A BRIEF STUDY ON "THE LAW OF LIBERTY" IN THE EPISTLE OF JAMES.
What law is spoken of by the Apostle James when he refers to the perfect law of liberty? Is this the ten commandments as spoken by the preincarnate Christ on Sinai? Or, is it some mystical undefined "law of Christ" or "law of the Gospel"?
James 1:23: For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer; he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass. 24 For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25 But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth [therein], he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed [or; doing].Every soul that refuses to give himself to God is under the control of another power. Christ came to break the shackles of sin-slavery from the soul. See Christ in conversation with the Jews as recorded in John 8 starting about verse 20. "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." And John 8:36: "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" sets us "free from the law of sin and death" Rom. 8:2.
James 2:8: If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: 9 But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. 10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one [point], he is guilty of all. 11 For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. (he that; or, that law which] 12 So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment [rejoiceth: or; glorieth].
In his letter to the Romans Paul makes it very clear that while the keeping of the law in order to be reconciled to God is a hopeless endeavor, and is in fact an affront to the grace of God, the objective of grace, the goal of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary's cross, was to bring us sinners back into the lawful relationship that must exist between a holy Father and His created children.
In Romans 8:1 he declares that "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." The legal status of one who finds refuge in Christ is changed from "condemned" to "no condemnation." Logically, without law there is no condemnation, neither is there any justification. The meaning of the word "justification" is dependent upon the assumption that there exists a standard. Paul's whole argument for grace is clarified when he asks the question, "Do we then make void the law through faith?" and gives the answer, "by no means," in fact we establish, or confirm the eternal relevance and authority of the law of God in the life of all men and much more so for those who are in Christ.
In Rom. 8.2, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." Paul contrasts two laws; the law of the Spirit of life and the law of sin and death. While the law of sin and death, which is another way of identifying the power of the flesh, constantly draws us away from God, the law of the Spirit of life does the very opposite. The law of the Spirit of life is another of the several ways God uses to tell us of his power as creator to reprogram us with his law of love: "I will write my laws on the fleshy tables of your hearts", "you must be born again", etc. This law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is more powerful than the law of sin and death, as demonstrated and illustrated in the resurrection of Christ. It is clearly in answer to the despairing cry of Romans 7, "who shall deliver me...." That Paul gives the answer; "in Christ' is found your deliverance."
Rom.8: 3, 4 "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." What that righteous holy and just law could not accomplish because of the overmastering power of the flesh in humanity, Christ accomplished by the gift of the "Spirit of life," which, when received, overpowers the flesh and brings forth the righteous works of the law from the life of the one who receives grace. The sinner is in this way freed from the law of sin and death in his natural mind and is instantly in right standing before God and His law, and from his life begins to come the righteous works of that law.
In Romans 8: 5-9 Paul very clearly explains that our natural inclinations are to reject the law of God, and that this will result in death for those who remain outside of Christ, not subject to the law of God. It is plain that for Paul, having the Spirit is synonymous with being subject to the law of God (as expressed in the decalogue), and that anyone who refuses the Spirit of Christ, which is inseparable from the law of God/Christ, is not of Christ, but of the flesh, an offspring of Satan. Everyone who refuses to give himself to God, to be under His control, to obey His law, is under the control of another power. He is not his own [See Rom 6: 16; 1 John 2:3,4]. He may talk of freedom, as did the Jews in John 8, but he is in the most abject slavery. He is not allowed to see the beauty of truth, nor does he perceive the liberty to be found in the law of God, for his mind is under the control of Satan.
To be under the control of God, to be subject to His law, has been presented and viewed as slavery by Lucifer who was very successful in presenting it in this light to Eve at the tree. But in fact the law of God describes the only conditions upon which there can be freedom for created beings made in the likeness of God, who is love personified. The law of God can as surely be described as the law of love, since it is the law of God who is love, as it can be described as the law of liberty, for in God only do His creatures find liberty. Rom.8: 5-9: "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."
God does not use force in his work with the human soul. Under the influence of the Spirit of God, man is left free to choose whom he will serve. In the change that takes place when the soul surrenders to Christ, there is the highest sense of freedom. The expulsion of sin is the act of the soul itself. True, we have no power to free ourselves from Satan's control; but when we desire to be set free from sin, and in our great need cry out for a power out of and above ourselves, the powers of the soul are imbued with the divine energy of the Holy Spirit, and they obey the dictates of the will in fulfilling the will of God.
The only condition upon which you or I can be free is that of becoming one with Christ. "The truth shall make you free" and Christ is the truth. Sin gets the better of us by weakening the mind and placing our souls in the shackles of guilt. It is obvious that to be one with Christ is to be in subjection to God as He was. Also, to be in subjection to God is restoration to one's self--to the true glory and dignity with which our Creator originally made us. The divine law, to which we are brought into subjection, is "the law of liberty" James 2:12.
Christ's teaching concerning the law is alluded to in the Sermon on the Mount (See Mat. 5: 17,18: To fulfil, Gr. pleluroop, to make full, to fill full). Here the Author of the law made clear the true meaning of its precepts, and the way in which its precepts would find expression in the thinking and living of citizens of the kingdom He had come to establish (see Isa. 59: 7). The great Lawgiver Himself now reaffirmed the pronouncements of Sinai as binding upon those who would be His subjects, and announced that anyone who should presume to annul them either by precept or by example would "no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Max. 5:20). By fulfilling the law Christ simply "filled" it "full" of meaning, by giving men an example of perfect obedience to the will of God, in order that the same law "might he fulfilled in us" (Rom. 8: 3, 4). A close parallel to Paul's comments on "law" is obvious (see Rom. 2:12; 7:12). In ch. 2 James equates "law" with the Decalogue (vs. 10, 11) and apparently refers to that code here also.
For another inspired statement about the "law" being "perfect" see Ps. 19:7. The "perfect law" may be compared to the "word of truth" (James 1:18) and to the "engrafted word" (v.21), the "doing" of which is the life of Christian obedience. The "law" is a description of the character of God--the true standard of righteousness--and outlines proper relationships between God and man, also, relationships among men. The "law," therefore, becomes a "mirror" by means of which a man can evaluate his motives and actions.
The lawbreaker finds his freedom restricted. The motto, "Obedience to law is liberty," is frequently seen on courtroom walls, and is a worthy motto for every Christian to remember. When, by the grace of God, a man accepts the Saviour's yoke (Matt. 11 :2~30), he sees the law as being clearly in accord with his highest interests and conducive to his highest happiness. He then looks upon the will of God as liberty, and upon sin as bondage. The apostle points to the moral law as the infallible rule of duty (see on ch. 2: 12). When we acknowledge the defects of character it [the law] points out to [within] us, and turn to Christ to remedy them, we find that the law has pointed the way to true liberty, for the highest liberty is freedom from sin. However, the keeping of the law, whether moral or ceremonial, as a means of justification, makes of it a yoke of bondage (see Gal. 2:16).
Only to those who "seek" first the "kingdom of God" (see Matt. 6: 33) will the law be an avenue to "liberty." It brings freedom only to those who, by the grace of God, make it a life habit to reflect the character of Christ (see John 8: 31-36).
It is extremely important that those who teach others the Gospel guard their modes of expression against anything that would seem to encourage release from the claims of God's moral law, the ten commandments. The youth and those immature in the faith have an inborn love of liberty--they desire freedom--and they need to understand that these inestimable blessings are to be enjoyed only in obedience to the law of God. This law is the preserver of true freedom and liberty. It points out and prohibits those things that degrade and enslave, and thus to the obedient it affords protection from the power of evil. The psalmist declares: "I will walk at liberty: for I seek Thy precepts." "Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors" Psalm 119:45,24.
In many of the revivals which have occurred in recent times there is an emotional excitement, a mingling of the true with the false, that has confused many youth and even those of more mature experience. Yet none need be deceived. In the light of God's word, it is not difficult to determine the nature of these movements. Wherever men neglect the testimony of the Bible, turning away from those plain soul-testing truths which require self-denial and renunciation of the world, there we may be sure that God's blessing is not bestowed. And by the rule which Christ Himself has given, "Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:16), it is evident that these movements are not the work of the Spirit of God.
In the truths of His word, God has given to men a revelation of Himself; and to all who accept them they are a shield against the deceptions of Satan. It is a neglect of these truths that has opened the door to the evils which are now becoming so widespread in the religious world. The nature and the importance of the law of God have been, to a great extent, lost sight of. A wrong conception of the character, the perpetuity, and the obligation of the divine law has led to errors in relation to conversion and sanctification, and has resulted in lowering the standard of piety in the church. Here is to be found the secret of the lack of the Spirit and power of God in the revivals of our time.
The means of lifting up this standard in the church is the issue with which we [all] must deal. It is so easy for us, through the 'flesh,' to make our appeals for the law on the basis of fear and personal effort, rather than of love and drawing near to God. We need to be coming as suppliants who understand their moral depravity and utter inability to fulfill the just, holy and good demands of the law, casting ourselves upon the grace of God to perform in us that which we cannot render to Him ourselves. In doing this we will never in the slightest diminish the valid rule of God's law in God's kingdom.
There has been a tendency in our pulpits of underestimating the justice of God. The tendency of the modern pulpit is to filter out the divine justice from divine love, to sink love into a sentiment rather than exalt it into a principle. The new theological prism separates what God has joined together. Is the divine law good or evil? According to scripture it is good. Then justice is good; for it is a disposition to execute the law. From the habit of underrating the divine law and justice, the extent and demerit of human disobedience, men easily slide into the habit of underestimating the grace which has provided an atonement for sin. Because of this the gospel loses its value and importance in the minds of men, and soon they are ready practically to cast aside the Bible itself.
Many religious teachers assert that the Gospel frees men from the requirements of the law. There are some who represent the law as a grievous yoke, and in contrast to the bondage of the law they present the liberty to be enjoyed under the gospel. But the prophets and apostles did not regard the holy law of God in that light. David said: "I will walk at liberty: for I seek Thy precepts." Psalm 119:45. The apostle James, who wrote after the death of Christ, refers to the Decalogue as "the royal law" and "the perfect law of liberty." James 2:8; 1:25. And John the apostle of love who received "The Revelation of Jesus" on Patmos, half a century after the crucifixion, pronounces a blessing upon them "that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city" Revelation 22:14.
The writer of this paper considers it a serious threat to the well being of a congregation for the law of God to be accepted as an enemy of the Gospel and contrary to liberty in Christ.
The Author's comments: I have cited only scripture references, to give them sole authority in expressing the truth. However, in explaining my understanding of these scriptures, various author's words have been borrowed and intermingled with my own words. I do not claim entire originality nor any special divine inspiration in my understanding of the scripture in this matter.