The word “Theonomy” comes from two Greek words, theos (God) and nomos (law). Together, these words simply mean “God’s law.” Since every Christian has some view of the role of God’s standards for living, every Christian believes in “Theonomy” in some way.
The label “Theonomy,” however, has come to describe a particular doctrine of the role of God’s law that includes the application of aspects of Old Testament law to all of life including the social realm and civil government. Those who hold to this view are properly called “theonomists.” This book teaches the perspective of this more specific “all of life” view.
Love and law
The Christian should never dismiss Scripture’s comprehensive witness to the greatness, goodness, and justness of God’s law. The Psalmist declares this general truth over and over. Just a few instances say things like:
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day (Psa. 119:97).
Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true (Psa. 119:142).
The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether (Psa. 19:9 NASB).
Examples like this could be multiplied. Even in the New Testament, where Paul teaches that we are no longer “under the law” and freed from the curse of the law, he nevertheless also adds that the Law is “holy and righteous, and good” (Rom. 7:12). He follows, “I agree with the law, that it is good” (7:16), and “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being” (7:18). The problem is not with the law itself, but with our sinful selves who cannot keep it: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (7:14). “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). The Christian has a different mindset, however: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you” (8:9). Considering what he has just said about the law, what should this difference of mindset tell you about the Christian’s orientation to the law?
The standard for Spirit-led, Christian living, Paul teaches, is that of love. It is here where the tie back to the law of God is explicit, although often unacknowledged. Later in the same epistle, Paul says,
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:8–10).
Love is not contrary to the law. Love is the fulfillment of it. Love is not a new commandment. Love is the summary of “any other commandment” God has given. Christians must simply arrive at the mindset that when God calls us to the standard of “love,” He is calling us to obey the law He has already published and taught us in our hearts (Jer. 33; Heb. 8; 10).
The summary of the law
Consider just how explicitly that last sentiment is taught in Scripture—especially in the New Testament. The best place to see it is when Jesus was questioned about the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37–40:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second greatest is to love your neighbor. While sometimes misunderstood as new commandments, these are actually taken directly from the Old Testament Law itself. The first of these commandments is found in Deuteronomy 6:4. The second is found in Leviticus 19:18. Both come from Mosaic law, and the heart of both is love.
But note that Jesus says all the rest of the Law and the Prophets depends (literally “hangs”) upon the love of God and the love of neighbor. In short, Paul was teaching the same thing in Romans 13 as Jesus teaches here: love fulfills the law in every commandment. It should not be difficult to discern that in this case, the opposite relationship must be true: if you wish to pursue love, you must abide by the Law of God.
Love is not an emotion, as our culture routinely portrays it, and we often think as well. Love is a standard of action. If you wish to know the definitions and objective standards of what it means “to love,” you will need to read the law. What is loving and what is not loving will be defined there. There you will find the divinely revealed boundaries of the actions and reactions of love.
This applies in civil law as well. For example, is it loving to allow a murderer to run free in society? No. Then what penalty should they bear that could be called “loving”? The Bible gives an objective standard. What about a thief? Would it be loving to allow a thief to go unpunished? No. But would it be loving to give a petty thief the death penalty? No. The objective standard of love must meet both the victim and the criminal properly, else we fall short of the standard of love. He who loves will be understood to do so only as far as he is in accord with God’s revealed law, for God’s commandments are the substance of love.
This is the exact lesson Jesus taught His disciples during His upper room discourse (John 14–16). He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He repeats it:
Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (14:21–24).
He repeats the lesson:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you (15:9–14).
The author of this Gospel reiterates the same teaching in his later Epistle:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:2–3).
So we can see that love is not a new law or a replacement for the law—it is nothing more than a summary of the law. To love God means to obey His commandments. To love neighbor means to treat them according to God’s revealed law.
Next section: The Law and the New Covenant
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