“We don’t need God’s law anymore,” said someone to me. “After all,” he added, “we are no longer under God’s law but under God’s grace.” To support his case, he cited Romans 6:14, “You are not under law but under grace.”
“You see,” he argued, “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 Ten Commandments.” Unfortunately, this erroneous thinking is prevalent in many churches today. Does the church that you attend still read the Ten Commandments regularly? When was the last time your pastor 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.”
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 was morally perfect, he was capable of sinning. And if he sinned, he would 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? The answer is obey God.
Thus, before the fall, the requirement for obtaining eternal life was 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 the 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 perfect 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). So, what must we do to live eternally? The answer is believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, this doctrine of justification by faith alone does not mean that we do not need to obey the moral law anymore. In fact, it is by our obedience to the law that we show that we have truly been justified. 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 the words of James, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works [of the law], is dead” (James 2:17). The puritan pastor Samuel Bolton once said, “The law sends us to the gospel that we may be justified; and the gospel sends us to the law again to inquire what is our duty as those who are justified….The law sends us to the gospel for our justification; the gospel sends us to the law to frame our way of life.”
In summary, when Paul says that we are not under law but under grace, what he means is that we are no longer under the moral law as a requirement for eternal life. Or we can put it this way: We are no longer under law 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).