Grace & Law (What have these to do with us?)
Romans 6:14: For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
It is greatly to be feared today that a believer – any believer in the free, unmerited grace of God through the payment of our sin, and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to our account and standing before God – may well be unaware that God’s grace and moral law are not antithetical to one another, but rather, stand together as friends. Many who come to know God’s grace in Christ Jesus have a truncated understanding of what part God’s moral law plays in their lives. They suppose that, having died to the law by burial with their Lord and Savior, they now have no part of that law as a part of their lives, although they may well feel some compunction to “live well” before their God. Such a compunction – a rather nebulous yet anxious feeling that they must do what Jesus did (which has its own inherent problems), may be applauded, as far as it goes, yet it does not go far enough, and it goes too far, at one and the same time.
Firstly, it does not go far enough, because the set of rules they might feel compelled, in uneasy manner, to live by, are unnamed. They are assumed through a general reading of Scripture, perhaps, or a general sense of what is right and what is wrong before their fellow saints and those outside the household of God. They are ideals without form, vague, unclear, and so difficult to determine with any degree of certainty. Some take the likes of the Sermon On the Mount as their guideposts, without realizing that what Christ spoke of there had to do with living perfect before God, and any attempt to realize such perfection outside of His own life given to pay for our sins, and lived to give us His righteousness, is doomed to failure. The ideals set forth in that section in the Gospel of Matthew are indeed lofty, and are to act as guides, but by no means to act as guides unto that righteousness before God which we could never attain or keep. They are, when all is said and done, that which our Lord alone fully accomplished, and are set forth in so stringent a manner as to give the most healthy saint pause, realizing that they cannot live such an exemplary life before God – and that is what they should impart, to a large extent. However, these great truths our Lord imparts in His setting forth the commandments of our great and glorious God are also to give us a guideline as to how we are to be, or behave in this world – both among ourselves, and among those who do not believe. This guideline is referred to, in Reformed Theology (by which I always mean and intend Scriptural Theology), as “the third use of the law.” Remember that short phrase, as we will have occasion to return to and expound upon its meaning later (although, if you were here for our exposition of the first four commandments of the Decalogue, you may already know the meaning of the phrase – if not, stay tuned; you will).
Secondly, it goes too far, and it does this by the same unclear means and definitions already set forth above. The believer knows that there is a type of behavior to be followed if one is a child of God through the adoption in Christ Jesus, but does not know what that behavior is, without clear guidelines. Again, the Sermon on the Mount might be taken up as those guidelines, or a WWJD hermeneutic (which is live perfectly before God, die for the sins of His people, and rise for their justification – John 18:36-37; Romans 4:25; 2 Corinthians 5:21) might be employed. This leads to a type of legalism that goes beyond the clear definition of that manner we are to live as it is set forth in Scripture, adding additional rules binding the believer’s conscience which are either wrongly understood from Scripture, or added whole cloth to it without warrant, instead of that clear teaching of how we, as believers, are to live which is plainly set forth in Scripture (which we have named above as “the third use of the law”). On the flip side of this, there is the danger of antinomianism (which means “against the law”), so that, while the danger of adding commandments to the Word of God which are not in it is there for those who do not follow the clear distinction of that behavior we are to seek to follow of our God’s power and revelation, at the same time, the danger of taking away from the commandments of our God which are our guide to being conformed to the image of Christ is inherent, so such systems as Dispensationalism and New Covenant Theology (NCT) are guilty of teaching both ignorance of the law as a guide of life – that is, as a rule of life for that behavior which Christ lived perfectly before God, and which His Spirit empowers us to emulate, while His sacrifice and imputed righteousness through the Spirit gives that grace by which our imperfect adherence to God’s Law is rendered perfect – and teaching additional to the law by commandments not contained in Scripture. In this manner, Dispensationalism and NCT are guilty of both antinomianism and neonomianism (which means “new law,” and may be understood as “adding to God’s Law” – we simply know it as legalism, that is, adding obeying the law as a requirement to the gospel of grace).
Pastor Fred Malone offers this piece of advice and admonition regarding the doctrine of Law and Gospel:
“There is much controversy and ignorance over this doctrine today. Errors in this doctrine have spawned dispensationalism, theonomy, the New Perspective on Paul, hypercovenantalism, legalism, antinomianism, shallow evangelism, shallower sanctification, worship errors and unbiblical mysticism. Yet our Reformed and Baptist forefathers generally did not succumb to such errors before 1900. Why not? I believe it was because they understood the biblical doctrine of the Law and the Gospel. You can see it in their confessions of faith and their writings. I pray that today’s pastors, especially Baptist pastors, will restudy this doctrine and reform their lives and ministries by these truths.” (From Founder’s Journal, 2004, pgs. 7-12, Law And Gospel, by Fred Malone, accessed on 4/7/2016).
Pastor Fred Malone also gives this helpful note: “See Chapter 19 – “Of the Law of God” in the Second London Baptist Confession (1689). This chapter is also included in the Philadelphia and Charleston Baptist confessions to which many of our Southern Baptist forefathers held.” (We will have occasion to look at this chapter of our confession somewhat during the course of these messages.)
To the Christian minister, then, falls this duty: To distinguish and teach those under his care, as an undershepherd under our Great Shepherd of the Flock, to “rightly divide the Word of Truth.” This is separated into two parts: The Law and the Gospel. While these are essentially distinct from one another, they are also so interconnected that without knowledge of one, a believer cannot have true knowledge of the other, and without the knowledge of how they complement each other, a believer cannot live in a manner that is pleasing to God.
Now, understand, when I say “live in a manner pleasing to God,” I do not mean your moral works. Certainly, those are included, as they derive from the power of the Holy Spirit working in us that mediation of our Great Lord and Savior which He obtained at such great cost, and continues to mediate for and to us before our God.
The apostle Paul taught that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 1-3). He also taught that repentant sinners are once for all justified by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4-5).
That we are so justified once for all by our Lord’s work can, and has often, in today’s churches (and please understand, although I am speaking of true churches of Christ, I am also speaking of true believers within churches which teach these things wrongly, as well as true believers within false churches), led to the belief that whatever we do, we are justified before God by the work of Christ.
This is both right and wrong. Nothing we do will add to our standing before God, which Christ alone has accomplished and imputed to us, yet because we are “not under law but under grace” does not excuse us from obedience to the moral law of God. This obedience is NOT to secure our standing before God as those Christ alone has justified, but is to declare our trust in Him because Christ has justified us, so that we can declare, with the apostle, that “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:31) So then, it is right that we uphold the moral law which our Lord alone fulfilled, yet we must always be on guard to keep from thinking that we actually perfect this moral law of God by our works, or perfectly perform it in a manner that is acceptable to God, for only our Lord Jesus Christ did such, and it is only as we are encompassed in His work and its results that we are acceptable before God. Likewise, we must always be on guard against thinking it is a means to that gift of eternal life which is given to us in and through Christ our Lord alone when we are born again by His Spirit applying that redemptive work to us, or that we do other than live out the works preordained of us in our sanctification purely by God’s gracious application of Christ’s work to our lives before we enter into glory (Ephesians 2:10 – more on sanctification later).
On the flip side, we must also be on guard against thinking that there is no standard of righteousness which we are to seek to keep. Although we can never justify ourselves before our Great and Glorious God by our works, yet our works – those which are consistent with the life of Christ and God’s moral law – do declare His perfection and righteousness to both ourselves (as encouragement of the fact that only God is good, and He has graciously given us to partake of this goodness, to the degree by which we abide in Him, obey Him, and repent when we do not obey) and those outside the household of faith.
Understand, Romans 6:14 is not an imperative – it is not a command to be obeyed. Rather, it is an indicative – it speaks of the fact that we are no longer under the domination of sin, but instead, under the dominion of Grace. Thus, where many believers have seen this as a command, it is not – it does not demand that we adhere to the law of grace (with whatever that may mean to various believers), but set forth a factual condition that is true of those who have been comprehended in the gracious work of our Lord Jesus Christ, as applied to their regenerate nature through His Spirit.
Grace delivers what law could not achieve, yet demands what law demanded, but with that mind that it has been accomplished in Christ. The demand of the law has been accomplished by Christ, and the results of His accomplishment have been delivered to we who believe.
The justified man Paul speaks of does not live under the dominion of the law, but under grace; consequently, he is no longer under the dominion of sin, but under the dominion of grace. He is not obligated to fulfill the law of sin any longer, but is free to fulfill the law of grace (and the meaning of “law of grace” here is that Christ fulfilled the law of God, and God graciously has delivered those results, and is delivering them, through His Spirit to those who have been regenerated and given faith by that same Spirit of God, according to the work of Christ) as it is in Christ Jesus. He does not think “let us sin, that grace may abound,” but rather he is grieved that he sins, and repents of his sin, knowing that abounding grace leads him to such repentance, and a renewal of that life he has committed unto the Lord of His life, to the glory of God. The ways of sin may be familiar to the saved saint, because of the remnants of the flesh, but they are not preferable for the saved saint as a manner to live – a lifestyle of wanton sin is antithetical to God’s grace in Christ Jesus. Sinning that grace may abound is a foreign idea to such an those in Christ – when they sin, it is forgiveness that they seek, and repentance every time they fail, knowing that they have a sure executor of that will they could not meet the conditions of, and that His execution of that will insures not only their standing, but their continued repentance and obedience, regardless of their failures of sin. Let us sin that grace may abound CANNOT be the working principle for those saved by Christ – it is foreign to their thinking, foreign to their being. Being once-for-all-justified by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone goes against such thinking and behavior. Where it does not, either the one holding to such is not saved, or is still working for their salvation, in which case, they very well may not be saved.
Again, ‘“Let us sin that grace might abound,’” cannot be the working principle of the once-for-all justified by faith alone (Romans 5:1-2). Something about being under grace prevents this. All else is false faith, still under law.’” (Fred Malone, ibid)
Paul is speaking to the Christians of Rome in our key passage. Not all of them were Jews, so he could not be speaking of their being “under law” as a reference to the Mosaic Covenant. Rather, the apostle has shown that the result of being born of Adam as the federal head of the human race is to be born into a state that is contrary to both God and His moral law. Chapters 1-3 of Romans shows the tendency of both Gentile and Jew towards sin, not because of an errant propensity now and then, but because of all mankind’s being born with a nature that is given to sin, therefore lives in accordance with that sin. The tendency to sin is because of a nature that is sin, and leads to all manner of wrong against one’s fellow man and, ultimately, idolatrous and abominable practices before and against God (Romans 1:18-32; 2:17-24; 3:9-18). This is a universal problem for all born according to the flesh, or, to put it another way, all born with the fallen nature inherited from their father Adam (Romans 5:12-19) – this is particularly brought out in vv. 12-18:
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men…
In context, Romans 2:14-16 defines “THE law” as that which was not only written on Adam’s heart prefall, but is written on all men’s hearts so that even the Gentiles, not given the law of God through the Mosaic Covenant, may be seen to positively do, or, negatively, work against “the work of the law (that) is written on their hearts,” because by Nature they have that law, even though never having received it in written form.
“In fact, “the power of sin is the Law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). The Law itself can only reveal God’s holy nature, the original moral image of God in man, and define sin and righteousness. It ultimately stirs up sin by our inability to keep it perfectly and cannot justify us (Romans 7:8-10). The more we try to keep it for righteousness before God, the more we sin in failure. All men are under sin’s dominion because they are under law to God. Therefore, sin is our master while we are under law.” (ibid)
But just as it is seen that all mankind has been encompassed in the federal headship of Adam, it is now seen that all mankind who remain after God’s wrath is poured out on those who hate Him will be encompassed in the “last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45), that is, our Lord Jesus Christ, but the free gift of God’s grace in and through Him.
To be under grace means to be in Christ. To be in Christ means to be accepted in the Beloved, transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son, the only One with whom the Father is well pleased. (Ephesians 1:6; Colossians 1:13; Luke 9:35). Consider these things carefully:
- To be under grace means to be in Christ, which in turn means to be accepted in the Only Preferred One – what the KJV and NKJV translate “beloved” – One, the One sent by God to perform that very work by which not only would God be pleased, but to give us the very words of life by which we would be able to listen to Him and be blessed in Him.
- To be under grace means to be accepted in that which God accomplished in and by His Son, the One whom God loves most, and all this to the praise of the glory of His grace. God will be glorified in His creation, but the most magnanimous magnification of that grace that we are given to see, by His Scripture enlightening our regenerate nature, in the beneficent revealing of His pleasure as fulfilled in and by His only preferred Son – then given to us!
- To be under grace means to be literally transferred from the state under which we were not only enslaved to sin, but to sin’s master, the devil (this is what “dominion” means, in our Colossians text – to be under the full control of something or someone), and that transfer is into the kingdom of God’s Beloved Son! We are taken from that which is so hopeless we do not even know we are in that state of misery, having been born under Adam, to that state where we not only know our former condition of hopelessness, but are given to have the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus which assures us of our new state of being in the kingdom of God’s grace through His Son. So much does this have to do with what the Son accomplished – delivering us from our former hopeless estate to our present estate of hope – and is accomplishing – continuing to mediate to us those blessings which He alone procured until we shall come to glory – that it is not only known as the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom of His beloved Son!
We could not keep the obedience required to be accepted by God as those who please Him – Adam failed to keep it, and his failure corrupted not only his nature with that sin which he earned by failing as prophet, priest and king in the garden, but that of all his offspring for all time (Romans 5:12, 18). Yet, by the grace of God in Christ Jesus – He who perfectly kept and fulfilled His role as the Last Adam, and in doing so, not in the garden of Eden, but in the garden of the desert of sin – He reversed the curse for us; not only did He reverse the curse, but by being the perfect Prophet, Priest and King in doing so, He delivers unto us that reality which we formerly did not have, which is peace with God, growing in the knowledge of God, and in knowing God (the first being of that knowledge of God which is given us through the enlightenment of the Spirit while we read and contemplate Scripture, the second which is our experience of God’s presence – this follows from contemplating vv. 9-10 of our Colossians 1 passage).
Having been not only born again by this grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord, but translated into His kingdom of light (and “light” stands for all that is good of our God, here), we now have that law of God written on our hearts, with which we rejoice and delight in (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 7:22).
This “grace in which we stand” throughout the Christian’s walk impels and empowers the forgiven sinner to love God and keep His commandments without fear of condemnation. Under grace, the believer no longer finds obedience to God’s Law a condemning burden, but a joyful privilege of the saved under grace(Romans 3:24, 5:2, 5:15, 5:21, 6:14-15). (Fred Malone, ibid)
To make Romans 6:14 more understandable to we who are God’s through His grace in Christ Jesus, we might change the word “shall” to “does:”
For sin DOES not have dominion over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. “Shall” is a word added in the English to the Greek, here – the literal translation of the beginning of the verse would be “for sin no dominion.” The negative adverb/particle (a particle is an adverb or preposition which is part of a multiword verb that makes up the entirety of the meaning of the verb phrase) modifies the following verb – “no” is what gives “dominion” its negative context, in relation to the believer, and as we said above of the entirety of the verse, so we say now of this portion of it: it is a statement of fact of our present condition in God’s grace by Christ’s work. It is a statement of fact of what our present condition in the grace of God in Christ does not have, so it is a negative statement, or rather, a negating statement, of that which was formerly true of us, but is so no longer.
It is true no longer because we are not under law, to meet those demands God requires of those who are His in order to be perfect and perfectly accepted by Him. It is true no longer because Christ fulfilled the demands of the law, and this, by that magnificent, overflowing grace of God given us, to the praise of His glory, in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)