The royal law is good, but within the new covenant, the better covenant of Christ, we find that it is not good enough. Therefore, we should speak and act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. So what is the difference?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. —James 2:8–12 (ESV)
In Matthew chapter twenty-two, a lawyer asked Jesus which commandment in the law of Moses was the greatest. The question was meant to test him. Jesus replied brilliantly by stating both the greatest and the second greatest commandments, which we may further summarize into one this statement:
Love others (including God) as you love yourself. (Gal. 5:14)
This is what James refers to as the royal law. The royal law is the summarization of the entire law of the old covenant. Just as that covenant was not faultless (Hebrews 8:7), that law was imperfect as well.
Love was the primary root and motivation of the law. However, the standard of that love was limited by the degree to which we were able to love ourselves. It was limited to what we were capable of.
On the other hand, through Christ, we have entered into a better covenant with God by faith. The law of the better covenant is a perfect law of liberty (James 1:25), written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33–34, Hebrews 10:16), and administered by the Spirit.
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:2 (ESV)
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Galatians 5:18 (ESV)
But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. — Romans 7:6 (ESV)
We are released from the law. This is where confusion often arises. It is dangerous to embrace any idea that there is no longer a standard of law to which we should be held accountable, and to which we are humanly capable of obeying.
We as people need to have clearly defined boundaries. Because of that, we often find some sort of deliberate and perhaps confusing mixture of segments of the old covenant “moral” law within our new covenant understanding. We pick and choose what seems right to us (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25) and we propose a variety of reasons to abandon the rest of the commands of the old law.
After all, Christ came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it (Matthew 5:17). So we present a better covenant with hand-selected old laws and try to find the balance of living by a written code and by the Spirit.
Truths of the law are not irrelevant and inappropriate, they are simply incomplete and powerless to improve you. The old law does not accurately portray the heart and intentions of God.
God intended to enter into a better covenant with His people and Mount Sinai, yet they refused the individual, relational access He was offering (Deuteronomy 5:23–27). They sent Moses to mediate something different in their place. The fact is that God will often give you what you ask for.
As a result, Moses administered written rules and regulations that were to be followed in order to remain in good standing with God and one another according to the covenant. The new and better covenant does not have this. Instead, the Spirit of God speaks to each of us personally, leading and guiding us individually and as one body in Christ.
The old law is fulfilled, and the new law is the fullness. Under the new covenant, yes, it is still wrong to kill your neighbor. But the command is greater, the standard is higher, and the focus is different.
Under the better covenant, the command is no longer “thou shalt not kill.” Instead, it is, “raise the dead.”
And because it is God-breathed into us, grace and power are also released to fulfill the command. The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
The law of the old covenant was, “Love others as you love yourself.” Or, love as far as you are capable of loving yourself.
The summary of the law of the new covenant is, “Love others as Christ loved you.” This is the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21, Galatians 6:2), an entirely different standard of love.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34 (ESV)
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:16–18 (ESV)
We can see the fruit that the love of Christ produces, as it prefers others above self. And we also recognize that this love requires action to bear it out. But it is also true this love cannot be fabricated by imitation alone. It is a love that must be accessed by faith — it is not my love, it is the love of Christ.
For the love of Christ compels us… 2 Corinthians 5:14a (NKJV)
For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us… 2 Corinthians 5:14a (AMPC)
It is clear that our love is insufficient. The love with which we love ourselves is limited. But the love of Christ is full and perfect love, flowing from the heart of the Father.
Jeremy Caris is the founder and president of Caris Ministries. Since he is called as a prophet and gifted as a teacher, much of his focus involves equipping believers to hear, know, and follow God in their own daily experience. He teaches the foundational truth of the Word with simple clarity, while revealing deep things of the spirit in practical ways. He has the unique ability to demystify the supernatural side of real relationship with a living God and make it an embraceable and accessible reality for all believers. Jeremy has been married to his best friend, Mandy Caris, for eighteen years, and is the proud father of two boys.