Love Fulfills the Law

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about love and its importance in the matter of the believer’s sanctification. One of the surest ways to be branded a heretical antinomian or neonomian is to suggest that what God requires from his believing people is supreme love for him and an accompanying love for his people. In fact, I suspect it would be difficult to say anything that would be looked on with more disfavor that to suggest that if we love one another as a reflection of our love for God, we have done what God’s law requires of us. Yet, the New Testament Scriptures are clear in teaching that love is the goal of the commandment. Paul wrote, “5Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith, . . .” (1 Tim. 1:5).

8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10).

Please note, the text does not say, “He who loves will obey the law” or “he who loves ought to obey the law.” It says, “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

In commenting on these verses, Robert Haldane wrote, “Nothing can be more evident than that if we loved our neighbor perfectly, we would commit none of the things here specified. . . .It [the law] requires nothing but what is implied in love.”1

Additionally, Paul wrote,

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14).

Here again, he tells us that the whole law is fulfilled by loving our neighbor.

When we talk about Jesus’ “new commandment” that we should love one another as he has loved us, we are usually accused of trying to do away with the law and replace it with love. The reality is that the only change Jesus made in giving this new commandment is the manner in which we are to love one another. We are to love one another “as he has loved us.” Of course, it goes without saying that this is a goal we will never perfectly achieve while we live in the body. Still, it is the lofty goal he sets before us.

His commandment to love is not new at all, nor does it replace any other commandment. It is the commandment out of which all the other commandments flow. It is the sum of them all. Consider Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 22:35-39.

35Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 36“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38“This is the first and great commandment. 39“And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40“On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

It might be interesting to note that neither of these commandments is taken from what some have mistakenly referred to as “God’s eternal, universal, moral law,” i.e., the Ten Commandments. Yet, Jesus teaches that the “great commandment in the law” is that we love God supremely. The second great commandment is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. In reality, whatever other commandment we find under any covenantal arrangement whether under the law, or under the new covenant merely describes how a person will act if he loves God and his neighbor. The commandment is to love; every other commandment merely tells us how to express that love under a given covenant. Adam could not love God and eat of the forbidden fruit at the same time. Under the old covenant, a person could not rightly claim he loved God while chewing a piece of bacon. The reason Christians may eat pork without showing a lack of love toward God is not that God has changed or that the law has changed, but that there has been a change of covenant. Under the new covenant, all the types and shadows of the old have been fulfilled.

God’s new covenant people have, by his grace, been enabled to love him and those who are made in his image. Since we are not yet made perfect in holiness, we do not yet love God or his creatures perfectly. If we could love perfectly, we would live perfectly.

I want to be clear. I believe the New Testament Scriptures present commandments that must be kept. There are rules to be obeyed, but if our focus is on the rules rather than on the ruler, we will easily descend into a Pharisaic legalism by which one trusts in himself that he is righteous and despises others. I can keep the rules without loving God; I can’t love God without keeping the rules. Keeping the rules cannot replace loving behavior; the rules merely describe loving behavior. They tell me how I will act if I love God and my neighbor.

This is how the New Testament teaching differs from the so-called “new morality” teaching. The New Testament Scriptures do not teach that whatever we do is right as long as we do it out of a motive of undefined love. God has clearly defined for us what love is like and nowhere has he done so as clearly as in his redemptive activity in Christ. For this reason, we read such commandments as “love one another, as I have loved you.” “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ love the church and gave himself up for it.” “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” It is important to note that the verse that precedes this one to which the “so [in this manner]” refers, states “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” “We love, because he first loved us.”

One reason believers should never stray far from the cross is that this supreme manifestation of God’s love is to form the pattern for our behavior in sanctification. Not only am I to love because he loves; the lofty goal for me is to love as he loves.

Does love replace law under the New Covenant? No, the command to love is the law under any covenant.

1. Robert Haldane, Romans, (London:The Banner of Truth Trust, reprint ed. 1966) p 588.


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