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May 21, 2007

“FROM UNDER LAW TO UNDER GRACE” Part 1

by Professor Robert J. Barth

The influential and articulate English jurist, William Blackstone, defined law as “a rule of action.”  In his Commentaries on the Law of England, Blackstone made distinctions among the law of nature, divine or revealed law, and municipal law, depending on the source of law and who was to be governed, or under the law. Blackstone defined the law of nature as the “will of his [man’s] Maker” with respect to His creation, including man. It is God’s mind, intention, and order as revealed in creation, but it also includes the revealed or divine law found in the Holy Scriptures. According to Blackstone, municipal law is “a rule of civil conduct prescribed by the supreme power in a state, commanding what is right, and prohibiting what is wrong.” It focuses on responsibilities imposed upon a people by its civil government to maintain peace and order. In general, one could say that law is a rule of action imposed by an authority upon those under the authority, commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong.

Imagine what it would be like if there was no law and everyone did what was right is his own eyes. If there is no law defined (statutory law) or commonly accepted rule of moral conduct (common law), there can be no violation of the law. Without a violation of law there can be no sanction or punishment. But when law is articulated and imposed upon those under an authority, breaking the law is made an offense and the perpetrator is subject to sanction.

The Apostle Paul used this truth to help explain to the Roman believers the relationship between sin, the law through Moses, and death. He said that while sin came into the world through Adam’s transgression with the corresponding sanction of death, sin was not imputed until the law was declared. 

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come. (Romans 5:12-14)

Paul explained that when the law came sin became “exceeding sinful” (Romans 7:13), and that all of us have broken the law, deserving eternal condemnation and death.

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 6:23)

These truths mean that there is hope for salvation only if God extends His mercy and grace by sending one who would fulfill the law and live a sinless life, and who would take our sins (and corresponding death) upon himself to satisfy the wrath of God for the sins of each of us. That person would have to be fully human, but without sin, and he would have to suffer and experience the consequences of our sin. Because he would have no sin himself, he would conquer death by rising from the dead. That person was Jesus, the Christ, our Messiah and Savior who is and did all of those things. Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).

By God’s grace through faith in Jesus as Lord and that God raised Him from the dead, we can receive the atonement for our sins and appropriate that victory over sin He died to give us. WOW! What good news! What a message of hope and life! What a gospel!

For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (II Corinthians 5:21)

Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (Romans 3:31)

 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2)

Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5:9-10)

By faith in Jesus we die to the fleshly carnal nature and are raised up in “newness of life” in Christ (Romans 6:4). Christ fulfilled the law on our behalf and by faith His righteousness is imputed to us. Therefore, anyone who is in Christ is no longer subject to the law because the “law hath dominion over a man [only] as long as he liveth” (Romans 7:1).

[Y]e also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. (Romans 7:4)

So, every “born again” believer can say as did Paul, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Because of our death, burial, and resurrection with Christ, we are no longer under the law, but we are under grace because “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The next meditation will examine what it means to be under grace and why being under grace does not mean antinomianism or lawlessness. It means being governed by the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2).

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About the Author

Professor Robert J. Barth
A graduate of the University of Illinois (B.S. 1976), Professor Robert J. Barth received his Juris Doctor from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 1979. He received his Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Regent University in 1986. From 1986 to 1995, Professor Barth was associated with Regent University School of Law in several capacities, including assistant dean for academic and student affairs, and editor of the Journal of Christian Jurisprudence. He has written several articles, and as the director for academic programs, he has authored Oak Brook College’s book, Renewing Your Mind as You Study Law.

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