Why Christians “Are Not Under Law But Under Grace”

Wes  —  December 21, 2016
  • SumoMe

When the children of Israel were going into the Promised Land, God gave them a law. The law was part of His covenant relationship with them. But after Jesus came, many Jewish Christians wanted to know what role the law should continue to play in their lives. Were Christians obligated to keep the law? If not, what was to keep them from living sinfully? The apostle Paul boldly claimed that Christians “are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Could that really be true? If so, what would that look like? What would that mean?

The Purpose of the Law

In Galatians 3:23-29, Paul explained that the law of Moses was a “paidagogos,” which is translated schoolmaster, tutor, or guardian. In the Greco-Roman world, the son of a wealthy man would be cared for by a paidagogos, a slave who was given the responsibility of watching over his master’s son. This guardian would watch over the boy constantly; taking him to school, keeping him out of trouble, guiding him, guarding him, and teaching him. In the life of a young boy, a paidagogos was a good thing. However, when the boy became a man, he no longer needed a paidagogos. He was set free from this tutelage.

Paul said the law was just like that in the life of Israel. It’s end-goal was to bring the nation of Israel to a state of maturity and faith, where they would accept Jesus as their Messiah. And once they came to faith in Jesus, like a boy who became a man, they would no longer need the law in the same way.

“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:23-26).

A young boy does what is right because his guardian tells him to, but a man does what is right because he is an heir of his father’s household. When a young boy is under a guardian, he is just like a slave (Galatians 4:1-2). And Paul makes the point that the Jews were slaves under the law. But when Christ came, the law was lifted – at least for those who accepted Jesus as their Messiah – because that was the whole purpose of the law.

The son of a king doesn’t need a law to tell him to do the king’s will. The son of a king – in many ways – is exempt from the law, but he does the king’s will because he loves the king and because the king is his father. He does the king’s will because the king’s will has become his will. This is what being a Christian is all about.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:4-7).

Not Under Law But Under Grace

Paul has a very similar discussion with the church in Rome. He tells them that they are made right with God, not by keeping the law (which everyone had already failed to do), but by putting their faith in Christ. We are made right with God, because God is gracious and put forward His only begotten Son as a sin offering on our behalf.

In Romans 6, Paul anticipated the likely objections. He knew many wouldn’t accept this message of grace and not law, because they feared everyone would run amok. “If we’re not under Law,” they would object, “won’t everyone just go on sinning?”

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 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 by baptism into 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” (Romans 6:1-4).

You cannot be a child of God, free from the burden of the law, so long as you still live to sin. That kind of a person is unconverted and is still a slave of sin. That kind of a person needs to be under law. But the true convert, has died to sin and has been baptized into the death of Christ.

Paul asks again, in verse 15, “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” And again answers, “By no means!” Through the power of the cross, and the work of God’s Holy Spirit, Christians have become slaves of righteousness. We do what is right, not because of a law written on stone tablets, but because we truly want to please our heavenly Father. Our hearts and minds have been converted by God’s grace.

The Bottom Line

God expects your entire life to be a grateful response to His grace. When your heart and mind are transformed by His mercies, you will know His will and will present your whole body to Him as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). This won’t be motivated by law, but motivated by His grace.

When you live in response to the gospel and walk by the Spirit, your life will be full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). This kind of life not only does not violate God’s law, but it actually fulfills the law of Christ because you are loving others and helping to bear their burdens (Galatians 6:2).

It couldn’t be stated more clearly than this:

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams