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May 30, 2007

“FROM UNDER LAW TO UNDER GRACE” Part II

by Professor Robert J. Barth

“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).

Have you ever heard a person say, “As a Christian, I am under grace, not under the law,” or “The Old Testament is no longer relevant to me as a New Testament believer”? Some have even justified clear violations of God’s moral law by saying, “I am under grace,” which they think means that they have freedom to do as they please.

Such comments reveal a misunderstanding of grace. Such individuals forget that both the law and grace came from God. “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). The source of both is God, but the purpose of each is different. The law is like a schoolmaster that shows us our need for a savior, and grace through faith in Christ saves us from our sin. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24-25).

It is true that if you are a Christian, you are under grace and not under the law with respect to the means of imputed righteousness before God. Our righteousness does not come by fulfilling the law because none of us have, or can, do that. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Our imputed righteousness comes only “by grace” (unmerited favor and His divine influence on our heart giving us the desire and power to respond to God and to do His will) “through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) in Jesus as our Savior, who lived a sinless life and shed His blood as an atoning (blood covering) sacrifice for our sins.

It is not true that the Old Testament is no longer relevant to a born-again believer. While a believer does not attempt to keep or obey the Old Testament as a means of earning salvation, and attempting to prove his righteousness, the Old Testament is still part of God’s Word. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16). The Apostle Paul tells us that even the failings of the Israelites are “our examples to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted” (I Corinthians 10:6). But the Old Testament must be read through the lens of grace revealed to us in the New Testament. A believer is no longer under the law “of works” (Romans 3:27) for justification and the “the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2), but is under the “law of faith” (Romans 3:27) and the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2).

It is also not true that being under grace gives believers the license to do whatever they would like, as if they are not under any moral code or standard. In fact, if a “believer” has that attitude, he or she has not fully comprehended the horrible nature of his or her sin and the punishment deserved, and has not turned from or repented of sin. They despise “the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4). 

In fact, being under grace actually means that one is under a more complete, pervasive, and all encompassing law than the demands of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant Law focused upon externals; the New Covenant focuses on heart attitudes. Jesus made this very clear in the Sermon on the Mount and other times when He took the law and proclaimed that the real standard is a pure heart.

Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill … But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment … but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Ye have heard that it was said … Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man. (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28; 15:18-20)

The Old Covenant sacrifices reminded the people of the wickedness of their sin, but it could not change their hearts. “But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4). “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4).

A New Covenant faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus results in a changed heart and the forgiveness of sin. “This is the covenant that I will make with them … I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:16-18).

From the beginning, God’s desire has been to have a people that love Him with their entire being. Part of the New Covenant of grace is that God writes His law in our hearts and gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the greatest commandment of loving God with all of our hearts, souls, and minds, and the second greatest commandment of loving our neighbors as ourselves. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40).  

In short, God’s standard of righteousness is perfection. None of us have kept that standard and therefore stand condemned before God. But Jesus kept the standard and was without sin. He also became the object of God’s wrath because of our sin, which He took upon Himself. Through faith in Jesus, a person comes under Him as the sacrificial lamb for the atonement of his or her sins. The person comes “under grace” and Jesus becomes Master and Lord. Yes, every born-again believer is “under grace.” It is by grace that we come to faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord, and it is by grace that we live a love-response life in obedience to His desires and commands, including telling others of His love for them.

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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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