How can we reconcile the law enduring, but believers not being “under law”?
- The law will endure, is enduring, is eternal.
- Matthew 5:17-20
- Psalm 119:160
- Believers are not under law.
- Romans 6:14 – For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
- Romans 6:15 – Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
- Galatians 5:18 – But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
- I Corinthians 9:20 – To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.
Notes of Reconciliation
A) No one is strictly speaking under the law in 2007. Israel is not: there is no priesthood, no Years of Jubilee, no cities of refuge, no avengers of blood, no stoning, no sacrifices. The Jewish people have (correctly) needed to transform a strict legal system into a flexible cultural system during every time of exile from their land. And national Israel today has not re-adopted God’s law as their law.
B) Nonbelievers are still under the law today in the sense of Romans 2 and I Timothy 1. Note—there is only one law given by God, yet even Gentile nations, who did not have the Law, have imperfect reflections of that law written in their hearts. This includes reflections of every aspect of God’s law; moral, civil and ceremonial. Nonbelievers will be judged based on their obedience or non-obedience to this law.
C) Old Testament saints ceased to be under the law when they died (Romans 7). This limitation of the law’s jurisdiction to the living in no way diminished the law’s importance and value. By the same logic, Paul said that believers in Christ are not under the law, because we have died with Christ (Romans 7:4-6). For the believer, this does not mean he is free to do whatever he wants. Rather, instead of following the law, we follow the Spirit, who uses the entire Word of God (including the Pentateuch) to teach us of Christ and to guide us to walk in love. The Law is still “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” The Law is still “profitable for every good work.” But we follow God under the leading of the Holy Spirit, not under the legal system of the law.
D) This scenario is practical, and in keeping with the law’s original purpose. In answering the question, “What, then, was the purpose of the law?” Paul says, “It was added because of transgressions” (Galatians 3:19). Israel (like every people) was sinful and needed the law to keep sin from becoming rampant and destroying the whole nation. If everyone in a country was good-hearted, there would probably be no need for law. But because there are evil-doers, we must have law. God gave the only perfect law to Israel.
E) Some will ask how a law that was intended to restrain sin, would have the effect in Romans 7 to incite sin. The answer lies in the fact that the Law (just like any good legal system) has two parts: regulations and punishments. The regulations, simply due to the fact that they are impersonal and focus on what we must and must not do, naturally provoke rebellious thoughts. But the punishments are effective to prevent rampant sin. Here is where the common use of the law today in many churches (moral legalism?) fails, because the regulations are repeated (which tend to provoke rebellion) but the punishments are not in place (because the law is being used for something it was not intended – as some sort of socially pressured ethics). Paul was clear that there are appropriate occasions to use the law today (I Timothy 1:7-11), but it must not be used for a righteous man (the result is graphically narrated in Romans 7), and it must be used “correctly” (1 Timothy 1:8 [nominws – as law]).