Are we free or under law? By Rex Banks While it is true that scripture contains “some things hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16), it is reassuring to

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Are we free or under law?

By Rex Banks

While it is true that scripture contains “some things hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16), it is reassuring to remember Paul’s words to the Ephesian brethren: “by revelation there was made known to me the mystery as I wrote before in brief. And by referring to this when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:3-4). The truth can be understood (Jn. 8:32) when studied diligently (2 Tim.2:15).

The concept of law in the New Testament, and the relationship of law to the Christian is admittedly a source of confusion and difficulty for many in the religious world, and certainly it is a subject which requires diligent study. In what sense is the Christian “under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21) yet, “released from the law” (Rom. 7:6), “dead to the law” (Rom. 7:4), yet justified by a “law of faith” (Rom.3:27-28)?

Not Under Law

Our God is a holy God (1 Pet.1: 16), whose every commandment is righteous (Ps.119:172). Sin is described as “unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 5:17) and “lawlessness” (1 Jn. 3:4), since it constitutes a violation of God’s perfect law. Since God “cannot look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13), one act of Lawlessness (sin) on man’s part–just one–separates man from God. Thus, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), eternal separation from God. Only that man who has rendered absolutely perfect obedience to God’s law, merits, earns, or deserves eternal life. Such a man, having obeyed every commandment of God every moment of his life would receive salvation as a wage owed him by God (Rom. 4: 2-4). He could boast that his salvation was based upon “the law of works” (Rom. 3:27,28), if by virtue of his having obeyed flawlessly the revealed will of God; perfect obedience, one hundred percent of the time. However, since “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom.3:23), any system of justification which required such perfect obedience on man’s part has placed him under a curse (Gal. 3:10), since no man can hope to render such obedience. Now “righteousness would indeed have been based on law” (Gal. 3:21), if God could have provided man with a law consistent with His own Holy nature which man in turn could have obeyed perfectly. This was impossible because of man’s weakness. The Jews’ failure to obey the Mosaic Law graphically illustrated the truth that “by works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16).

The good news of the New Testament of course is that man is not “under law” (Rom. 6:14) in the sense that he must render such perfect, flawless obedience to any code of law in order to enjoy salvation. This is the case because Jesus Christ became a perfect sin offering at Calvary (2 Cor.5:21), taking upon himself the sins which condemn men to hell. The demands of perfect justice were met at Calvary, and thus it became possible for God to offer salvation to man on some basis other than flawless obedience. Therefore, man who cannot earn salvation through meritorious works of law, is offered salvation through faith in Christ. Since he deserves hell, the sinner who is saved enjoys salvation as a gift (Eph. 2:8). The basis of his salvation being the blood of Christ (1 Pet.1: 18,19).

But Under the Law of Christ

Clearly Christians are not a lawless people. They are to have God’s laws firmly in their minds and written upon their hearts (Heb.8:10). As disciples of Jesus they are “….under the law of Christ…” (1 Cor. 9:21) and are admonished to fulfill this law (Gal.6:2), knowing that one day it will judge them. Notice, however that the Christian is under “law of faith” (Rom. 3:27) as opposed to a law of works which conditions salvation upon perfect obedience. Christ’s Law, the law of faith, is quite compatible with salvation by grace through faith, unlike the law of works which “is not of faith” (Gal. 3:12). Under Christ’s law, boasting about salvation is completely excluded (Rom. 3:27), since there is simply no suggestion that man merits, earns, or deserves salvation as a result of flawless obedience to Christ’s law. This is no more possible under Christ’s law than under the law of Moses. The Christian is saved by the blood of Christ.

But now a vital point so often misunderstood by our religious friends. If the law of faith does not demand perfect obedience as a condition of salvation it does nevertheless demand obedience! If it is true that the blood of Christ is the very basis of salvation rather than lawkeeping, it is equally true that the child of God must do his best to obey God’s laws as a condition of his being cleansed by Christ’s blood. Thus John wrote, “if we walk (keep on walking) in the light, …the blood of Jesus His son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7; cf. Heb. 5:8-9). The cleansing continues as long as the walking (obeying) continues. The Christian is under law (Christ’s law), in that he must strive to obey God’s commandments from the heart in order to contact the blood.

Now when the Christian does his best to obey the Lord, he is involved in a work. However, this is not a work of law, but rather a work of faith (1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:11) carried out in obedience to the law of faith. Unlike a work of law, a work of faith is not a meritorious work at all, but rather it is an integral part of the faith which saves. Paul explains that Abraham was in no way justified by works of law, but through faith (Rom. 4: 1-4). However, James adds that the faith which was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness was “perfected” or completed by works (Jas. 2:22)–works of faith. Abraham’s justification was conditional upon his works of faith (Jas. 2:24), since these acts of obedience are inseparable from the faith which saves.

Similarly, the child of God is justified by faith today rather than by works of law. However, that faith must be “completed” or perfected by works of faith, works which are commanded in the New Testament and are part of the “doctrine conforming to godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3; cf. Rom. 6:16-18). For example, the command to be baptized is part of the law of faith, as is the command to assemble (Heb. 10:25), to worship God in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:24), and every other doctrine of the New Covenant. The refusal to submit to these teachings is lawlessness, and those who practice such will suffer eternal consequences (Matt. 7:23). The faith which saves is an obedient faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:26)! Freedom in Christ (Gal. 5:1) means freedom from a system which conditions salvation upon flawless obedience, it does not constitute a freedom to go beyond the scripture (1 Cor. 4:6), to ignore sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:4), or to teach the traditions of men (Matt. 15:9). The faith which saves is a faith which works through love (Gal. 5:6), and love of God always expresses itself in obedience (Jn. 14:15). Love also teaches us that “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn. 5:3), but that “in keeping them there is great reward” (Ps. 119:11).

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