What does “Under the Law” Mean?

What does “Under the Law” Mean?

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

In Romans 6:14, Paul wrote: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” This verse is used by many to say that the requirements of God’s Law, especially the Ten Commandments, are no longer necessary. The key with this verse, as with all verses, is the context.

In the following two verses, Paul wrote, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” One definition of sin in the Bible is transgression of God’s Law (I John 3:4). To clarify the phrase “under the law” in Romans 6:14, we must go to the other letters of Paul.

In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul wrote: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (KJV). If the phrase “under the law” in Romans 6:14 means obeying the Law, then Paul said in Galatians 4:4-5 that Christ only came to redeem those that were obeying the Law. We know that is not true! Christ came to redeem all mankind (John 1:29, 3:16).

The phrase “under the law” refers to being in an inferior position to the law. It must be something that is applicable to all humans who are not converted. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  “Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out” (Deuteronomy 27:26).

In Galatians 3:13-14, Paul also wrote: 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”

When Paul said that we are not under the law, he is obviously referring to the curse of the law. Christ died so that we would not be slaves to sin and lawlessness.

In Romans 6:18, he wrote: “Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness” (NIV). The Greek word translated as “ever-increasing wickedness” is anomia, and it means lawlessness. After salvation, lawlessness is supposed to be apart of our past, not our future. 

What does being under grace mean? Being under grace means that when we make a mistake, God is not going to stone us or strike us dead. We have a grace period to learn right from wrong. We are not under the law’s penalty, but we are not free from its requirements because grace is not a license to sin or transgress God’s Law.

Later in Romans, Paul wrote that the Law is holy, righteous and good (Romans 7:12-14). In Romans 8:7, Paul explains that the sinful mind is hostile to God’s Law and refuses to submit to it. Our goal and aim is to let the Holy Spirit guide us in obedience to the commandments of God. Since we are under grace, we are alive in Christ and enabled to obey the Law of Life (see also Deut. 30:11-15, I John 5:1-5).

Kelly McDonald, Jr. is the BSA President. You can visit his website here: kellymcdonaldjr.com

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