The prophet Jeremiah predicted a time in the future when God would make a new covenant with his people (Jeremiah 31:31-34). This new covenant would not be like the one made with Moses in the wilderness that it replaced. The Law of Moses never at any point applied to you because it was the covenantal conditional terms with the ancient Hebrews. Instead, Christians are under a new law that supersedes the old one. This law is called the Law of Christ—but what is it?
The Old Law of Moses
When it comes to the Law of Moses, there exists some confusion in certain traditions as to whether or not Christians should follow it. This usually stems from an unhealthy view of the Bible that demands that all parts of it hold equal authority. Thankfully this is a minority view as the New Testament does make things very clear.
The Law of Moses has now faded away (2 Corinthians 3:7-11) because it was turned outdated and obsolete (Hebrews 8:13), having been gotten rid of (Galatians 4:30) and abolished (Ephesians 2:14-15) by Jesus when he put an end to it (Romans 10:4), being that it was weak and useless (Hebrews 7:18-19) and only a shadow of what was to come (Colossians 2:17). The Law is a curse (Galatians 3:13), and, thank God, you are not under it (Galatians 5:18, Romans 6:14). Jesus came to put an end to the Old Testament1 (Matthew 5:17). No one who wrote the Old Testament had seen God (John 1:18). But Jesus came to show us what the fullness of the Word of God made flesh looks like (John 1:14).
Paul, the apostle who wrote most of the New Testament, had this to say about the Law.
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.
1 Corinthians 9:19-21
Paul clearly says that he is not under the Law of Moses but instead is under the Law of Christ. Christians are not under any part of the Law of Moses (Galatians 3:24-25), but instead under the Law of Christ. But what is the Law of Christ?
The New Law
The Bible is a library of books organized around two covenants: one between God and ancient Israel and one between God and you. The covenant between God and Israel is weak, useless, obsolete, abolished, and has faded away. We are dead to it (Romans 7:4). The covenant between God and you is better, superior, and eternal (Hebrews 7:22, 8:6, 13:20). But just like how the Old Covenant had a Law, the New Covenant does as well: the Law of Christ.
Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus claimed that the most important thing we can do is love God, and the way we do this is by loving our neighbor (Matthew 22:35-40). He then goes on to explain what a neighbor looks like: our enemy. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus illustrates that our neighbor has to include even those we hate (Luke 10:29, 37). It is in this way that the core of the Law of Christ is enemy love.
It is easy to love your friends, but it is the true sign of a Christian when you love your enemy (Matthew 5:43-48). Jesus says that when we love our enemies, we become children of God. Loving our enemies, out of allegiance to our King, is the key to salvation. The call to love our enemies had to be impressed upon Christ’s listeners because he knew that their destruction would be looming within a generation if they didn’t. Because enemy love is what Jesus embodied on the cross we know that it is at the center of his teachings and example.
While the old Law of Moses was etched into stone tablets (and another 603 that weren’t), the Law of Christ is etched on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Law of Christ is much simpler than the Law of Moses. While the Law of Moses had hundreds of laws to remember and follow—Jesus only has one. One law in two parts. Love people. By loving people, we are loving God (Matthew 25:40). Simple.
Jesus wasn’t keeping around the Old Covenant Law and just adding one more command (John 13:34-35); he was giving us the New Law of Christ as a replacement.
Just as his new covenant fulfilled and replaced the old covenant, Jesus’ new commandment fulfills and replaces the old commandments.
Just like circumcision was the distinguishing mark for someone included in the Old Covenant, so the New Covenant has a distinguishing mark. The New Covenant and the new Law of Christ are marked by one standard and governing ethic: “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). Love one another. That means loving everyone—including enemies. It’s that simple.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
Why Only One Commandment?
Why love all people? All people are made in God’s image. If that isn’t reason enough, Jesus shows us why with his sacrificial death. We know what something is worth to someone by what they are willing to pay for it. God could not have paid a higher price than he did to free us from our bondage. The fact that God was willing to pay the greatest price that could possibly be paid can only mean that we have the greatest possible worth to God. The price God paid was unsurpassable, and therefore, all people have unsurpassable worth.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
1 John 3:16
Jesus willfully dying on the cross isn’t just a gift to us; it is a template to live by: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). Jesus didn’t just die for your friends; he died for the whole world (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2). Everyone is somebody for whom Jesus died. Everyone is somebody that God loves. “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11). Our greatest calling is to die, out of love, for our friend or enemy—because both are our neighbors (Ephesians 5:1-2). Loving friends, strangers, and enemies, even to the point of laying down our life, is the single command given to followers of Jesus Christ. Because every person was worth God’s life, every person is worth our life. It’s simple, but it’s all-encompassing. It’s far less complicated, but it’s far more demanding.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is allegiance expressing itself through love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.
Galatians 5:6, 14
God’s will on earth as it is in heaven can be accomplished with just one commandment. Loving all people fulfills the Law of Christ. The apostle Paul makes it clear when he says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2).
What Love Requires
The Old Covenant, and thus the Law of Moses, required turning to a list of rules to find out if you were living by God’s will. The New Covenant and thus the Law of Christ only requires you to ask yourself one question: “what does love require of me?”
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1 John 4:16, 8
So how can followers of Jesus avoid sin? Avoid anything that harms people made in the image of God for whom Christ died. It is that simple. We can turn to the New Testament to read stories about how Jesus and his followers loved others, but you don’t need to open the Bible to help you remember the commandment you must follow—it’s easy to memorize: love all people. Doing so fulfills God’s will for your life.
This question, “what does love require of me?” can be applied to any situation: when you’re at the store, when you’re posting to social media, when you’re passing someone on the street, when you think about other countries, when you’re at home with your family, when you feel yourself becoming angry after watching the news. How can you show love, compassion, care, and selflessness to friends, family, strangers, foreigners, and enemies? What does love require of you?
- The Latin phrase for new covenant is novum testamentum. Novum is Latin for new and testamentum is Latin for covenant. When the Bible was translated into English, editors chose to stick with the familiar Latin term testament rather than use the English term covenant. If they had stuck with a straight-up Greek-to-English translation, we would use the terms old covenant and new covenant rather than Old Testament and New Testament. Bottom line: “covenant” and “testament” are interchangeable.