Volume 9, Issue 4: Doctrine 101
Not Under Law?
Many Christians today have no doubt heard someone say or maybe have even said themselves, "We are not under law, but under grace!" I know that I have said it in the past. But what was the context in which this phrase was used? As for myself and others I have known, the intent was always to communicate that we were somehow exempt from the Old Testament Law of God.
Certainly those parts of the law that incorporated the temple worship, the sacrifices, the feasts, and the purification requirements have all been fulfilled in Christ. But what about the laws that have more direct application to the way society is to behave? Is the Church really expected to give heed to such laws in our pluralistic society?
For example, what about the Ten Commandments? Even they seem to be in question now. Some think that there is no longer any requirement to keep the Sabbath, while others think that murder is authorized as long as it is the mother's choice in the privacy of her own womb. Although the Ten Commandments are still acknowledged, one wonders how many of them are still in force based on the conduct of Christ's body, the Church. And the Ten Commandments are only a summary. What is the Church to do with respect to the rest of the laws?
But it's just at such a juncture as this that someone will no doubt protest vehemently, "We are not under the law, but under grace!" We must grant that this is indeed based on a Bible passage (Rom. 6:14). But is it a correct understanding of the text? Paul explained to the Galatians that it is the curse of the law from which we have been delivered by Christ (Gal. 3:13). God promised blessings for all those who obeyed His commandments and curses for those who did not (Deut. 28:2,15). God's curses are an expression of His wrath toward sinners (Rom. 1:18). Because all men are born sinners, we are totally unable to act as a propitiation for God's lawful wrath against us, and so we are under His curses. But Christ set His people free from the curse of the law. The law itself was not a curse, it only contained the curse for those who would violate its precepts. In fact, Paul says that "the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, just, and good" (Rom. 6:12). It was the curse contained in the law of God that befell the disobedient, the sinful. And it was this curse from which Christ delivered us. Does it make sense, then, that Christ would suffer and die such a horrible death for sinners just to set them free to sin as they did before He saved them? Paul's answer is plain and blunt, "Certainly not!" (Rom. 6:1).
Instead of the Law, most Christians today want to talk about love. In fact, many say, "The only law is love." Now, I grant that this sounds spiritual, but what is generally meant by this assertion is that there are no definitive bounds on a person's conduct. Rather, they think that it's okay to act or speak as they are "led by the Spirit" (which in practical terms means they will act as they may happen to feel in a given circumstance). This type of unbiblical thinking is sophistic to the core. It is driven by the human heart, which is, regrettably, incapable of providing us with anything even remotely good (Jer. 17:9). What we should do instead is ask, "How does the Bible define love?" "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments"(1 John 5:3). Love, therefore, is keeping God's Law. The sad irony is that those who think they are exemplifying love, but who want no part of the Law of God, are being anything but truly loving!
The Bible teaches that sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4), that is, to live in rebellion against God's law. How can God's people live in rebellion to God's law and not be in rebellion against God? As unsaved sinners, we were unable to keep God's laws, but as Christ's redeemed, we must acknowledge that obedience to His laws was the very purpose for which He saved us (Eph. 2:10). In fact, right after Paul wrote the much-abused statement in Romans 6:14, he wrote verse 15, "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!" Sin is lawlessness. We were lawless before Christ saved us. We were saved from lawlessness to be law abiding (John 14:21). To understand the Scriptures otherwise is to force them into our own autonomous molds rather than to be submissively molded by them (Rom. 12:2).
If it's not God's law that we as God's people are keeping, then whose law are we following? The options aren't too encouraging. Ultimately, there is only one option, and Jesus' comments to those who subscribed to it were painfully condemning, "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. . . . He who is of God hears God's word; therefore you do not hear because you are not of God" (John 8:44,47).
God's Word is written in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and most certainly includes the Old Testament Law. Whereas keeping the Law does not save us (Gal. 3:11), we are required to submit to all of God's word, including God's Old Testament Law, in all areas of life, and so prove to be the children of God (1 John 5:2).