was a sign of that old covenant between Israel and the Lord. That covenant is no longer. We have a New Covenant and that New Covenant has a new sign.
I Cor. 11:23-26 “that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”
The Sabbath was the sign of the Old Covenant. It was there to remind the Israelites weekly of their covenant with God. The Lord’s Supper is the sign of the New Covenant. It is there to remind us of that New Covenant with God, that covenant which supersedes that old covenant. Why would we want to keep a sign of a covenant that no longer exists? The New Covenant does not ever tell us to keep the Sabbath, nor does it change it from one day to another. Why? Because the Sabbath has nothing to do with the New Covenant at all. Just as the sign of circumcision is no longer valid as a sign, so the sign of the Sabbath is no longer valid. Here is what we are told about it now.
Romans 14:5-6 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it.
That verse is talking about an area of the Christian life we call freedom, or liberty. It is not talking about the Sabbath, but about setting aside a day for a certain purpose, such as Christmas Day. It could also be talking about setting aside a certain day of the week to meet together for worship. Christians usually meet on Sunday, but this verse tells us that Sunday is not a special day in this way. Sunday is definitely not the Christian Sabbath.
Here’s an interesting command in the New Covenant:
Galatians 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
What was that yoke of bondage? The Law of Moses. We are set free from the yoke of bondage under the Law of Moses and we are commanded to stand fast in that liberty. There is a caution, however, that goes with that.
Galatians 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
It always comes back to love, doesn’t it?
In my previous article, I asked what commandments Jesus was talking about in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Let’s look at the context. It’s really quite simple. In the Sermon on the Mount, immediately following this statement, Jesus begins a series of “You have heard it said … But I say unto you …” What were those “You have heard it said” statements? They were commandments from the Law of Moses. But Jesus changes each of those commandments into something greater, a higher degree, higher than even that of the Pharisees’ standards, as He tells us in the next verse: “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus’ standards for loving God and loving others is higher than that of the old covenant, higher than the Pharisees’ standards. (Note that Jesus is still not talking about a works-based righteousness or salvation in this verse, however. The righteousness He is speaking of is Christ’s imputed righteousness in us.)
So Jesus uses the word “these” in relation to commandments in this passage. Which commandments? These commandments. Which commandments are these? The ones I am getting ready to explain to you immediately. These are the commandments that Jesus wants us to live by. These are the commandments which lift us up to a higher degree than that old covenant of death ever could. These are the commandments which demonstrate the love that God has written on our hearts. These, and all the other New Covenant commandments are actually more difficult to obey than that old written code, that letter of the Law that only brings death. They are difficult, nay, impossible, for those whose hearts have not had these laws written on them. But this law is a better law, a higher law that lifts us up a notch, a more loving law.
Are we antinomian? No. Absolutely not. Do we obey moral laws? Yes. We obey many moral laws, but they are the moral laws of the New Covenant. We are not theonomists in that we are no longer under the Law of Moses. We are not antinomians. We have successfully shown that that was a false dichotomy. So what are we in relation to the law? I propose that we are supernomian. Super means “of the highest degree.” Nomian comes from nomos, which is law, and here specifically is God’s law. God’s law of love lifts us up a notch. So a supernomian would be a Christian who follows God’s law to the highest degree — loving God and loving others.
The Law of Moses provided external constraints. The New Covenant has an internal motivation from the heart, the heart that has the law of God written upon it.
So some people call me a Nine Commandment Christian! That’s fine. Just don’t confuse which nine commandments I am obeying — those nine from the New Covenant, plus a bunch of others. Actually, I prefer being called a Two Commandment Christian — love God and love others. That pretty much covers it! I’ve got it! I’m a supernomian, Two Commandment Christian. How about you?
(Thanks, Mike! This teaching changed my life.)