The Law of God – Part 6 – Under the Law?
In Romans 6:14 Paul said Christians are “not under the law.” Many take this to mean that Christians do not need to obey the law of God any longer. Is that true, or is there more to the story? Consider the evidence presented in this presentation to learn what the Bible has to say about it.
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In Roman 6:14, the apostle Paul wrote:
Romans 6:14 – For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law, but under grace.
Now, this phrase not under law has been understood by many Christians to mean that we are no longer under obligation to observe the law of God. Is that true? If not, could you explain why it’s not true to someone? You never know when the topic is going to pop up. If we believe Christians are still obligated to obey God’s law, wouldn’t we look foolish and ignorant if we could not explain this verse? So here you go!
“Not under law, but under grace,” he said. What happens when we’re not under law, but under grace? Well, the first part of the verse says, “For sin will have no dominion over you.” So what is sin as defined in the Bible? Well, in 1 John 3:4 we read…John, remember, was an apostle, just like Paul was:
1 John 3:4 – Whoever, therefore, commits sin transgresses also the law, for sin is the transgression of the law.
So, sin is the violation of the law of God – the very thing a lot of people think they don’t have to follow anymore, because of this verse. But John tells us we’re not to practice sin if we hope to be in God’s Kingdom. There are not going to be any sinners there – any law breakers. That means God’s law is going to be enforced there too. So, how can a person who sins – that is, break the law of God – be in God’s Kingdom? Well, Paul’s answer is: by grace. But to understand the verse in question, we have to look at the context. So let’s do that. Let’s look at Romans 6:1:
Romans 6:1-2 – What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? This is the question he asked: Are we to continue sinning – breaking God’s law – so that grace comes into play? Well, his answer is: By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? So, no, it doesn’t work that way. Being out from under the law, as he would put it, does not mean that we no longer have to observe it. Then he asks a really hard question? How can we who died to sin still live in it? So, to cut out the context and only focus on the phrase not under the law is a flagrant violation of one of the fundamental rules of Bible study. You have to study the context so you know what the speaker’s talking about.
I once heard sort of a corny story about an old-time preacher, who thought women should not wear their hair up – too fancy. Some of them in his congregation were wearing a top-knot, as do some today. Although, I don’t think we call them top-knots anymore. So he went to Matthew 24:17, in the King James Bible, to prove his point, where it says:
Matthew 24:17 – Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house.
And he pointed to the last half of word housetop and got top-knot come down! Of course, there is no k in front of not, but that didn’t seem to matter to him. So, top-knot come down – that was his proof that women in his congregation weren’t supposed to wear their hair up.
Now, I want to read you something that Peter said in 2 Peter 3:15 about what Paul wrote.
2 Peter 3:15-16 – And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation. Even our beloved brother, Paul, also, according to the wisdom given unto him, has written to you. As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.
Now, it’s true that Paul wrote in a didactic shorthand that scholars used in that day, making it hard for those who were not educated to understand. And if that were true then, the translation from ancient Greek to English adds even more to the difficulty. But we can’t be hoping to have it our way if we’re going to understand this. We have to be completely dedicated to doing whatever God wants us to, if we’re going to. However, while difficult, it is not impossible, if we’ve got the right attitude to ferret out his meaning. And that right attitude is, we have to really want to follow what he said. And the catch there is, if we really want to. Without that, we will fly right by the point he’s making.
So, did you notice the point Paul appeals to in making his point? Let’s look at his argument in 6:3:
Romans 6:3-4 – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him into His death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
So he uses as evidence, that we’re not to sin so that grace may abound, the understanding that all Christians have died to sin. And again, what’s the definition of sin? Well, it’s the violation of God’s law. We read that already. So, another way of saying what he’s talking about would be, “How can anyone who has died to disobeying the law go right on disobeying it, using for an excuse that our disobedience glorifies Christ – because of His death we’re offered grace? No, that’s not how this whole thing works.
Remember the meaning of baptism? How does that work then? Well, what question did the minister ask you while you were standing in the water? Have you repented of your sins? What is a sin? It’s the violation of the law of God. When you were baptized – which is the rite a Christian must undergo to be a part of the body of Christ – you promised to stop the practice of sin in your life. You promised to obey God’s law – just like Jesus died and was resurrected to a new kind of life, so also, when you went down under the water, that was like your death to disobedience, and when you came up, it was like to a life of obedience to God.
In Romans 6:5, we continue on then with what Paul was talking about:
V-5-7 – For if we have been united with Him in death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. And that was true even under Moses. When people died, they paid the penalty for their sins by their death. And when you came up out of the water, you came up to a new kind of life, just as Christ did, committed to a life determined to obey the law of God, and thereby follow Christ, because He obeyed the law of God as well.
So, none of that means Christians don’t have to obey the law of God. It means just the opposite, actually. So, if being under the law means to you that you don’t have to obey it, it means something else to the apostle Paul in the way he used it.
Let’s go on with Romans 6:8:
V-8-11 – Now, if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again. Death has no longer dominion over him, for the death He died He died to sin once for all – that is, all of us – but the life He lives He lives to God. So also – and he’s making a comparison here – an analogy – so you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God and Christ. So dead to disobedience to God and committed to obeying Him.
Let’s continue reading in Romans 6:12:
V-12 – Let not sin, therefore, reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from the dead to life, and your members as instruments of righteousness. What is righteousness? Well, it’s obedience to God. It’s obeying God’s law.
So, does that sound to you like a Christian doesn’t have to follow God – obey God like Christ did, who never broke any of the law of God? Does that sound like breaking the law of God doesn’t matter? No! Of course not! So, it’s important to understand the context.
Now, Paul also, in other places, talked about crucifying the flesh. Crucifixion is a hard thing. We don’t understand it like they did back then, because they saw people who had been crucified. When he talks about crucifying the flesh, he’s not talking about literally killing himself – crucifying His body – but that part of him that was added after Adam and Eve talked to the devil and accepted the devil’s approach – that part of our nature now that comes to us from what happened back then. So, let’s think about how that works.
Suppose you read in your Bible that the Sabbath was a gift God gave to humankind thousands of years before Moses – a gift that He said was forever – and you also read in your Bible that Jesus observed that as obeying the law of God, and so did the entire New Testament church for three to five hundred years after Christ died. What are you going to do? Are you going to say, “Well, I don’t want to,” or “All these people couldn’t be wrong,” or are you going to say, “I’m not under the law anymore,” or are you going to crucify the anti-God spirit in you – Paul called this the flesh – and just do what God says? Well, that’s what it means to crucify the flesh. When it comes to listening to what God has for us, we usually don’t like what we hear, but will we do it or not? If we do it, we’re crucifying the flesh – dying to its impulses – as Paul said, “…not presenting ourselves to be instruments of sin, but presenting ourselves to God to be instruments of righteousness” – or obedience.
Now, in our progression through the chapter, we come to verse 14, which is where we started today.
V-14 – For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law, but under grace.
So, can we make sense of how it’s possible to make this statement and also to say that we have to live godly and obey God? Well, there’s one simple concept for us all to understand. Under the law does not mean that we’re obliged to observe it. It means something else. We are obliged to observe it, but because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are no longer under the penalty of the law. It’s not possible, no matter how committed we are to obey it – to fully obey God’s law – nor is it possible for any law-keeping to justify anyone who has sinned. We cannot earn salvation. We cannot justify ourselves.
Further, no one, except for Christ, has yet kept the entire law. So, when a person breaks God’s law, they come under the death penalty. That would mean, if they remain that way, they will not inherit eternal life. So, that’s part of what grace is. We’re not under the penalty of the law, but under the forgiving grace of God. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to obey the law as best we can.
So, we come back to Paul’s question: Should we continue in violating God’s law so that grace may abound? Well, that misses the entire point of the law of God. And what is that? Well, let’s look in Psalms 19:7:
Psalms 19:7 – The law of God is perfect, converting the soul.
So, the law of God is God’s instrument. It’s perfect like He is, because it comes from Him. It’s His way of love enacted in the world. The law of God is God’s instrument to develop God’s own character in us. And, if you think Jesus came to free you from that, you need to think again. Just the idea of id is ridiculous.
Stop and think for a minute with me. Let at the mess that this world is in – the drug trafficking, the human trafficking, the political corruption, the amount of murders and chaos that goes on in the world, the dictatorships, the bullying and pushing people around, taking the freedom that God gave to everyone away from them. The world is in the mess it’s in because the world does not obey God’s law. If all the people in the world followed God’s law, none of that would be happening.
So, which side do you want to be on? While we are forgiven of our past violations of God’s law, we still must commit to following it, because it’s good for us. Jesus, when He came in the flesh, talked to the Jews, and told these people who thought they attained salvation through works and by birthright, He said, “Do you think those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them…do you think they were worse than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, ‘No!’ But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” So, everybody, to enter into God’s Kingdom, has to make a baptismal agreement with God – a promise to obey His law – or else they will perish. Nobody’s excluded from that.
So, now Paul’s going to kind of loop here a little bit. He’s going to – in verse 15 of the same chapter, he’s going to ask the same question and give you the same answer, but using a different approach.
Romans 6:15-19 – What then? Shall we sin, because we’re not under the law, but under grace? Certainly not! So here’s the issue. Shall we sin because we’re not under the law? The answer is no. We’re not to sin – that is, we still need to obey God’s law – and now he explains why in a different way. Verse 16: Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slave whom you obey, whether sin leading to death or obedience leading to righteousness? So he’s going to take a slightly different tactic. He’s not just talking about baptism now. He’s talking about what Bob Dillon talked about – who you gonna serve? When we disobey God, who are we submitting to? Well, the devil. Jesus was very clear about that. He said that when we’re practicing sin, the devil is our father. And then Paul continues in verse 17: But God be thanked, that though you were slaves to sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered – that is, the Christian doctrine. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I speak in human terms because of your weakness in the flesh, for just as you presented members as slaves of uncleanness and of lawlessness, leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for holiness. There are only two choices – God or the devil. And when we are baptized, we covenant with God to obey Him and follow the example of His Son, Jesus Christ, who obeyed the law perfectly.
Now, I mentioned this before, but I love it so much…Bob Dillon – who could have thought it – said we have to serve somebody. And he said, “It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve someone.” So there are those two choices. Some people say, “I just want to be free to do what I want,” and they try to take religion out of the picture. Well, that makes them slaves to the devil, since they don’t want to obey God.
Let’s look at another scripture – Hebrews 10:16:
Hebrews 10:16 – “This is the covenant that I will make with them in those days,” declares the Lord. “I will put My laws in their hearts and write them on their minds.” Now, this scripture is quoting the Old Testament. It’s a prophecy that has two fulfillments. One is for the millennium when everyone will have God’s law. It says, “All the nations will flow to Jerusalem.” And people will willingly accept God’s lead over them and obey His law. And that means that they’re going to view the law as a blessing, rather than a restriction. And the second meaning is for the church now. God is writing His law in our hearts now, if we’ll keep our baptismal agreement with Him. And that begins for us at baptism when we promise to obey God’s law.
How does obeying the law – being a slave to God – fit in with grace? Well, I’ve said this earlier in the series. It’s not either/or. It’s both. No matter how much we try to obey God, we can never attain salvation by our own works. And Christians do not try to earn justification, because they can’t. They try to obey the law, and when they fail, their violations are forgiven, because they have faith in Christ’s sacrifice – that is, we’re not under the penalty of the law after trying our best, we still violate it. Instead, we rely on Christ’s sacrifice, through the Father, to forgive our past violations. We’re under grace while we struggle to obey God’s law.
Now, this is not my idea. I couldn’t think this up if I tried. God’s ways are far above mine. So, let’s look at what I read in the Bible – that I just explained to you without quoting the scripture. It’s in 1 John 1:7. John said;
1 John 1:7 – If we walk in the light as He walked in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.
So, walking in the light in John talk for obeying God’s laws. And he says, “If we do that – we try to do that – in our daily walk, even though we fail, we’re going to be cleansed of the sins that we commit by accident. Next he says, in chapter 2, verse 1:
1 John 2:1-6 – My little children, these things I write to you so that you may not sin. So here we see the apostle John, who was an apostle just like Paul, who just said Christ forgives our sins – like Paul did – but also concerned with obeying God’s law. And, if we read on, he says, And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins – and not for our sins only, but also the sin of the world. So, so far we’ve got two apostles and they both say that we’re not supposed to sin – it’s important to obey the law – and they both say we’re going to be forgiven when we do. John goes on, however, in verse 3: Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him” – you know, “I’m not under law, I’m under grace….” He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments is a lair and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly, the love of God is perfected in him. The love of God is perfected in those people who try to keep God’s law. It’s just like I said, “The law is the instrument God uses to perfect us.” And John continues: By this we know that we are in Him. How do we know that? If we are trying to obey His law – if we obey the law and are under grace. He who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk just as He walked.
So, in these verses we can see that John understands grace – forgiveness of sins – as well as obedience, and that he also understands that the law is what perfects the love of God in us.
Okay, that’s an explanation of this scripture in Romans 6:14. So, if anyone asks about this, the key to the whole thing is just to read them the whole chapter. It’s all in there. They’re just taking the top knot out of it and not reading the whole thing.
I was going to end this series with this presentation, but I’m getting a feeling that I want to explain more about what grace is. It’s not just forgiveness of sins. So, I will do that next time and I will conclude this series with that.
Don’t forget to check our Website, liferesource.org – lots more stuff there about God’s law and forgiveness and grace and all that. Also, as I give this presentation, we’re approaching the end of the year, and I know many people that donate count on tax exemptions, so we have to have those donations ahead of time, if you want to get them counted for this tax year. Also, I want to thank everybody that has donated, because we couldn’t carry on this work without it. It does cost money.