New Law

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 

Romans 8:1-2

When we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament, we can mistakenly think we moved from the Law to “no law.” But this is a misunderstanding of the covenants. The first covenant was governed by the Law of Moses. Yet, the new covenant is governed by new laws, laws that are far superior because they are from a superior Kingdom. Jesus told us that he didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). The new laws of the Kingdom of God have come to fulfill and supersede the old covenant laws.

For instance, the law of the Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death. A superior law has come to fulfill and supersede the old law. The law of the Spirit is greater than the law of sin and death. Both laws are “true” but the law of the Spirit takes precedent over the law of sin. Because of this, not only are we able to be saved, but we are able to now live in a holiness would could never attain under the old law.

Likewise, the apostle Paul writes, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law“(Romans 13:8). So the new law of love has fulfilled the old covenant list of commandments. Leif Hetland always says that, in this new covenant, the law of love replaces the love of law. Peter put it this way, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins“(1 Peter 4:8).

There are many laws of the Kingdom of God that arrived with Jesus and remain with the Spirit. These new laws fulfill and supersede both the laws of Moses and the laws of the kingdom of this world. The fact that righteousness now comes by grace through faith in Jesus rather than through works is an example of this. Another example is that the law of resurrection life supersedes the law of death. When someone gets miraculously healed, the law of the Kingdom of God has fulfilled and superseded the laws of physics in our world. Miracles are signs that a superior law is at work.

In the Kingdom of God, the law of forgiveness fulfills and supersedes laws of justice and retribution. Likewise, the laws of the Kingdom state that the first will be last and the humble will be exalted. Basically, what Jesus was trying to teach in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) was about this new law that fulfills and supersede the old law.

The new laws of the Kingdom feel strange to us because they are so different than how our world operates. They feel foreign because they come from a foreign Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. Yet, they are far superior to the current laws that govern our world. The gospel has not only set us free from the old law of Moses, but it has set us free to embrace the new and superior laws of the Kingdom.

Powerful and Effective Prayer

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 5:13-16

Seeing people miraculously healed was not a “charismatic” thing for the early church. It was simply a part of what it meant to be a normal Christian. It was one of the fundamental basics of what it meant to follow Jesus. It’s strange that today it is seen as something “extreme” or “strange.” Praying with faith to see the sick person get well is Christianity 101. We should expect to see people get healed in our churches, and we should expect to see it regularly. If it’s not happening, it is an indication that something is wrong with our theology, our faith, or our church culture.

James also indicates the importance of the confession and forgiveness of sin. James helps us understand that unrepented sin can be a hindrance to physical healing. It becomes an area of our lives that is unyielded to the Spirit which can dam up the flow of the Spirit and the gifts of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9).

We also learn from this passage of scripture that living a righteous life is important in becoming a conduit of healing. James says that the prayer of a “righteous person” is powerful and effective. Yet, while many of us long to have prayers that are powerful and effective, many of us don’t want to examine whether we are living a righteous life.

The righteousness that James is talking about here is not the imputed righteousness that we received from Jesus at salvation. In one sense, all Christians have been made perfectly righteous because of Jesus. Our own good works could not save us. Only the righteousness of Jesus that was given to us could save us. We are clothed in His righteousness. 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “…you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Romans 5:19 says, “…through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

But this isn’t the righteousness that James is talking about in this passage. It wouldn’t make any sense if it was. If James was talking about the imputed righteousness of Jesus, then all prayers from all Christians would be equally powerful and effective. If that was true, there would be no point in saying “the prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective.”

No, what James is talking about is our response to being made righteous. He’s talking about the person who is actually living out righteousness in their lives. James is talking about the person who actually lives out their new identity as new creations in Christ. We must put on the new self and leave the old self behind. Ephesians 4:24 says, “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

When we live the righteous life, when we choose holiness over sin, when we live out what Jesus made true about us, our prayers gain power and effectiveness. We become a conduit of the Spirit’s power and grace. Just as some conduits have less blockages, less rust, less things in the way that dampen the flow of water or electricity, so too a righteous life clears away things that would otherwise block the flow of the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Righteous living comes from ongoing and increasing intimacy with the Lord. That intimacy creates and establishes a trust between us and the Lord. He’s able to trust us with more (more power, more gifts, more healings, more miracles, more revelation, etc.), and we’re able to better hear His voice and yield to His direction. This is another reason the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. There is a closeness between that person and the Lord, a trust that’s been built over time.

If we want to see more healings in our churches, we need to become the kind of people who can be trusted with more. We need to become the kind of conduits that allow the increasing flow of the Spirit without the dampening effect of sin. We need to become the righteous people who have powerful and effective prayers.

Paradox of Faith

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:11-12

Paul encourages Timothy not to spend all of his time pursuing material wealth. Instead, Paul wants Timothy (and the rest of us) to pursue the riches of the Spirit. Righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness are things we must go after. They are things we must pursue and fight for. This is what it looks like to “take hold” of the eternal life that we have in Christ.

Yet, righteousness is also something we’ve been given. Godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness are also fruits of the Spirit. They are not only things we pursue but things that are birthed within us by the Spirit. And this is the mystery and the tension of the Christian life. This is the paradox of faith–the place where God’s work in us and our participation with God meet together.

It’s like when Paul said of his own ministry, “To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me”(Colossians 1:29). It is the Holy Spirit working within us, yet we must cooperate with Him. God already made us righteous in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21), and yet we must pursue righteousness and godliness. We are already new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), and yet we must “put on” the new self and “put off” the old self (Ephesians 4:22-24). The Father pours His love into our heart through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), and yet we must pursue love. We were saved by grace through faith in Jesus which is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8), and yet we must pursue greater measures of faith in our own life (2 Timothy 2:22).

This dynamic is not an either/or but a both/and. It is God’s activity, and it is our response to God’s activity. It is His work in us, and it is our cooperation with His work in us. It is His grace, and it is our obedience. The paradox of faith is all of this working together. This is what it looks like to fight the good fight of faith and take hold of the eternal life that we’ve been given in Christ.

A Matter of the Heart

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place…

Ephesians 6:14

Having addressed the need for their lives to be enveloped in truth, Paul admonishes the Ephesians to stand firm against the enemy with the “breastplate of righteousness” in place. This body armor protects the most vital organs of the body, but especially the heart.

If you want to learn something about the heart, read through the Psalms and the Proverbs. They are chalked full of wisdom about the power and passions, evil and righteousness that can flow from the heart. The Psalms are themselves the heart-cries of the psalmists. The Proverbs are wisdom born from the heart. Here’s an example:

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
    shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
    they do not know what makes them stumble.

My son, pay attention to what I say;
    turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
    keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
    and health to one’s whole body.

Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it
.

Proverbs 4:18-23

So much of our life flows out of our desires, so we must protect what influences our desires. We get the picture in this Proverb of our heart being the headwaters of a river. If we allow our heart to receive polluted influence from any and every source, we will find our whole life contaminated.

What our eyes, ears and thoughts absorb will pour directly into the headwaters of our heart. If we absorb what is good, holy, righteous and loving, we will find that same fruit in our lives downstream. If we absorb what the rest of the world absorbs, our life will look just as chaotic, angry, bitter, and harsh as everyone else’s. This is why our heart must be protected with a breastplate of righteousness. There are consequences to the condition and purity of our hearts.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”(Matthew 5:8).

He also said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of”(Luke 6:45).

We know that God is a heart-reader not a lip-reader. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “God knows your hearts”(Luke 16:15). And we all know the famous story of how David was chosen as the next king of Israel:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

This is why God has given us armor to protect our hearts. We are to “put on” righteousness like a garment, like a breastplate. This is why Paul wrote to the Romans, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh”(Romans 13:14). The righteousness of Christ is something we must choose to put on.

We are to filter out the things that pour into our heart, the headwaters of our life, so that downstream is full of purity, life, hope and love. Paul said it this way to the Philippians:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Created to be like God

Notice what the Ephesians were taught about their old life before Jesus and their new life in Christ:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22-24

Being a follower of Jesus means, in one sense, that our old self is dead and we have been made a new creation⏤all of this in the past tense. Paul tells the Romans to “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus”(Romans 6:11).

Yet, there is also a sense that this activity of putting off the old self is one that is continuous. We must be continually choosing to live in the reality of our new life in Christ. This process starts by stepping away from our old life and changing the way we think. Our minds are the first battleground of the new life in Christ. Our minds are Jericho.

That’s why here Paul says “to be made new in the attitude of your minds,” and to the Romans he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”(Romans 12:2). Just as we put on clothes by putting our head through first and then pulling it down around our torso, the same is true when we are clothed with Christ (Galatians 3:27); it begins with a change in our thinking, a renewal of the mind.

What is truly amazing is how our new life is described here. Our new self, our life as a new creation in Christ, was “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” In other words, we were made righteous so that we could live righteously, not so that we could continually sin and get away with it. Paul asked the Romans, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!”(Romans 6:1-2).

What this means is that this new life we’ve been given in Christ has new tendencies. Whereas in our old self, we had a tendency toward sin and selfishness, in this new life we have a tendency toward holiness and righteousness. We’re no longer miserable sinners but glorious saints. Our identity has been radically changed. This new life we’ve been given was designed to be holy. When we are not holy, when we live unrighteous lives, we are living outside of its design. It was created to be righteous.

When I take my son to the batting cage, the purpose of me putting the coins in and paying for all of those balls to be pitched to him is so that he will hit them. At the batting cage there are no strikes being tallied. All the strikes have been paid for. They don’t exist anymore. But they weren’t removed so that my son could stand there and miss ball after ball. They weren’t removed so that he could earn a “walk” to first base. The whole reason strikes were removed was so that he would get to a place where he could hit every ball that comes at him.

Our sin was totally removed by Jesus’s death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. But our sin wasn’t removed so we could keep sinning and not care about it. Our sin was removed so that we could finally live holy. Not only were we made holy by Christ, but His grace enables us to live holy. His grace not only wipes our slate clean, but it empowers us to live righteous lives that would otherwise be impossible.