What Does it Mean to be “Under Grace”?

Posted in Law and Grace

In my last column (click here to read) I made a case for the fact that Paul’s statement in Romans 6:14 that we are not “under the law” was not a valid reason to break any of God’s Commandments. In it, I promised to explain what this verse is really saying, by looking at it in context.

One thing we should probably keep in mind is that it was a well known fact that, even in Bible times, Paul’s writings were hard to understand. Peter said in 2 Peter 3:16 that the unlearned and unstable struggle with his writing, to their own destruction. Those are some pretty strong words. We don’t want to show ourselves as unlearned and unstable, nor do we want to struggle with a few of Paul’s words in a way that leads to our own destruction. We often see that many people are willing to throw out the law of God, despite page after page of Scripture that shows the Jesus did not come to do away with the law, and it is those of us who keep the commandments who have the right to the Tree of Life. Yet people do disregard much Bible truth relating to God’s law, and often it is based on the writings of Paul, either taken out of context, or misunderstood.

If you read one passage of Paul’s which seems to throw out whole chapters of Scripture, you can be assured that you are not interpreting it correctly, especially if that one passage seems to contradict the very actions and teachings of Paul shown elsewhere. When interpreting, you should consider all of Scripture (Genesis to Revelation) rather than just one book (Romans), just like you should consider all of Romans rather than just one verse. Taking just the book of Romans, are there other sections that seem to imply that God’s law was done away with, and all we need is grace, as verse 6:14 is interpreted? Here is a summary leading to the context of chapter six.

Romans 1:5 says that we have received grace FOR obedience, not grace to replace obedience. Much of chapter one shows how those who changed the glory of the incorruptible God were given over to uncleanness through lust, and lists a whole series of sins that violate God’s statutes and commands. This doesn’t sound like Paul is advocating doing away with any of God’s laws, even ones not contained in the Ten Commandments.

Romans 2:13 says we are not to be hearers only of the law, but doers of the law to be justified.  Verse 23 says that breaking the law dishonors God. No sign here that Paul believes or teaches that the law was done away with at the cross.

Chapter Three ends by stating that faith does not make void the law, but rather establishes the law. The plan of salvation included Jesus obeying the law for us and dying to pay our penalty for breaking it. This shows that God’s moral standards are eternally valid. As I mentioned in my last column, if the law could have been changed, God could have just changed it instead of having Jesus die for our sins. Our very need to have faith in Jesus for salvation shows that the law is still valid (established). If there was no law, there would be no sin (see Romans 4:15), and thus no need for faith in a Saviour.

Chapter Four points out that even in Old Testament times, using Abraham as an example, that it was his faith, and not his obedience to the law, through which he was made righteous. The law was never meant as a means to salvation. Chapter Five gives us assurance that it is our faith and God’s grace that give us the hope of glory. So far, I see nothing in the context leading to Chapter Six that is any effort whatsoever to say that God’s law became void.

Romans 6:12 says that we are not to let sin reign in our mortal body. The oft quoted “ye are not under the law, but under grace” two verses later (6:14) is in the context of telling us not to allow sin to have dominion over us. Remember what sin is defined as – the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). Two verses later (6:16) we are reminded that we either sin unto death, or live in obedience unto righteousness. Nowhere in this section is Paul ever implying that grace is there to release us from obedience to God’s law.

The word “under” (Strong’s 5259) in Romans 6:14 and 15 is most often translated “of” and can also be translated “by”, “with”, and “through”. We are not of  the law, but of grace. We are not saved by  the law, but by grace. We are not saved with  the law, but with grace. What Paul is really saying is the same thing he says in Ephesians 2:8-9. We are not saved through  the law, but through grace. Not of works, lest any man boast.

The law is not there to save us, nor can it. The law is there to show us our sins, to show us a better way to live our lives. But most importantly, the law IS  there, and Paul affirms that it is “holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). It was not done away with. If you are not following it, please pray that the Holy Spirit will lead you into truth and repentance. God’s grace is not an excuse to break His laws.