Updated: Mar 28, 2022
There is a lot of confusion and disastrous misunderstanding on “the law” today, especially concerning the born again believers relationship to it, thanks to a pandemic of false teachers. Apostasy is the true pandemic in our world today. Unfortunately confusion is also produced by likely genuine but ignorant preachers who do not carefully study out and exegete scripture but practice the faulty form of eisegesis which puts in rather than pulls out, with the added influence by other preachers who teach law-related error.
What is meant by “the Law” of God?
The terminology “the law” appears 320 times in Scripture in 280 verses. “The law” doesn’t always mean the same thing, so that does present somewhat of an interpretational difficulty. Along with perversions of the law typically comes perversion of grace, notably by evangelicals.
A great degree of the misunderstanding can be alleviated by simply understanding what “the Law” actually is in scripture, and realizing that it refers to more than one thing.
Sometimes we know that “the law” is the first five books of the Bible, also referred to as the Torah or the Pentateuch. We see this clearly in Jos 8:31, which reads: “as it is written in the book of the law of Moses.” We also get this usage in the NT, as we see in 1 Cor 9:9, “For it is written in the law of Moses.”
On other occasions, when Scripture says “the law” it means merely one particular regulation of God, such as in Lev 14:57: “To teach when it is unclean, and when it is clean: this is the law of leprosy.”
Other times, “the law” is some other place in the OT. What Isaiah wrote in Isa 28:11-12 wasn’t Mosaic law: “For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear.” However, Paul calls it “the law” in 1 Cor. 14:21 when he targummed: “In the law it is written, With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me, saith the Lord.” Thus “the law” is clearly referring to the Word of God.
That’s not all. Consider 1 Jn 3:4: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” Sin is breaking God’s law and Adam sinned (Rom 5:12). Adam broke God’s law, so the law was already in existence before Moses. Rom 4:15 says that “where no law is, there is no transgression.” What law did Adam transgress? He ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, an act that God had plainly prohibited. Rom 5:14 tells us that “death reigned from Adam until Moses.” Death was the result of sin and sin was the transgression of the law. Adam broke “the law” before Moses was ever born.
Paul wrote in Rom 7:1-2: “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband.” Paul states that “the law” says the woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. What OT passages say that? Gen 2:24, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” That was not only written before the Mosaic law was given but even before Adams fall. Jesus also refers to this specific point in Mk 10:9, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” Paul clearly perceived that Jesus had taught that in Mark and Genesis, as seen in 1 Cor 7:1-5, 10-11 and then especially v. 39: “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” (v 39).
When Jesus said in Matt 5:28, “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart,” that too was the law of God, even though you won’t find it in the OT.
We can conclude that all the commands, statutes, ordinances and judgments of God in the Bible are “the law.”
Are the saved freed from “the Law”?
In answer to this question, consider these verses:
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:17-19).
It looks like we’re to continue keeping the least of His commandments. Why? Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law.
Our relationship to the law has changed once we are born again, but it doesn’t mean we’re not keeping the law anymore. We fulfill it (Rom 3:31; Matt 5:19) just like Jesus did (Matt 5:17). “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Rom 3:31). We establish the law through faith. Being justified by faith doesn’t end law-keeping. “God forbid” Paul writes, the most negative word he could’ve used, indicating certainly not. It could be said: no, NO, NEVER! Paul said it in the most negative way he could, while many are saying the opposite in a most positive manner, that the law is not fulfilled or established by believers but done away with.
Justification doesn’t nullify the law.
Rom 8:4 elaborates Rom 3:31,
“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in saved people. The law isn’t done away with. It isn’t finished. When Jesus said, “It is finished” He wasn’t referring to the law but to the completion of His sacrifice for sins for ever. The “Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings” are done away with (Heb 10:8), Christ “taketh away the first,” which is that which could never take away sin, “that he may establish the second” (Heb 10:9, 11), by the perfect sacrifice of Himself, the one offering of His own body for sins once for all (Heb 10:10, 12-14).
In Rom 7:12-14 Paul says:
“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.”
These verses say that the law is holy, just, good, and spiritual. Sin is still the transgression of the law, though we thankfully as the redeemed don’t have to reap the reward of the law breaking penalty. But it still means we are to keep practicing the law.
“Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” (Gal 3:21).
The law is not against the promises of God. The law can’t do certain things for which it was not designed, but it is good for what God did design it. The law does also serve as a schoolmaster for the lost. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal 3:24).
The believer utilizes God’s law in evangelism of the lost. The law has never justified anyone, but it brings the sinner to fear of God, repentance and faith, leading to justification by Christ.
Justification doesn’t end the law; rather it produces the ability to establish and obey it (De 13:4; 30:6; Jn 14:15-24; 1 Jn 2:3-5; Rev 22:17) since this is the whole duty of man (Ec 12:13).
So are we “freed from the Law”?
No. Nowhere in Scripture are we said to be “freed from the law.” Are we “released from the law”? No. The Bible in no place says that we are “released from the law.” Are we no longer “under obligation to the law?” No. We’re not and never have been under obligation to keep the law as a means of righteousness, but we’re obligated to keep the law after imputed with Gods righteousness.
What is the believers relationship to the law?
We’re “dead to the law” (Gal. 2:19-21), we are not “under the law” (Rom 6:14-15; Gal 3:23; 5:18), that is, we are not under its penalty for breaking it which is death, neither are we under the OT law system of sacrifices and offerings, which was fulfilled in Christ, the perfect Lamb of God. We already died with Christ; we don’t have to face the penalty and condemnation of breaking the law, so we’re dead to it.
Paul would do good, that is, keep the law, but had difficulty because of the law of sin in his members (Rom 7:21, 23). When he succeeded at obeying the law of God, he did so because he “delight[ed] in the law of God after the inward man” (Rom 7:22). Paul had deliverance through Christ, who enabled him to “serve the law of God” with the spiritual mind (Rom 7:25) because all the truly saved are spiritually minded (Rom 8:5-11). Paul could obey God’s commandments through “the law of the Spirit of life” which set him “free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2). The law of sin and death is different than God’s law. God’s law is good. Sin, however, perverts the law, turning it into a law of sin and death. But salvation in Christ delivers us from this perversion. The “victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:57) allows us to obey God’s law in our salvation where we’re saved from both the penalty and power of sin.
Many today have taken God’s saving grace and turned it into lawlessness, also called antinomianism. They essentially have made grace a garbage can for their sins. Instead of cleaning up their lives through the enabling of the indwelling Spirit, God’s “grace” enables them to sin without consequence. God’s grace doesn’t allow us to live any way that we want. God’s saving grace did not free us to perform unlawful deeds but just the opposite (2 Pet 2:8; Ju 1:4; Ti 2:11-14). So someone who regularly lives a worldly, fleshly, or sinful life proves that he was never under the grace of God to begin with, because God’s grace isn’t a trash receptacle, but a cleansing agent, transforming a life.
The hypothetical antagonist of Rom 6:15 asks,
“What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.”
This wasn’t just a straw man. People thought this in Paul’s day, and they manifested a complete misunderstanding of what Paul taught. They weren’t under a system of law that required them to produce their own righteousness. We never have been and we still aren’t. But that grace that we receive, that saves, also enables or empowers us to live lawfully.
Paul said that it works like this:
“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Rom 6:16).
To whomever we characteristically yield ourselves servants to obey, that is whom we serve. We don’t become someone by our behaviour but our behaviour dictates the someone that we are. Our life reveals whether we are in Christ or out of Christ. This is not speaking about two types of Christians. Those who are under the dominion of grace, serve righteousness. They keep the law. Those under the dominion of the law, serve sin. The law doesn’t enable anyone to keep it. Its grace that enables us to keep Gods law. Nobody is justified by the law. If you add one regulation of the law to grace, you nullify grace. God forbid, however, if you think that God’s grace yields lawlessness (Rom 6:1-2). If you do, even if you think that eternal security of salvation produces lawlessness, then you very likely have never received the grace of God in your life.
Gods people through redemption live in obedience to His written Word (1 Jn 2:3-5; 3:4-10; 5:1-3).
“If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.” (1 Jn 2:29).
The grace of God will always enable you to keep the law of Christ from the heart. For, the very same “grace of God that bringeth salvation” which “hath appeared to all men,” will without a doubt “teach us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” for Christ has “redeem[ed] us from all iniquity, and purif[ied] unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Ti 2:11-12, 14).
Sin is still breaking the law. The lawless are the unbelievers (1 Tim 1:9-11). Grace abounds in all saved people (Ti 2:11-14). Where grace abounds, sin does not. By saving us, God does not give us license to break His law (Rom 6:1-2). Instead, by His grace sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom 6:12) for we are dead indeed unto sin (Rom 6:1, 12). On the other hand, a Biblical understanding of the law strikes the perfect balance between pietism and quietism. The Spirit of the law enables the believer to obey the law and the spirit of it by the grace of God. Anything else is a disastrous misunderstanding of the law and grace.