A Question I Was Asked:

'What is The Law of Christ of 1 Corinthians 9:21?'


Okay. Most of the time the word 'law' in the New Testament comes from the Greek word 'nomos' and it mostly refers to the Old Covenant. More specifically, if we consider the writings of the apostle Paul, a lot of the time he is comparing Old Covenant law somewhat negatively with the grace which Christians now stand under.

'But now, by dying to what bound once us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.' (Romans 7:6. NIV throughout).

I think that that should be clear enough for all; most of the time in his writings Paul uses 'nomos' in just that way. However, just as when we use the word 'law' in our own day, it is entirely possible for that word 'nomos' (law) to be sometimes used slightly differently. I might say to Tina, 'There should be a law against driving like that!' but a minute later I might say, 'If that child fell off the swing, the law says he will bang his head!' In the first case I am referring to traffic laws, in the second case I am referring to the law of gravity!

I just quoted Romans 7 and that might be a good example of how Paul sometimes used 'nomos' a little differently. We just noted how he used the word in verse 6, plainly referring to the Old Covenant package, or the Old Covenant system, but later in the very same chapter Paul certainly uses 'nomos' slightly differently; in verse 14 he says,

'We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.' (verse 14),

Again, in verses 22-23 he states,

'For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind...'

Certainly, Paul only uses the word 'nomos' for 'law' in this chapter but he uses it differently (in fact, he even uses it differently in the space of verses 22-23, comparing a carnal law which sought after sin which was operating within his body, with the more spiritual law of his mind). But in his use of 'law' in verses 14 and 22, Paul refers to the great spiritual law of God which lies behind the Ten Commandments but which goes much much further than the those specific commands ever could. Jesus does exactly the same thing in the sermon on the mount; he shows that the commandments themselves did not go far enough and He points to their real, spiritual meaning.

So in verse 6 of Romans 7 Paul states that 'we have been released from the law' but in verse 22 he states that 'in my inner being I delight in God's law' - a contradiction? Of course not. Paul is using 'law' differently, just as in my two imagined comments to Tina, one about traffic laws, the other about the law of gravity.

Please bear with me a little longer, I will get to 'the law of Christ' soon!

Before continuing, I might say that some treat the Scriptures in a very naive manner in this area. This is especially so among the cults and sects but also in certain fundamentalist groups. They will say, 'Well Paul used nomos and nomos must mean...' This is naive. If you or I use 'law' must it always mean a particular thing? Of course not. One guy wrote, "The apostle Paul plainly describes the Ten Commandments as a spiritual law in Romans 7:14!" Huh? Did I miss something? Paul is not even discussing the Ten Commandments in that verse! That is very sloppy biblical interpretation, to put it very mildly (I could put it stronger, but will resist that).

Now, to get to 1 Corinthians 9 and the mention of 'the law of Christ' let us start to pick up the context from verse 19:

'Though I am free and belong to no man, I make 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 (he means the gentiles - my insert) 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).

Now this is very interesting for in verse 20 Paul plainly states that 'I myself am not under the law' - this is the position of every Christian and here, of course, Paul refers to the entire Old Covenant package which is now obsolete for Christians, being nailed to the cross of Calvary (Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 8:13).

But Paul shortly adds, 'though I am not free from God's law, but under Christ's law.' (verse 21). So here Paul makes plain a certain very important distinction and difference and this should be understood by every single Christian in our day, for it certainly also applies to all of us:

We are not under 'the law' (that is, the entire Old Covenant system of law, with the Ten Commandments standing right at its heart), but under 'the law of Christ' (the spiritual law as expounded by Jesus Himself in the sermon on the mount and as frequently expounded in the New Testament epistles, especially by Paul himself).

Paul also refers to this new law as 'the law of the Spirit of life' in Romans 8:2. He says this:

'Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering...' (Romans 8:1-3a).

The 'law of sin and death' there is a plain reference to the former law which the Israelites were subject to. Paul's point is: that law could only condemn, but the law of the Spirit of life does indeed lead to life eternal!

But the 'Law of Christ' also gets a mention in Galatians 6:2:

'Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.'

So the Law of Christ which every single Christian stands under (whether or not they fully understand the point), is not fulfilled by "keeping" ten points but by being filled with the love of Christ, such love leading us to willingly bearing one another's burdens. Paul frequently outlines this path, as of course, does Jesus Himself at some length in Matthew 5-7.
In Galatians 3, Paul says this:

'All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no-one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.' (Galatians 3:10-14).

Paul closes his epistle to the Galatians with,

'May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision or uncircumcision means anything: what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. Finally, let on-one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.' (Galatians 6:14-18).

Robin A. Brace, 2007.