This is a topic which has taken on a life of its own in recent years. Paul addresses the relationship between the believer and the Law throughout his writings and yet may are still confused about where the New Testament comes down on the subject.
It is a fact, that most people do not take the time to study the Bible but instead tend to gravitate towards things they have heard someone else say is in the Word. This inevitably leads to partial or total misquotations. In addition to this, many develop a theology based upon subjective experiences, rationalizations developed from partial information and favorite teachers. All of this creates a bias through which we understand and interpret the Word. A good way to discern if you fall into this category is this….
When someone can show you something plainly in God’s Word (and in context), which your heart refuses to accept but begins to look for a way around it.
If this is the case then your theology is based upon something you want to be true, believe MUST be true, but very likely isn’t true! Such is the case for many with this topic.
Many today treat Romans 8:4 as though it says,
“What the law could not do since it was limited by the flesh, God did. He condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son in flesh like ours under sin’s domain, and as a sin offering, in order that the law’s requirement would be accomplished FOR us.”
Notice that Paul calls the righteousness of the Law a REQUIREMENT, not an option!
The actual verse does NOT say that Jesus fulfilled the law so we don’t have to, it says He fulfilled the Law IN US – NOT FOR US.
Jesus Himself said,
“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For I assure you: Until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass from the law until all things are accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches people to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” ~ Matt. 5:17-19
Finally, the rest of the verse is almost NEVER mentioned by those who believe that Jesus fulfilled the law FOR us….
“…who habitually order their lives by the dictates of the Spirit and not according to their flesh.”
Without this phrase it appears as though we have no “skin in the game”, but the bible does not allow for that misunderstanding.
So the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled IN me when through Faith in Christ I let Him live His life through me by being habitually led by the Spirit instead of my flesh.
To be clear, let’s view it from the negative.
If I fail to be continually led by the Spirit, the righteousness of the Law will NOT be fulfilled in me because I am walking according to the dictates of my flesh.
Much of this type of sloppy theology is based upon the misguided belief that that the law is no longer pertinent to the believer. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
There is a HUGE difference between no longer being UNDER the Law and it having no say in my life! Most “post-modern” Christians (if there is really such a thing) would be astonished to learn that EVERY New Covenant doctrine established as valid by the Apostles were TAKEN and JUSTIFIED by quotations from the Old Covenant!
In fact, the ONLY BIBLE the early church had as a guide for living lives acceptable and pleasing to God was what we call the Old Testament. Paul’s letters were just letters to them…nothing more.
How then is the Old Testament not applicable? How could we even be so deluded as to think such a thing?
It comes from a misunderstanding of some key New Testament passages, but for those who can learn quickly I will offer two simple verses which “could” set the record straight. They are found in Rom. 6:15 & 1Jn. 3:4,5 and they read as follows:
“What then? shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? God forbid.” ~ Rom. 6:15
So not being under the law does NOT set us free from it’s standards for righteous living.
What then is sin?
“Every one that does sin also does lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. And ye know that He was manifested to take away sins; and in Him is no sin.”~ 1Jn 3:4-5
These verses demonstrate that sin – EVEN UNDER THE NEW COVENANT – is to live as though there is no law!
There is no favoritism with God. All those who sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all those who sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For the hearers of the law are not righteous before God, but the doers of the law will be declared righteous.
So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences testify in support of this, and their competing thoughts either accuse or excuse them on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus.
But brother…I thought I was Free from the Law!
Let’s examine every New Testament passage where the words free and law appear.
Romans 8:1-2 “Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” This is NOT the Old Testament Law, but the “principle” of sin leading to death, just as the “law of the spirit of Life in Christ Jesus” is not an actual written law, but a principle (See Rom. 7:23). Furthermore, that it did not free us from the standards for righteous behavior is clear as Paul addresses that in verse 3 & 4 as I mentioned earlier.
There you go!
Brother, what about all the other passages which tell us that we are free from the Law?
Do a search…that was it! There is only one place where those words are actually used.
But brother…I thought that Christ was the END OF THE LAW!
Let’s examine that passage…
Romans 10:4 “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
This is another passage which is usually quoted only in part. In order to make the case for Christ to be the end of the Law itself, one HAS to stop quoting after the word “law” or at least eliminate the words “for righteousness”.
While it is certainly true that Christ ended the Law as a means to establish righteousness BY WORKS, He did NOT abolish or bring an end to the Law by His death and resurrection – He further established it!
“Do we then cancel the law through faith? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” ~ Rom 3:31
Under Law vs. Under grace
This is perhaps where the greatest misunderstandings take place. The key word here is UNDER and there are MANY places where Paul affirms that we are NO LONGER UNDER THE LAW. That is absolutely TRUE!
…but what does that mean?
The word under is the word υπό hupó and has several different shades of meaning, however when used in reference to the Law or the curse of the law (which I will address next) it always carries the meaning…To remain under a place of subjection or a condition, of being under the power or authority of anything.
So the phrase, “under the Law” means to be it’s slave or to be under it’s dominion. Which is why Paul found it quite natural to use these terms throughout Romans the 6th chapter:
Rom. 6:6 …that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
Rom. 6:16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
Rom. 6:17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart…
Rom. 6:18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
Rom. 6:20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
Rom. 6:22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.
Consequently the same term is used for grace under the New Covenant.
“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye present yourselves as servants unto obedience, his servants ye are whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” ~ Rom 6:14-16
Notice how the theme is subjugation, dominance, slavery and obedience.
Notice also that the righteousness is conditional to OBEDIENCE! Yes, this righteousness is NOT a work produced by me -THAT WOULD BE A CURSE – but it is works prepared FOR me to walk in with Christ by total abandonment to and reliance upon His working in me.
“For I through the law died unto the law, that I might live unto God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself up for me. I do not make void the grace of God: for if righteousness is through the law, then Christ died for nothing!” ~ Gal. 2:19-21
Set free from the curse of the Law
Though this could be grammatically interpreted in one of two ways, MOST people interpret it incorrectly – that is, not in line with the whole of the scriptures on this topic.
One interpretation is that the law ITSELF was the curse.
The other interpretation is that those who were products of the Law abided under the curse.
Let’s examine the verse IN ITS CONTEXT…
“O foolish Galatians, who did bewitch you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was openly set forth crucified?
This only would I learn from you. Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now perfected in the flesh by works?
Did you suffer so many things in vain, if it be indeed in vain?
He therefore that supplies the Spirit to you, and works miracles among you, does he do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Even as Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness.
Know therefore that they that are of faith, the same are sons of Abraham.
And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand unto Abraham, saying, In you shall all the nations be blessed.
So then they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under a curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one who continues not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them.
Now that no man is justified by the law before God, is evident: for, The righteous shall live by faith; and the law is not of faith; but, He that does them shall live in them.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us; for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree: that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” ~ Gal. 3:1-14
I’m using the whole passage because without it we fail to see the point Paul was making. As you can see I emphasized several key words and phrases to make the point clear.
The word ‘OF’ is THE key to understanding this passage. It is the Greek word εκ. Ek is used either in respect of place, time, source, or origin. In the case of these verses it refers to origin.
In effect this is saying that “as many as are products of the law abide under the curse but those who are a product of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”
The word curse here is κατάρα katára; and means the rejection and curse proceeding from God, the destruction resulting from judgment. It is equivalent to judgment without mercy as in James 2:13.
Notice also that the curse is in the singular NOT the plural. Many misrepresent this passage as saying that once we are in Christ we are free from the curses of Deuteronomy 28. This passage has absolutely NOTHING to do with the curses in Deuteronomy 28 it is THE curse – not the LIST of CURSES.
So what is this rejection and destruction resulting from judgement produced by the law? It is the outward skin or righteousness without the abiding presence of and intimacy with Christ. It is an external righteousness that has no power to change the heart and therefore, it abides under God’s judgment.
The Law itself is NOT the curse, being a product of the law IS THE CURSE!
Notice that the cure was Christ BECOMING a curse FOR US.
So why does it say, “The curse of the Law”? Because it was the curse produced by its works. “That no one is justified by the works of the law is evident. For the just shall live by faith” – Gal. 3:11
How Paul, James, Peter & John viewed the Law
People have demonized the Law for SO long and it is about time for the body of Christ to get out of diapers and put their big boy pants on. The Apostles NEVER came against the Law, but were advocates of it and they kept it!
“What should we say, then? Is the law sinful? Of course not! In fact, I wouldn’t have known sin if it had not been for the law. For I wouldn’t have known what it means to covet if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” ~ Rom 7:7
“So then, the law itself is holy, and the commandment is holy, just, and good.
Now, did something good bring me death? Of course not!
But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used something good to cause my death, so that through the commandment sin might become more sinful than ever. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am mere flesh, sold as a slave to sin.” ~ Rom. 7:12-14
“Do not owe anyone anything-except to love one another. For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
For the commandments, “You must not commit adultery; you must not murder; you must not steal; you must not covet,” and every other commandment are summed up in this statement: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love never does anything that is harmful to its neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.” ~ Rom. 13:8-10
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. Don’t criticize one another, brothers. He who criticizes a brother or judges his brother criticizes the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.” ~ James 4:10-11
One has to ask themselves, why does James care? Who cares if you keep the law if you are free from it? Apparently James did not know believe that we were free from the moral dictates of righteous behavior from the law.
“Nevertheless, you are doing the right thing if you obey the royal law in keeping with the Scripture, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and will be convicted by the law as violators.
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For the one who said, “Never commit adultery,” also said, “Never murder.”
Now if you do not commit adultery but you murder, you become a violator of the law.
You must make it your habit to speak and act like people who are going to be judged by the law of liberty.
For merciless judgment will come to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
What good does it do, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but does not have any works? This kind of faith cannot save him, can it?
Suppose a brother or sister does not have any clothes or daily food and one of you tells them, “Go in peace! Stay warm and eat heartily.” If you do not provide for their bodily needs, what good does it do?
In the same way, faith by itself, if it does not have any works, is dead. But someone may say, “You have faith, and I have works.”
Show me your faith without any works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
You believe that there is one God. That’s fine! Even the demons believe that and tremble with fear.
Do you want proof, you foolish person, that faith without works is worthless? Our ancestor Abraham was justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar, wasn’t he? You see that his faith was active with his works, and by his works faith was made complete.
And so the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” And so he was called God’s friend.
You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.“ ~ James 2:8-24
This is NOT to say that works produced by self-effort are what saves, but works PRODUCED by faith rather than works PRODUCED by the law.
“For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, a voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory: This is My beloved Son. I take delight in Him!
And we heard this voice when it came from heaven while we were with Him on the holy mountain.
So we have the prophetic word strongly confirmed.
You will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dismal place, until the day dawns and the Morning Star arises in your hearts.
First of all, you should know this: no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the will of man; instead, moved by the Holy Spirit, men spoke from God.“ ~ 2Peter 1:17-21
“Everyone who commits sin also breaks the law; sin is the breaking of law. You know that He was revealed so that He might take away sins, and there is no sin in Him.” ~ 1Jn. 3:4-5
In the end, I hope that these scriptures read IN THEIR CONTEXTS have offered some insight into the way a Christian should view the Law and its requirements being fulfilling IN them.