“…for you are not under law but under grace…” (Romans 6:14)
Many believers seem to be quite hazy on this, so because it’s so important it might be profitable to take a deeper look. I can illustrate the way in which many believers completely mis-understand this crucial verse through the story of a young guy I knew who, during a discussion about keeping to speed limits on the road, maintained that it didn’t matter that he would regularly speed in his car because as a Christian he wasn’t under law but under grace. And there you have it!
Another example would be the sheer number of believers, especially here in the UK, who are feminists, and who unquestioningly accept the idea of female pastors and Bible teachers. When made aware of the verses in the New Testament that specifically teach against this, rather than addressing what those verses actually say they will similarly just play the ‘law vs grace’ card. They virtually always go straight to the verse where Paul says, “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6) However, their take on this is that it means that the Holy Spirit will sometimes lead believers counter to what scripture teaches about certain things, and that when that happens then we must obviously go with His leading irrespective of what the text of scripture says. This, they say, is an aspect of what ‘not being under law but under grace’ means.
What they never seem to properly address though is just how widely this principle they so readily espouse might be legitimately applied. After all, if the Holy Spirit leads some believers to go against some of the things clearly taught in the New Testament (such as women not being in leadership in the churches), then what’s to stop Him leading any believer to go against anything taught in it? Might the Holy Spirit lead a single guy to sleep with his girlfriend? Might He lead a husband to leave his wife for another woman? Might He lead someone to abort their baby? Might He, as many Christians are now claiming, be leading God’s people to embrace gay marriage?
And of course it’s no use responding, as they often do, by saying that He would never lead anyone to do anything like that, because any such objection could only be on the basis that scripture clearly teaches that such things are wrong, and that the Holy Spirit would therefore never lead anyone to do them. But hang on! The New Testament equally teaches that we should obey the governing powers, and that it’s wrong for women to be in church leadership! So do you see the problem? I obviously accept that having women in leadership in the church isn’t in the same league of wrongdoing as such things as speeding, immorality or abortion, but the point here isn’t degrees of wrongness but simply whether or not scripture teaches a particular thing, whatever it might be. The inconsistency of such thinking is absolutely astounding! To maintain that some things scripture teaches are absolute and therefore binding whilst other things it teaches are negotiable and can be overruled by the leading of the Holy Spirit is complete nonsense. And of course the other problem is that of who gets to decide which bits are binding and which bits aren’t, and how one could be sure that what one concludes is the leading of the Holy Spirit and not an evil spirit deceiving one! The moment you buy into the deception that the Holy Spirit ever leads counter to scripture, then what you are actually saying is that you can simply decide for yourself which bits of the Bible you are willing to obey and which you are not. It is to be in disobedience to God”s Word, in whatever way, whilst trying to make out that He actually wants you to do so. Convenient, eh?
So let’s get this clear in our minds once and for all. In both the above verses Paul is comparing the Law of Moses to the covenant of grace (being saved by grace through faith in Jesus), and making the simple point that obedience to the Law of Moses doesn’t, and was never intended, to save, such being the reason for the establishment of the covenant of grace which does. The Law convicts of sin in order to demonstrate our need of salvation, but is not itself designed to do anything further. It is, so to speak, the straight edge that reveals our bent-ness! Only the covenant of grace, the new covenant, can bring about forgiveness and result in us being declared righteous in God’s sight. The Mosaic Law (the letter) kills because it convicts of sin and that is all, whereas the New Covenant (the Spirit) actually enables personal holiness through the Lord’s life in the believer. Paul’s comparison is not, therefore, letter – as in the text of scripture, vs Spirit – as in the subjective guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit in the believers life. No! It is the Mosaic Law vs the New Covenant of Grace!
But although the covenant of grace is, by very definition, salvation apart from works; that is, a free gift, and therefore not in any way earned or merited, it nevertheless still contains commands and instructions which, once saved, we are required to submit to. It isn’t that getting to Heaven is then contingent upon ongoing obedience to those commands, of course not! Getting to Heaven is contingent upon what Jesus did for us on the cross, and that we have entered into that through faith in Him; but having become God’s children when we were born again – that being what being born actually means – our Father in Heaven wants us to then be good children who are becoming increasingly obedient to Him. Further, he will discipline, and even punish us, when we are not being obedient, but such chastisement has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not we will make it to Heaven. It’s simply that He wants us to start being the obedient children down here that we will eventually fully and perfectly be for eternity in glory.
Definition: the law we are not under is the Mosaic Law which kills. We are, however, under the New Covenant which gives life, and which requires us to live in obedience to whatever scripture teaches other than the Mosaic Law. Regarding our examples of obeying the law of the land when driving, and women not being in leadership in the church, both are taught in the New Testament quite separate to the Mosaic Law, and are therefore binding on us as Christians. Being under grace is not, therefore, as many believers seem to think, a form of lawlessness that gives us the freedom to just go against anything in the Bible we don’t happen to like, and to do so by claiming that the Holy Spirit is leading us. The Holy Spirit never leads counter to scripture – He wrote it, for heavens sake – and we are completely deceived if we think but for one moment that He does.
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)
That’s the balance! There you have the correct mix! The law that was given through Moses is, as Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers make so clear, gone! It has been superseded and replaced by the covenant of grace. But that covenant of grace isn’t just grace alone with no further definition or clarification! No! It is grace and truth…and that changes everything! And the truth of this covenant of grace that we are under, its terms and conditions, have been fully revealed in the pages of the New Testament, there therefore being a great many requirements and demands on us. In other words, it is also law in such respect, just like the Law of Moses is! It has different commands and instructions in many respects, certainly, but it nevertheless still does contain commands and instructions that we are expected by the Lord to live in obedience to. Paul calls this new covenant ‘the law of the Spirit’, whilst James refers to it as being the ‘royal law!’ And there you have it! Not being under the Mosaic Law doesn’t mean we aren’t under law at all. Quite the contrary! We are under the law of the new covenant of grace! So whereas it’s fully biblical to think in terms of the Mosaic Law vs Grace, it is completely unbiblical to think in terms of Grace vs Truth! So too when it comes to love. We can no more set love and truth against each other than we can grace and truth. As Paul says, “..speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15)
There is therefore never a legitimate choice between grace and truth, any more than there can be a legitimate choice between love and truth. It is never grace or truth, and neither is it ever be love or truth. This isn’t an either/or deal but strictly a both/and one! It’s grace and truth and love and truth…or it is none of them at all! Whether you choose grace and love over truth, or truth over grace and love, you will always end up with something that is not only unbiblical, but ugly in the extreme. As we saw in an earlier post, you will end up being either harshly legalistic or sinfully licentiousness! Grace and scripture, and love and scripture! That’s the balance!
Al’righty then! We’ve dealt with the error of thinking that not being under law but under grace is a kind of lawlessness, but now we must tackle the equal and opposite error which many Christians buy into, that we are in some way still under the Mosaic Law.
See you tomorrow then!