As we have seen then what God requires of us is that we love Him with whole heart, soul and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves. How, then, does a Christian determine whether a given action is right or wrong? First of all through the imitation of Christ. We should imitate Him and His example of self-sacrificing love. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus . . .” (Phil. 2:5; NKJV, cf. Eph. 4:32-5:1; Col. 3:13). What would Jesus do in a given situation? How would He react to the other person?
Secondly, we should follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). There will not be a written instruction to cover every possible situation. But a genuine concern for the other person, arising from a proper attitude of heart produced by the Holy Spirit, will lead us to do the right thing. Our lives should manifest the fruit of the Spirit.
Everything, of course, should be consistent with the teachings of the New Testament. “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6,7). “Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and please God: for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus” (I Thess. 4:1,2)/ Jesus and the apostles have given us general instructions on how to live a life that is pleasing to God. These instructions are contained in the New Testament and ought always to be observed.
What all of this requires is that we “test” or “prove” what the will of God is. The apostle Paul tells us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:2), or as it might more literally be translated, “that you might test and prove what the will of God is, the good and the well-pleasing, and the complete or perfect.” The implication is that in each situation that we encounter we should ask, “Is it good? – does it have a beneficial effect?” “Is it well-pleasing to God – in accordance with His moral attributes?” “Is it complete or perfect? – Does it fully meet the need?” We should apply the general principles of God’s Word to a given situation to see what course of action would be acceptable to Him (cf. Eph. 5:10; Phil. 1:9-11; I Thess. 5:21,22).
An example will illustrate the difference between being under the law and being under grace. Consider the biblical teaching on marriage. The 7th Commandment states “You shall not commit adultery,” and the Old Testament then goes on to condemn various sexual practices: incest, homosexual behavior (Lev. 18:22; 20:13), bestiality and prostitution. It gives various regulations on how to handle cases of sex outside of marriage, female captives taken in war, polygamy and spouses who die without offspring. And there is a provision on how to handle divorce (Dt. 24:1-4). Marriage is looked at as a civil institution enforceable by law. But the Torah (Pentateuch) is largely silent on how spouses are to treat each other. (There are passages in Psalms, Proverbs and the Song of Solomon that talk about the pleasures and pains of marriage.)
But when we turn to the New Testament a somewhat different picture emerges. Jesus begins by quoting the 7th Commandment, but then goes on to say, “But I say to you that whoever looks on a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Here the focus shifts from the outward act to the inward thought, and it is the thought that makes one guilty in the sight of God.
But just as revealing is Jesus’ teaching concerning divorce. He began by going to the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 (“and the two shall become one flesh” – Matt. 19:5) and then said, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (v. 6). He then went on to say that “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (v. 8). The implication is that Moses had made certain concessions to human weakness, and the Mosaic legislation did not perfectly reflect what God actually requires of us as human beings.
And when we turn to the epistles we get an even fuller picture of what God actually requires of us. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25). And “just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything” (v. 24). It is not enough merely to avoid an act of open adultery. Husbands are to love their wives. And how? “. . . just as Christ love the church.” What is required is more than just bare compliance with the letter of the law. What is required is genuine and active concern for others, a self-sacrificing love; and Christ is our supreme example of that. (Interestingly the Westminster Larger Catechism, in its treatment of the 7th Commandment, does not mention husbands loving their wives, other than “conjugal love” and “cohabitation” ).
The New Testament, then, gives us a fuller revelation of the will of God than does the Old, and the Old Testament should be interpreted in the light of the New. And sanctification is not so much a matter of following a detailed list of rules and regulations as it is manifesting the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
The goal, then, is not just an external conformity to the letter of the law. What God requires of us as human beings is love; but love cannot be reduced to a set of written rules and regulations. Love avoids harming others, and thus fulfills the law. But it goes beyond the law to seek the positive good of others. And true Christian love springs from an active principle produced within the heart by the Holy Spirit. Let us make it our aim. Then, in life, to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; II Cor. 3:18; Col. 3:10). May Jesus Christ be praised!