Saturday, May 20, 2017

Under Grace, Not Under Law

After John 3:16, Romans 6:14 is probably the most-quoted verse in the Bible: "You are not under law but under grace." Quoted, but certainly not understood.

Paul frequently had to deal with judaizers, heretics who tried to convince Gentile converts to Christ that they had to perform the Jewish ceremonies to be really saved. Note that I deliberately refer to them as heretics, because such a teaching was opposed to the doctrine of justification taught by all of Scripture, including in the words of Jesus Himself.

It is this historical context that the verse above must be considered. Paul was addressing a life-or-death struggle over the very nature of salvation, and his insistence was well-justified: if any man, under either testament, was, or could be, saved by performing the Law of Moses, then Jesus suffered and died in vain. The saved man could properly point to himself, his own deeds, and his own moral superiority as the basis of his right to eternal life. "If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about" (Romans 4:2). But God had already said that He would never allow any mere man to take credit for His acts: "For My own sake, for My own sake, I do it, for how should My name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another" (Isaiah 48:11, see also 42:8). Rather, He says, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord" (I Corinthians 1:31). Why? Because, "Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith" (Romans 3:27). If the actions of a man contribute to his justification, then he can claim credit for himself, even if he says that it just partial. God,
however, insists that it is all by Him, zero by us.

And that brings us back to Romans 6:14: "You are not under law but under grace." Paul cannot be saying that a Christian should, or even can, reject God's Law. Rather, he is saying that the Christian must reject the Law as a source of salvation. If it were more than that, then he could not have already said, "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law" (Romans 3:31). Moreover, he wasn't even making a fresh claim, as if no one had ever known that they could not be saved by the Law. That had always been true! 

Look at the new covenant that God promised to Israel: "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, [and] this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Jeremiah 31:31, 33). It is the renewed giving of His Law that God promises! "This is for Israel," someone might object. However, this exact promise is quoted for us by the author of Hebrews 8:10!

Scripture gives us good reason to reject any thought of justification before God by obeying His commandments. However, it is just as firm in denying that any saved man can despise God's Law while claiming to love the Law's God: "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15).

1 comment:

Tom Wood said...

Well said brother, by grace alone by faith alone, but not by alone faith!