The topic of our standing before God is the most important topic in the world. The topic of sin has to do with our standing before LAW, especially the law of God. Since all have sinned, all have a record of guilt before God, we remain under LAW and the condemnation of law until we find the way out of this predicament. We remain under law until it is satisfied and the books are cleared by payment. Rejection of the payment leaves us “under the law” and therefore “under condemnation”.
The topic of God’s GRACE is the central and most wonderful aspect of the Bible. Paul describes it as “the exceeding grace of God” in the believers at Corinth (2 Cor.9:14) and “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! “(v.15). God did a marvelous thing that gives us a way out from under condemnation of law. Words are inadequate to capture the beauty and magnificence of “the love of Christ which passes knowledge”(Eph.3:19) or “His indescribable gift”(2 Cor.9:15). It is this topic that has the power to set us free from law and its condemnation of us. It is this topic that surely elevates the Christian faith above Judaism and any other religious system of thought.
This topic is a most loved topic, and yet is also the most abused topic.
An Abused Passage
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. NKJV
This text shows us two possible situations to be in:
1) Under the law, or
2) Led by the Spirit
The implication is that the Spirit has led some in such a way as to be out from under the law and its condemnation. The law that would hold us condemned cannot of itself save us from the penalty of sin. But, there is the Holy Spirit Who has been working to strive with our spirit to show us a way out from under the law and its condemnation. The Spirit had been goading us along with old and new revelations that can bring us to Christ. If we are led by the Spirit we come to Christ and have our sins washed away. We come out from under the law and condemnation and are now led by the Spirit to walk a new life in Christ. The law that would condemn the works of the flesh can be satisfied in Christ if we will but let the Spirit lead us to these benefits.
In the above passage the Spirit leads by His revelation of prophecy and confirmation of Christ. And, in the above passage Law is law alone, stripped of prophesies pointing to Christ and the acceptance of Him and what He offers. Those led by the Spirit do not practice those things the law condemns, and their past activity under law has been satisfied by God’s indescribable gift. Being led by the Spirit does not mean that the Spirit allows us to freely engage in lawless and immoral behavior, but it does mean that we have come out from under a situation of LAW ONLY where condemnation is our condition before God. The Spirit has led us (Christians) into the grace of God where there is forgiveness and hope, a new and living way to be right with God. If one has not been led to Christ, they have not been led by the Spirit, and remain under the law and its condemnation.
Now, the Spirit does not lead us into a lawless situation. That would be an abuse of the above passage. Isaiah 2 shows the Spirit prophesying that the “law of the Lord would go forth from Jerusalem”. So, the law of the Lord is included in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the leading of the Spirit would INCLUDE the law of the Lord, but much more than law ONLY. So, if one is not led by the Spirit (through his prophesies and revealed confirmations of Jesus) they are under LAW ONLY, and that means CONDEMNATION. If one is led by the Spirit, they are under a “law of liberty”(James 1-2). This is a system where there are provisions of law as well as provisions that liberate us from condemnation. Also, Jeremiah spoke of the new covenant where the law would be written in our hearts (Jer.31:31f). We ARE “under law toward Christ” (1 Cor.9:21), but, that is a “law of liberty” not a law of bondage and condemnation. The Spirit keeps us lawful, not lawless. The Spirit leads us to Jesus who is our Mediator and advocate and propitiation. All of those benefits are needed, but would be useless if we are not under any law at all. Out from under law only and under law to Christ where the provisions of redemption and forgiveness, justification, and sanctification are ours to enjoy. We are not free from all law, but we are free from all condemnation of a system of law ONLY.
14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! NKJV
Sin has dominion (the upper hand) over us if you have not yet been led by the Spirit to come to Christ under grace. If you have not been led to Christ by the Holy Spirit (through His revelations and confirmations of Jesus), you are under law alone. To the Christians at Rome Paul could say “you are not under law but under grace”. He does not mean that there is no law at all under grace, but he is saying you are not under the system where law alone holds dominion over your standing before God. Sin is lawlessness and grace does not allow us to be without any law at all. Being under grace does not give us liberty to practice SIN (lawlessness). Grace frees us FROM sin and its condemnation, but it does not free us TO sin. So, in what way are we “not under law”? We are not under law ONLY where we stand CONDEMNED. The Jews who rejected Jesus were still “under law”(law only, where grace is not experienced and enjoyed). God’s law minus Jesus equals condemnation and bondage. God’s law WITHIN Jesus equals liberty and salvation from sin and condemnation.
Under LAW versus Under GRACE
The Old Testament prophesied of the GRACE that would come (1 Peter 1:10f). The Spirit revealed the Old and New Testaments. The New Testament reveals the GRACE that the Old Testament prophesied. Rejection of the prophesies of Jesus leaves one under LAW ONLY. Acceptance of the grace takes one out from under the condemnation of law. Law only condemns sinners; it does not save sinners. It gives knowledge of sin and condemnation, but law alone does not save the sinner. Unbelieving Jews have LAW ONLY. Failure to believe in Jesus is failure to believe the prophets, leaving them with law ONLY. What can law ALONE do? It can only reveal our sins and testify of our condemnation before God. Christians have freedom from SIN due to the acceptance of the grace offered in Jesus Christ. Christians accept the prophesied Jesus and the grace that comes through Him. They are not in a system of LAW ONLY. They are under grace.
Theoretically, if one is under law only, the only way to be right with God would be to make sure you keep it all perfectly (Gal.3:10). Under this system of law ONLY, it demands that you merit your favorable position before God by your flawless works, and if you are successful, you earn a right to boast of your perfect record (Ep.2:8), and the reward is earned by ones’ own merit. The problem with this system is that it is not practical because “all have sinned”(Rom.3:23). Theoretically, if you don’t need grace, it is because you have not sinned and broken God’s law, and you will have to make sure you never need grace by doing all that the law demands without breaking it one time. Acceptability is earned. But, those who know they have sinned need another plan. This is where grace offers us a way out from under condemnation.
Under the system of grace, acceptability with God is not earned, and we know that full well. It is unmerited favor we get from God on a different basis than our standing before law. This unmerited favor comes to us through submissive faith in Jesus. Man enters this grace by first recognizing his failures and condemnation before law alone. Under the grace offered in Jesus man’s reward is freely given by God’s mercy. Man does not earn it, and can boast of nothing in himself. Under grace we are not trying to EARN the reward. We are merely trying to exercise faith in Jesus to get in His grace and stay in His grace (Acts 14:21-22). Since grace is received through faith in Jesus, there is no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus who do not walk after the flesh but after the Spirit (Rom.8:1). If we fail to come into this grace, we remain “under the law”. While “under the law” we are condemned, and if we fail the law in one point and we fail while rejecting the prophesied grace, we stay under the law and its death penalty. In other words, we remain under condemnation of law.
Who Will Deliver Me?
Paul examined his situation under law in Romans 7 and showed his struggle with law alone and felt his condemnation under the law, and finally cried “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?” He gave the right answer in the end, but consider the implications before he came to the right answer. Who will deliver me?
Shall the LAW deliver me? No, it convicts me and condemns me for my sins and failings. With law alone I am in a frustrating and helpless situation. Law will magnify my failings but will not remove them.
Shall my perfect works deliver me? Well, if I had perfect works I would not NEED deliverance. Here is where Paul struggled. He knew the law was good, but he found no adequate way of being delivered from the condemnation of his failings before the law of God. So, he had to look outside himself, outside his own works. If he holds to law alone he has no hope of deliverance.
The answer: ”Thank God, through Jesus Christ!” O what a gift!
Does this mean that I no longer have responsibility to obey God? No! It means that you have a wonderful way of dealing with your sins as you become aware of them. It does not give you freedom from all law. It gives you freedom from condemnation of being under law ONLY. It also gives you a new and living way of dealing with your failings as you experience them from here on out. It gives you a chance to confess your sins in repentance and know that through your Advocate with the Father you have an adequate way of getting your sins forgiven on the basis of Jesus’ precious blood (1 John 1-2).
The Spirit is still leading us to put to death the passions of sin, and to fulfill the law (Rom.13:8-10). But, we have now entered a system of grace that supplies the things we need when we fail and ask for forgiveness. Grace teaches us to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts (Titus 2:11f), and it teaches is to seek to understand and do the will of God (Eph.5:17ff). The Spirit teaches us to hear the sayings of Jesus and do them (Matt.7:21ff). The Spirit teaches us to look into the mirror of the perfect law of liberty and make needed adjustments (James 1:21f), and the Spirit teaches us to be protective of the gospel and not let anyone pervert it (Gal.1:6-10). This grace teaches us to obey from the heart (Rom.6:17-18), and this grace writes God’s law in our hearts. It is not a license to sin, and it is not a lawless system. Those who have God’s law written in their hearts seek to stay within the boundaries of that law written in their hearts. They seek to keep God’s commandments. They seek to do so because the love of Christ has been poured out into their hearts along with a desire to love Him back, and Jesus teaches us in His love that if we would love Him, we will keep His commandments.
If the proper definition of “legalism” is trying to be legal or lawful and “prove what is acceptable to the Lord” (Rom.12:1-4), then we think this is our “reasonable service”. Grace teaches us to give that kind of sacrifice, and God forbid that we would turn that grace into license to sin (Rom.6:1f; Jude 4).
Terry W. Benton
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