When I read Romans 14:23, I don't read, “Whatever is not of obeying the commandments is sin.” When I read Hebrews 11:6, I don't read, “without following the commandments it is impossible to please Him.” We are “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Law was over us to point out our sin (Romans 7:7), punish our sin (Romans 13:4), and point us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Grace is not an alternate to law to point out our sin, punish our sin, or point us to Christ. Grace is Christ over us lifting us up out of sin (Ephesians 2:5,8). We “live by faith” (Romans 1:17; Habakkuk 2:4), and “after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:25). “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4).
When Jesus gave us his “new commandment” (John 13:34), it was of a completely different nature than the law. Unlike the law, His commands are “not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Jesus did not say in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you obey my commandments.” While Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15), and made similar statements in John 14:21 and 15:10-11, I don’t know of anywhere that He says or even implies, “If you don't love, you're sinning.” It's a completely different focus. His command is about shifting the focus from law to love. “These things I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:17).
Do we measure how well we love through how well we obey the commandments, or do we measure how well we obey His commandment by how well we love?
I don't see anywhere in 1 Corinthians 13 law teaching us what love is. Galatians 5:22-23 suggests that law is totally unnecessary in the face of love. Law cannot give life (Galatians 3:21), and by implication cannot give love either. Law is all about duty. We're not under the law (Romans 6:14), and even so, love fulfills the law (Romans 13:8,10) and exceeds the law (Matthew 5:38-48).
If love is nothing more than obeying a commandment, then what is the Gospel? Why did God love the world? Was He following a law? Was it a requirement that He send His Son? It was His “good pleasure” to send His Son (Luke 2:14), reveal His Son (Luke 10:21; Matthew 11:26; Ephesians 1:9), predestine us through His Son (Ephesians 1:5), and it is His “good pleasure” to work in us (Philippians 2:13)! It is our “good pleasure” to proclaim the Gospel (Philippians 1:15) and pray for the salvation of the lost (Romans 10:1).
Paul asks, “Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?” (Galatians 4:21). He literally frames the choice of being under the law or not as a choice between bondage (Galatians 4:24) and freedom (Galatians 4:26). He concludes by saying, “we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free” (Galatians 4:31). Jesus says, “Woe” to those who “load men with burdens hard to bear” (Luke 11:46). This stands in contrast to when he says, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). We know Jesus' commands by the ones that are “not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).
When we truly understand that we are not under the law (Romans 6:14), that Christ came to set us free (John 8:32) and that we have been justified “freely by his grace” (Romans 3:24), then we have every reason not to be entangled again with a yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1). 2 Corinthians 3:17 does not say “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is no sin,” but rather “there is liberty.” We have been “called to liberty” to “through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). There is no love without freedom. Without freedom, good works are just duty. If our focus is on a duty to follow commandments so we do not sin, then there is no room for love to exceed the law. It is only in being “free from the law” (Romans 8:2) that we can then trade the spirit of bondage for the Spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). Someone who focuses on not offending or sinning against his master is a slave. We are “no longer a slave but a son” (Galatians 4:7). Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants … but I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
Continued: The Christian life is about love