Volume Seven — Article 5, Part III Volume 7 | Home

Law and the Christian
Geoffrey J. Paxton  

Part III

"Not Under the Law"

When we come to Paul's teaching on the law, we note the following points:

1. The law not only exposes sin, but restrains the outward expression of it (Rom. 2:14, 25).  

2. The law discloses the glory of Christ (Rom. 5:18, 19; cf. Matt. 5:17-48).  

3. The law exposes sin (Rom. 7:7) and teaches men their need of a Rescuer (Gal. 3:19 f.; Rom. 10:4).  

4. The law is the only infallible rule of practice for the believer (Rom. 13:9; Eph. 6:2; etc.).  

5. The believer delights in the law of God (Rom. 7:22). (Notice that James calls the law the "law of liberty" [James 1:25]).

Our particular point of interest is Paul's teaching on the place of the law in the existence of the believer. It is often pointed out that Paul says Christians are "not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). Some assume this means that Christians are free from all obligation to keep the law. There are several reasons why this interpretation cannot be accepted:

1. This interpretation takes no notice (apparently) of the context in which the statement of Paul comes:

(a) Romans 6:15, from which the fourteenth verse is detached, repudiates in the most emphatic manner any suggestion that grace gives license to laxity of life. Grace delivers us from the dominion of sin and therefore establishes and promotes the opposite of sin (for man is not left in a vacuum), namely, righteousness. Deliverance from sin means deliverance to righteousness. We have become "slaves" of righteousness (Rom. 6:18, R.S.V.; cf. v. 22). Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). Righteousness, therefore, must be seen as conformity to the law.

(b) The wider context of chapter 6 makes it clear that Paul is here concerned with deliverance from the practice of sin (vv. 1-23). Paul's great affirmation is that grace has set us free from being bound to transgress the law (i.e., sin), which is another way of saying, Grace sets us free to keep the law (vv. 2, 7, 14, 22).

(c) "Under the law," in this context, means "to live under the terms or conditions of the law." Every person born into the world is under obligation to keep God's law perfectly as the condition of life with God. The Christian has met this requirement in Jesus Christ. As we said previously, Christ has fulfilled the law on our behalf. As Christians, we are not "under [the obligation to keep] the law" for our acceptance with God. Christ has already done this for us, and we have received it as a free gift (i.e., we are living "under [the conditions of] grace"). It is a grave blunder to interpret Paul's "not under the law" to mean that the Christian may now live lawlessly.

2. Those who deprecate the law fail to notice the wider context of Paul's thought:

(a) If Paul thought of himself as released from obligation to the law of God, how could he, as a believer, confess, " . . . I consent unto the law that it is good . . ;,l delight in the law of God after the inward man . . . Rom. 7:16, 22; cf. v.25. Paul pronounces himself wretched (Rom. 7:24), not because he is obligated to keep the law, but because he falls so far short of reaching its standard.

(b) In Romans 13:8, 9, Paul cites five precepts of the Decalogue as relevant to the behavior of the Christian. The emphasis falls upon the fact that love fulfills rather than negates these precepts. The law defines what love is in the rough and tumble of daily existence.

(c) In 1 Cor. 9:21, Paul unequivocally states that he is under the law in the sense of humble obedience. Paul, the Christian, asserts, " . . . I am not in truth outside God's law, being under the law of Christ" (N.E.B.). The implication here is that Paul's relation to Christ places him inside God's law as one for whom the law has application.

3. Those who see no application of the law of God for the believer, fail to take with sufficient seriousness the clear testimony of other parts of the New Testament (see John 14:15; 15:10; 1 John; 2:3-5; 3:21, 22, 24; 3:3-10 Rom. 3:31; Matt. 5:19).

John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

John 15:10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.

1 John 2: 3-5 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.

1 John 3:21, 22, 24 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight... And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.

1 John 3:3-10 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

Rom 3:31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.

Matt 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

It is amazing that some will still deprecate the law of God in the light of such clear teaching as this. One of the common errors is the failure to give concrete content to the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25). We tend to think of these as removed from their practical expression in the trench-warfare existence of the believer. We romanticize, we idealize, we sentimentalize, and all the time fail to see these fruits with a concrete and practical content! The content is spelled out in the ancient and ever-relevant law of the Most High God.

4. Those who speak of no obligation to the law in the Christian life, do not understand the nature of the gracious intervention of God in the life of the converted. The Holy Spirit not only creates a hunger and thirst after righteousness in the believer's heart (Matt. 5:6), but He also fills the believer with "the fruits of righteousness" (Phil. 1:11).

Genuine (nonselfish) work takes place only when the law is kept by those who are already God's children. Hence, the keeping of the law is the mark of gratitude from the glad son rather than the fearful servant.