Some people say that we do not need God’s law any more, since we are no longer under his law but under his grace. To support their case, they cite Romans 6:14, “You are not under law but under grace.” “You see,” they argue, “we are no longer under God’s law but under God’s grace. Therefore, there is no need for us to study or even read the law (the Ten Commandments).” This thinking is prevalent in many churches today where God’s moral law is rarely heard. Does the church that you attend still read the Ten Commandments regularly? When was the last time your pastor(s) preached on the Ten Commandments?
In this post I will briefly clarify the meaning of Paul’s words in Romans 6:14—“You are not under law but under grace.” By this statement Paul means that we are not under the moral law as a requirement for eternal life.
The Bible can be divided into two main sections: before the fall of man (before Adam sinned) and after the fall of man (after Adam sinned). Before the fall, Adam was without sin. Yet, while Adam is morally perfect, he is capable of sinning. And if he sins, he will die. What must he do then in order for him to live forever? The answer is found in Genesis 2:16-17:
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
So, what must Adam do in order for him to live eternally? Answer: Obey God. Thus, before the fall, the requirement for obtaining eternal life was perfect obedience to God. “Obey and you will live forever. Disobey and you will surely die.” Sadly, Adam failed to keep God’s commandment. He sinned and died. And here’s bad news: Because Adam was our head representative, when he sinned and died, we also sinned and died in him (Rom. 5:12). Thankfully, the story does not end here, because in Genesis 3:15 God proclaims the good news about the Messiah. This Messiah, the second Adam, will both actively and passively obey God. Actively, Christ will fulfill the law’s perfect demand. Passively, he will pay sin’s penalty which is death.
Indeed, Jesus kept the law on behalf of sinners and died in their place, so that sinners who believe in him will be justified on the basis of his obedience or righteousness. That is, they will be declared righteous as if they had never sinned before and as if they had perfectly obeyed God’s law (Rom. 5:19). Hence, after the fall, the requirement for receiving eternal life is no longer obedience to the law, but faith alone in Jesus Christ. As Paul writes, “We know that a person is not justified by works [or obedience] of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:16).
Now, this doctrine of justification by faith alone does not mean that we do not need to obey the moral law. In fact, it is by our obedience to the law that we show that we have truly been justified (James 2:17). And so, elsewhere Paul adds, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom. 3:31). Those who claim to be believers in Christ and disregard his law make their claim questionable.
In summary, we are not under law but under grace in the sense that we are no longer under the covenant of works (obey the law and you will live forever) but under the covenant of grace (believe in Christ and you will have everlasting life).