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What Is the Law of Christ?

“The law of Christ” is an interesting and debated phrase found in only two NT passages. With no immediate elaboration as to what “the law of Christ” is, Paul commanded in Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Paul clarified elsewhere that, though he was a Christian and thus not responsible to fulfill the Law of Moses, he was nonetheless not “outside the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor 9:21; cf. 9:20–21).

Taking 1 Cor 9:21 first, “the law of God” is stated as a broader concept than both “the law” (i.e., the law of Moses) and “the law of Christ.”1 As with Gal 6:2, “the law of Christ” is found in contrast to the law of Moses, indicating the two are distinct.2 Just as one law was characterized by and came from Moses, so also the other, it seems, is characterized by and came from Christ, both of which fall within the overarching law of God.

Moving to Gal 6:2, while Paul does not elaborate on “the law of Christ,” the surrounding context is helpful in figuring out the phrase’s meaning. From the immediate unit of Gal 6:1–5, to “bear one another’s burdens” fulfills the law of Christ (Gal 6:2), and one burden in particular would be to gently and humbly restore a Christian after he has been exposed for living in sin (Gal 6:1). This restoration is done by those “who are spiritual,” meaning those who live by the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:16, 18, 22, 25).3

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From the greater context of Galatians 5–6, we see that the law of Christ involves love. Having spoken of “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6), Paul exhorted that his readers should “through love serve one another” and thus fulfill the intent of the Mosaic law, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14; cf. Lev 19:18). Such love would be “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22).4 In supporting the command to “bear one another’s burdens,” Paul replaces the language of love by saying that one would thereby “so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

That the love of burden-bearing is a fulfillment of the law of Christ, we could certainly agree that “Christ’s life and death also become the paradigm, exemplification, and explanation of love.”5 As to the content of the law of Christ, it likely involves “all those teachings and commandments set forth by Christ and by his inspired apostles.”6

From the above, we could say that the law of Christ is that law within the law of God which finds its instruction in the OT but especially the NT. This instruction includes the example of Christ and His teaching, whether through His own words or later through His apostles. Just as He loved us, so also do we love and fulfill His law by sharing the burdens of others, gently and humbly so, as enabled by the Spirit.

David Huffstutler

About David Huffstutler

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL. David holds a Ph. D. in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.



Endnotes:

  1. Douglas J. Moo, Galatians (BECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 377. []
  2. Thomas R. Schreiner, “The Law of Christ,” 544, in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993). []
  3. Ibid. []
  4. Ibid. []
  5. Thomas R. Schreiner, Galatians (ZECNT; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 360. []
  6. Moo, Galatians, 378. []

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