Romans: The Clearest Gospel of All
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira

#35 – Fulfilling the Royal Law
(Romans 13:8-14)

In the previous chapter, we studied the first half of Romans 13 where Paul discussed the Christian’s relationship to the civil authorities or to the government.  Now, we will study the second half of Romans 13, beginning with verse eight and ending with verse 14 where Paul discusses the love relationship that Christians should have towards their neighbors.  A neighbor can be someone who lives next to us or anyone we come in contact with, at work or in our daily lives.  Jesus was clear that anyone who needs our help or anyone we are confronted with in our sphere of living becomes our neighbor.

How should Christians deal with their neighbor?  What should be the relationship of a Christian to his or her neighbors?  Let us read Romans 13:8-14:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  And do this, understanding the present time.  The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

This is a tremendous passage when it comes to Christian living.  It relates to our relationship to each other and to our fellowmen.  As mentioned before, a Christian is not of this world but is still living in this world.  Because the Bible teaches that we are not of this world, there are many Christians, especially in the past, who went to monasteries to live in seclusion where they would have no contact with the world.  But this is not God’s intention for the Christian.  In Jesus’ prayer to His Father in John 17:15, He clearly said:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

One of the great purposes God has for every Christian is to reflect, to the world, to our neighbors, the love that we have experienced through the gospel.  In Romans 13:8, Paul clearly states that he who loves another has fulfilled the law.  There are two ways to look at the law of God — in the letter or in the spirit.  Or, to put it another way, we can look at the law as a method of salvation or as a standard of Christian living.  Unfortunately, the Jews looked at the law as the letter or as the method of salvation.  To them, the law was “do this” or “do not do that.”

We find an illustration in Matthew 22:36, where some great scholars of Judaism approached Jesus to ask Him a question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

The book of the law is the Torah.  Instead of giving rules, Jesus said [Matthew 22:37-40]:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

To God, the law is not a set of rules.  This is what man has turned the law into, but, to God, the law is a relationship of love towards God and towards our fellow men.

We will study the distinction between the law as a method of salvation and the law as a standard of Christian living.  Here, Paul is saying that the fulfillment of the law, as God looks at it, is loving your neighbor as yourself [Romans 13, last part of verse nine].

To understand the meaning of this statement, we must understand that human love is a U-turn of God’s unconditional love.  When God created Adam and Eve, the book of Genesis tells us they were created in God’s image.  Genesis 1:26:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness....”

In 1 John 4:8, John tells us that God is love:

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

So when God created mankind, He created us, in Adam, with a nature which was in harmony with God’s nature and character.  This is God’s unconditional love which is self-emptying and changeless.

Unfortunately, when Eve sinned and brought the forbidden fruit to Adam, he realized that Eve had committed the act of sin and that she was to die.  But he loved her even more than himself, because his very nature was this unconditional love.  So he was willing to die with her.  This is how much Adam loved his wife before the Fall.  But the moment he ate the forbidden fruit, his nature made a U-turn so that the love, which went out unconditionally to Eve and others, now changed its direction to himself.  This is what we were born with, a nature which is egocentric.

Then, when God came to visit Adam and Eve that evening, this love was no longer towards Eve but to himself.  So, when God asked Adam, “Why did you sin?” Adam blamed God for giving him a defective wife.  Genesis 3:11-12:

And [God] said, “Who told you that you were naked?  Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”  The man said, “The woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

What happened to his love for Eve before his Fall?  It made a U-turn.  Therefore, human love has all the qualities of God’s love except the direction.  It is towards self so that we love ourselves unconditionally, everlastingly, and more than we love anyone or anything else.  This is our human predicament.  Paul says here that genuine law-keeping is loving our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves:  unconditionally and everlastingly.

Unfortunately, man cannot do this in and of himself.  An example of this is found in Matthew 19:16.  A young man asks, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”  Here was a sinner, trying to do good, in order to be saved.  Jesus tried to correct him by saying that there is nobody good except God.  “But,” He added, “if you want to go to heaven by being good, keep the commandments.”  The young man asked, “Which ones?”  Then, Jesus quoted to him the commandments that Paul is quoting here, in Romans 13:9.  Matthew 19:18-19:

Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

This commandment refers to our relationship to our neighbors.  Jesus completed His statement the same way Paul does, “Love your neighbors in the same way that you love yourself.”  In other words, we love our neighbors spontaneously and unconditionally just as we naturally love ourselves.

The young man, not realizing what Jesus was really saying, said:

“All these I have kept,” the young man said.  “What do I lack?”

Jesus tested him as to whether he really loved his neighbor as himself.  Matthew 19:21:

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.”

Jesus, to prove to the young man that he did not, said, “Take your wealth, which means so much to you, and give it to the poor, your neighbors, then follow Me and I will give you My wealth.”  This was a great bargain, but this young man had not accepted Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, so he did not consider this a bargain.  He considered giving his wealth to the poor as a sacrifice which he was not willing to make.  So, he left Jesus sorrowfully.

Jesus took this opportunity to show the disciples that it is impossible for man to love his neighbor in and of himself, the same way that he loves himself.  Matthew 19:23-24:

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a canel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

But Paul is advising Christians to love their neighbors in the same way as we love ourselves.  The only way we can do this is to follow the counsel Paul gives in Romans 13:14:

Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Only through the indwelling Spirit of Christ, which is His Representative, can we love our neighbors in the same way we spontaneously, unconditionally, and everlastingly love ourselves.

In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul spells out the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit to every believer.  This is the love of God, His character.  1 Corinthians 13:1-8:

...If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails....

Having said this, let us go to the distinction between the law as a method of salvation and the law as a standard of Christian living.

We will begin with an example.  A pastor, in 1980, attended a World Council of Churches Conference, held only for pastors, in Nairobi, Kenya.  The speaker was the famous John Stott.  The attendees were about 1,500 from approximately 83 denominations.  John Stott gave us a series of studies from the book of Thessalonians.  In the third study he said, “We evangelicals know how to preach the good news but we have failed to preach the good life.  The reason for this is that we have done away with the law.”  Then he added, “The law was never done away with as a standard of Christian living.”

The New Testament makes a distinction between the law as a method of salvation and the law as a standard of Christian living.  In Romans 3:28, and in chapter 9, Paul makes it clear that God never gave the law as a method of salvation.  This was the mistake of the Jews.

But, when Paul comes to Romans 13, he is now lifting up the law as a standard of Christian living.  What is the difference?

Let us examine four major differences between the law as a method of salvation (works of the law) and the law as a standard of Christian living.  Paul opposed the use of the law as a method of salvation in Romans 13.

  1. The first distinction is that, when we keep the law as a method, then we are using the law as a letter only.  That is, the law comes to us in terms of “do this” or “do not do that.”  The Jews made the law of God into rules.  For example, in Matthew 23:23, Jesus speaks about these rules:

    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill, and cummin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

    The Jews had 248 rules and 369 prohibitions in terms of the law.  But, when we keep the law as a standard, motivated by faith that works, love becomes the fulfillment of the law.  The gospel creates in us a deep gratitude for what God did to us in Jesus Christ.  He redeemed us; He reconciled us so we now respond by a faith motivated by or that works by love.  The Holy Spirit brings this important ingredient of God’s love into us.  Then, the love of God constrains us and reproduces in us the character, the life, of Christ which is in harmony with the law.

    In Galatians 5:22 onwards, Paul talks about the fruits of the Spirit which are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, and so on.  Then he concludes by saying that against such there is no law.  Galatians 5:22-23:

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things there is no law.

    In other words, these fruits of the Spirit are the fulfillment of the law.  The law does not condemn the fruits of the Spirit; they are in perfect harmony with its requirements.  Therefore, law as a method is keeping the law in the letter:  “do this” or “do not do that.”  Law in the spirit is keeping the law from the heart, motivated by love.

  2. The second distinction is that when the law is kept as a method of salvation, it produces only external righteousness.  Jesus made a statement in Matthew 15:8-9, quoting from the book of Isaiah:

    “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

    The Jews took the law, which is based on the love of God, and turned it into rules, regulations, and prohibitions.  By keeping these rules, they thought they were keeping the law.  But their law obedience, this keeping of the rules, was only an external righteousness.  Their hearts were far away from God.

    But, when we keep the law as a standard, the law first becomes a delight.  It does not become a set of rules.  Second, it becomes a delight in terms of an inward obedience.  In other words, a person who keeps the law as a standard, controlled by the Holy Spirit, motivated by love, keeps the law from the heart.

    A pastor gave a week of prayer at a Christian college which had very strict rules.  He preached to the students for a whole week on the wonderful message of salvation by grace.  One of the faculty said to him, “How do we, as an institution, practice righteousness by faith?”  The pastor said to him, “First, you must make a distinction between the rules your college has set up and Christianity.  Every college has rules, including government colleges.  Let the students realize that these rules are those of the college.  Do not link them with Christianity because, if you do, the students will look upon these rules as Christianity.  But Christianity is not a set of rules.  It is a relationship with God and our fellowmen.  It is justification by faith.  The fruit is holiness of living.  Then give them Christ so they are converted men and women.  Give them Christ in such a way that the love of Christ constrains them, so that they can say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ.”

    During this week of prayer, the pastor ate with the students and he discovered two groups in the college.  About 90 percent of the students had come to this college with its strict rules because they wanted to be there.  The other 10 percent came there because they were sent by their parents to be reformed.  Those who came by their own free will did not need the rules.  They were already converted Christians.  They were already living a life in harmony with the rules of the college; therefore, they did not need the rules.  But the 10 percent of them who were sent there by their parents, to them the college was, as one student said, “hell.”  She said to the pastor, “Please do not tell my mother that this is a wonderful college.”  He said, “Why not?”  She said, “I do not want three more years of hell.”  To her, being in this college was like being in a prison.

    Righteousness by faith begins from the heart.  God works from the inside outward.  Legalism — that is, the law as a method — is only concerned about external performance.

  3. The third distinction is that this external righteousness — which the law keepers produce when they keep the law as a method of salvation — may look good to men but, to God, it is an abomination.  In Isaiah 64:6, we are told that all our righteousness is, in God’s eyes, “filthy rags.”

    Then, in Luke 16:15, we read what Jesus said to the Pharisees:

    “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.  What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.

    God looks at our hearts; man looks at the external performance.  This is the distinction.

    When a Christian, saved by grace, controlled by the Spirit, motivated by love in his behavior, obeys the law, it is not a set of rules.  It is not simply external righteousness; it is God, Christ, living in us by faith.  Hebrews 8:10-13:

    “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord.  I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.  I will be their God, and they will be my people.  No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

    Ezekiel 36:25-28:

    I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

    The writer of Hebrews tells us the meaning of the New Covenant.  In legalism, the law is written on tables of stone.  In the gospel, the law is written in our hearts.  God promises to write the law in our hearts.  He promises to put the ingredient which is the basis of all law keeping, His love, in our hearts, so that we may have a relationship with our neighbors as God has with us, a love relationship.

  4. Finally, the righteousness of the law, when it is used as a method of salvation, is a righteousness that glorifies man.  Remember Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee who prayed in the temple?  Luke 18:10-14:

    Two men went up the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself:  “God, I thank you that I am not like other men — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”  But the tax collector stood at a distance.  he would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

    Man is only concerned about himself, how good he looks to others, but a Christian who is keeping the law as a standard considers himself a sinner and does not look down on others but is living a life of love towards others.

Paul is saying here in Romans 13:8 onwards that a true Christian looks at the law not as a method of salvation, since he has already been justified in Christ.  He looks at the law as a standard of Christian living and allows the Holy Spirit to produce, in him, the obedience which reflects the love of God, the character of Jesus Christ.

In Romans 13:11, Paul makes the statement:

And do this, understanding the present time.  The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

Paul is saying that, even though we are saved in Christ, the consummation, the reality of our salvation, is future.  It is important as we close the study of this passage that we realize the New Testament teaching about salvation.  There are many Christians who claim that they are saved and who stop there.  No, salvation in the New Testament is presented in all three tenses — the past, present, and future.  A person who has been justified by faith, a person who has received the gospel by faith and has accepted Christ as his or her Messiah and Saviour, can confess, “I am saved.”  A Christian is already saved in terms of the guilt and punishment of sin.  But a Christian must not stop there.  We must go on and say, “I am being saved,” in the continuous present tense.  We are being saved from the power and slavery of sin.  This is what God saves us daily from through the Holy Spirit as we put on the Lord, Jesus Christ.

And, finally, the Christian must also say, “I will be saved” from the nature and the presence of sin.  A Christian, therefore, is saved because he or she is justified by faith.  We are being saved because sanctification is a daily process that goes on throughout our life spans.  We can say, “I will be saved” in terms of glorification because, when Christ comes, this corruption will put on incorruption and this mortal will put on immortality.  In Jesus Christ, we have salvation full and complete.  It is not enough for us to say simply say, “I am saved.”  The world needs to see that salvation in our daily lives is keeping the law as a standard, loving our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves.  When this happens, the world will realize that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation.

Let us not be Christians just in word but in action and we will look forward to the day when Christ will come and take us home.

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