Do New Testament Rules Facilitate Christian Living?

Why did the Holy Spirit include rules for holy living in the New Testament? After all, the Old Testament Law was firmly established. So were these rules really needed, especially after Jesus died for our sins? Yes indeed. Otherwise God would not have included them in the New Testament.

There are differing views about the role of the law in the life of a believer. Some people seem to think the law only convicts us of sin, but does nothing else. That is incorrect. God's law has more than just one use.

Other folks veer into legalism by teaching that adherence to the law justifies the sinner before God. That is also incorrect. The law can provide no such justification. Only the Gospel can save us and bring us into a right relationship with the Father.

In reality, the law shows us our sin, which is intended to lead us to Christ. (see Gal. 3:24) But the law also instructs believers in how God wants us to live. In the New Testament epistles, the early chapters tend to cover the basis of our justification before God. The emphasis is on the sacrificial death of our Savior and the fact that believers have an eternal relationship with our loving Lord.

When we get into the later chapters, we are given rules for holy living. That is the correct order. Rules don't "work" in religion unless people first repent and believe the good news. You first have to be in the family.

In Old Testament times, the Psalmist exclaimed, "Oh how I love your law. I meditate on it all day long." (Psalm 119:97) The second verse of the entire book of Psalms speaks of him "whose delight is in the law of the Lord." (Psalm 1:2) Obviously, the law is viewed differently by those in God's family than it is by those outside the family. When you love someone, you delight in doing things which please that person. We witness this desire over and over again in the Psalms: "I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:8)

This desire within God's children continues in the New Testament. The holy life of a Christian is lived by the "new man" on the inside of a believer. This new life produces the assurance of salvation through the cross, as well as holy desires to please the Lord in a life of obedience. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote, "So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law." (Romans 7:25) Talk about being sold out to righteousness!

For the Christian, the rules in the epistles show us how God wants us to live. Of course, it is only Christ in us and the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to do those things which are pleasing to the Father. It is God who "works in us to will and to do what pleases Him." (Phil. 2:13) God not only gets all the credit for our justification, but God also gets all the credit for our sanctification as well.

As always, the Word of God has the power in itself to bring about the desired outcome in the hearts and lives of the hearers. That has always been the case with Scripture because all of it is "God-breathed." (2 Timothy 3:16) "The Word of God is living and active." (Hebrews 4:12) This living Word produces the Christian life in those who trust Jesus for salvation.

We are taught to "put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." (Eph 4:24) The "new self" is often referred to as the "new man," whereas the old life dominated by our sinful nature is referred to as the "old man." We could call the instructions in the epistles the "new man imperatives." Once justified through faith in Christ alone, the new man loves both the Gospel and the New Testament rules because all of it is written in God's love letter to His children. Paul summed up the Christian attitude toward the rules this way: "For in my inner being I delight in God's law." (Romans 7:22)

The new man in Paul loved the rules, just as the Psalmist could honestly write, "I delight in your commands because I love them." (Ps. 119:47) "I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches." (Ps. 119:14) "I delight in your decrees." (Ps. 119:16) "My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times." (Ps. 119:20) That longing has existed within God's people throughout history. Why? Because God gives His children this desire, just as He stated, "I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." (Ezekiel 36:27)

As believers, we are no longer "under the law." Our sins are forgiven. Without that forgiveness through faith, there would be no "new man" in our life. The rules given to believers are given to this new man, and not to the depraved "old man" of our sinful nature. The old man can do nothing to please the Lord. As Paul put it, "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature." (Romans 7:18)

Only works done out of a relationship of faith in Christ are deeds which God accepts, and even then these works are only accepted because of Christ's death on the cross and the relationship we have with the Father through the Son. The new man imperatives are "inspired rules" for those in the family. As believers, we seek to follow the rules out of love and appreciation for Christ dying for our sins.

The person who tries to earn his way into God's family through his obedience is a person who remains lost in his sin. Grace is given to one who believes in Jesus, rather than one who attempts to work his way into heaven. It is impossible to earn your way into God's family.

New Testament rules facilitate Christian living similar to the way rules in the home facilitate obedience on the part of children. Rules tell us what is right to do, and what is wrong to do. And just because we accepted Christ as our Savior doesn't mean we no longer need to be reminded about God's rules for holy living. If that were the case, the Holy Spirit would not have inspired these rules to be written in the New Testament.

We just have to be careful to always "couch" these rules within the context of the family. That is the way Scripture does it as the rules get presented to believers. Otherwise, a person can easily slip into legalism.

In other words, if you simply present a "how to" message in a Bible class or sermon based on New Testament rules, you may end up presenting a completely false teaching regarding justification, sanctification, and the Christian life. The New Testament was not created by God to be a generic book of morals about how to live a good life. Instead, it details God's perfect plan of salvation, as well as God's will for those in His family. And it always contains the proper distinction between God's Law and His Gospel.

And even when New Testament rules "facilitate" Christian living, let's never forget that underneath those rules is the foundation of God's grace in the life of the believer. Scripture describes how "the grace of God" is what "teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age." (Titus 2:11,12) The rules which help to facilitate obedience in the life of a believer would be of no benefit without God's grace first providing the power for that obedience through the forgiveness of sins and the working of the Holy Spirit.

So then what about a professing Christian who is willfully sinning to his heart's content? Does he need rules, or does he need the Gospel? He needs what the Holy Spirit gives such a person in the New Testament epistles. Someone in that spiritual state needs to be warned that the fruit of true conversion is a heart which seeks to please the Spirit and not the flesh. (see Gal. 6:7,8) The life of Christian discipleship seeks daily to put on the new man and take off the old man.

If someone is sinning to his heart's content, he has a deep problem within his soul. He needs to repent of his sin. His relationship with Christ is shaky at best, and most likely non-existent. Those who know Christ seek to follow Him. They are not "hypocrites." That word is never used in the Bible for a genuine believer.

All of us in God's family still have a sinful nature and are far from perfect. But that doesn't mean we pretend to follow Jesus while planning to "do our own thing." If that is your attitude, the New Testament has nothing for you but warnings. And if that is where someone is at in his spiritual life, then both the Law and the Gospel seem to have gone right over his head. Why? Because in his stubbornness he decided to live for sin rather than to live for the Savior.

Hopefully, that does not describe where you find yourself today. But if it is, there is a place you can turn in a spirit of repentance and faith. The Lord invites each of us to come to the cross and believe the good news, even as we turn from sin and embrace our loving Savior.

And once in the family, we are motived by God's love. His life on the inside of us produces good fruit. We rest in God's grace as we also long for His rules in order to know what actions in our life will please the Lord. That reverent attitude is a crucial reality within Christian discipleship.

Law and Gospel. Relationship and rules. Forgiveness for those who trust in the cross and in Christ alone. And then a life where the "new man" loves God and loves others because Christ gave His life for our salvation.

So at the end of the day with all things considered, do New Testament rules facilitate Christian living? Yes, but only after a person has been brought into a relationship with God by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ. Christians seek to do good not "in order to be saved," but rather, because "we have been saved" through the blood of Jesus which cleanses our soul through faith.

God loved us enough to save us and bring us into His family, and He also loved us enough to give us rules for holy living as believers who have been guaranteed eternal salvation. This takes all the pressure off. Now we are free to serve God with the knowledge and certainty that we are in His family forever.

And if this message of grace through the cross doesn't get you motivated to live for God, then you have not yet embraced this message of grace. When you do, it will change your heart for good. And then God's rules for holy living will take on a whole new meaning in a joyful new life of freedom and righteous desires.

In other words, if your "new man" doesn't yet "love the rules" in addition to loving the Savior, then it doesn't sound like the "new man" exists yet in your soul. In that case, it's time for you to be born again through faith in Jesus. After your conversion, you will be able to wholeheartedly agree with the apostle Paul in saying, "For in my inner being I delight in God's law." (Romans 7:22)

After all, this mental and spiritual focus in your heart and mind is a large part of what it means to have "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16) as one of His disciples. You now know you are forgiven because of the cross, and so you want to obey God's rules for the right reason.

The Christian life can be beautifully summed up in these 7 words: "We love because He first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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