Speaking to Christians, Paul said, “…if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). Also speaking to Christians, he said, “…you are not under the law but under grace” (Rom.6:14).
What did Paul mean by these statements? Did he mean, as most churches teach, that God’s law does not apply to Christians?
First of all, we must understand what “sin” is. The definition of “sin” is given in I John 3:4—“sin IS the transgression of the law” (KJV). Likewise, in Rom.6:16, “sin” is shown to be the opposite of “obedience.”
But obedience to what? Transgression of what law? Paul answers this in the seventh chapter of Romans. There, he said, “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (verse 7, NIV). Plainly, the “law” Paul is referring to is the Ten Commandments.
A few verses later, Paul said that “the law is spiritual” (verse 14). Therefore, it is the transgression of God’s spiritual law—as summarized by the Ten Commandments—that constitutes “sin.” That’s what sin is—disobeying God’s spiritual law!
Now that we know what sin is, is there a penalty imposed by God for our sinning—for our disobeying His spiritual law? Both the Old and New Testaments reveal that the penalty for sin is death! “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezek.18:4). “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom.6:23).
Furthermore, we are told that “ALL have sinned” (Rom.3:23). Therefore, all who have ever lived (except Jesus Christ) have sinned and earned the death penalty! “…death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom.5:12).
When the Bible speaks of “salvation” or “being saved,” it’s speaking of being saved from the death penalty. And unless we are saved from the death penalty, then eternal death is what awaits us!
“Salvation” is the granting of life after death, as a glorified, spirit being—eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
Notice now the entirety of the scripture which we just partially cited: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom.6:23).
Jesus Christ never sinned. He never earned the death penalty. Yet, He paid the death penalty in our stead! And it was because of the fact that His life is worth more than the sum total of all people who have ever lived, that His death could pay the penalty for all mankind.
Yet, this is what many people don’t understand: The Bible clearly shows that Christ’s sacrifice is not automatically applied to everyone! Rather, there are two conditions that a person must fulfill in order for Christ’s sacrifice to be applied to that individual: (1) You must accept Christ as your personal Savior (John 3:16), and (2) you must repent—i.e., turn from your past way of life (Rom.6:3-6) and make an unconditional surrender to God (Luke 4:4; 22:42) that you will henceforth strive (Luke 13:24)—with the help of the Holy Spirit in you—to live in accordance with God’s spiritual law, as summarized by the Ten Commandments (Matt.19:16-19; 7:21-23; 13:41-43).
Now, regarding these two conditions for Christ’s sacrifice to be applied to a person, most church-goers accept the first condition, but reject the condition of repentance (and what true repentance is). Yet, notice these two scriptures: “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). “But IF we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). So here we see that it’s only IF we walk in the light—IF we “walk in newness of life” and are no longer “slaves of sin” (Rom.6: 4,6)—no longer slaves of transgressing God’s law (I John 3:4)—it’s only then that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us!
So, let’s now answer the question posed at the beginning of this article: What did Paul mean when he said that a Christian is “not under the law but under grace”?
He meant that a Christian is not under the penalty of the law! A Christian is one who has fulfilled the two conditions of accepting Christ and turning his life unto obedience to God’s law. And having fulfilled those conditions, Christ’s sacrifice is then applied TO that individual. The person is then under grace—divine pardon from the death penalty. His sins are forgiven—blotted out (Acts 3:19).
Christ’s blood pays the death penalty in that person’s stead. That person had earned the death penalty, by transgressing God’s law. But the penalty has now been paid, and so the individual is no longer under the penalty of the law; he’s no longer “under the law,” as Paul phrased it. He’s now under grace (divine pardon).
People think that Rom.6:14 does away with the law; but if they would just read the very next verse—verse 15—they would see that when you come under grace, you are not then free to transgress God’s law: “What then? Shall we sin [transgress God’s law] because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” answered Paul (verse 15).
Consider this. Suppose that you had been caught stealing something, and you were brought to trial. The judge decides that in this case, he’s going to pardon you. Do you then think to yourself, “Wow, there’s no longer a law against stealing!”?
Did the judge do away with the law, or did he only do away with the penalty in your case? If stealing was unrighteous before you were forgiven, then isn’t it still unrighteous (Ps.119:172)? Has the definition of moral and immoral changed? Again, Paul said that “BY the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). (Also Rom. 7:7 and Matt. 13:41-43)
Why is it that people believe that the law which defines righteous and moral behavior has been done away?! A law that is of such paramount importance, that God sent His only begotten Son to DIE, as payment for our breaking that law?!
God’s spiritual law is the way to a happy and fulfilling life! Why would He do away with such a law?!
Finally, let’s realize that the Apostle Paul totally advocated the keeping of God’s spiritual law! Paul fully realized that God’s spiritual law applies to Christians!