Under Law or Grace?
Law and Grace
Old Testament Laws. The legal corpus of the OT is not given in one book or in one section. Moreover, the laws reflect the development from the desert context (Exodus) to the context of the land (Deuteronomy). The OT legal material is complex, full of variations and duplications. It is found in Exodus (chs 20–23; 25–31), Leviticus, Numbers (chs 3–6; 8–10; 15; 18; 19; 28–30), and Deuteronomy (chs 5–26).
The Ten Commandments. The commandments are simply designated as “the words” of God (Ex 20:1). They appear in Exodus 20:1–17 and in Deuteronomy 5:6–21, but minor variations and individual commandments occur in other contexts (e.g., Ex 34:14, 17, 21; Lv 19:1–18; Dt 27:15, 16). As a part of the covenant the commandments were first addressed to Israel; they now form the basis of morality in Christianity
The Book of the Covenant (Ex 20:23–23:19). The purpose of the covenant code was to exemplify and to set into motion the legal machinery by which Israel as a nation could reflect God’s concern for justice, love, peace, and the value of life. The laws in the book of the covenant are mainly of the casuistic type. They regulate life in an agricultural society with servants, donkeys, bulls, oxen, sheep, and fields of grain. The regulations pertain to relations with women (including widows), aliens, orphans; to legal concerns (liability, damages, ownership); as well as religious obligations (altar, sabbath). Often the law requires restitution, but restitution is not the rule when human life is involved (Ex 21:12, 16, 20, 22, 23, 29; 22:2, 3), especially when it involves one’s family (21:15, 17, 22–25). The penal code attached to the case-laws makes clear the value of human life, which is protected by the lex talionis (“law of retaliation”). The lex talionis does not point to a lack of forgiveness under the OT, but was intended to be a legal principle giving coherence and justice to a society. The book of the covenant explicates by means of principles and cases how Israel must live together as a nation embracing the Law of God and applying it justly (without discrimination or twisting of rights), lovingly (with a concern for the parties involved), and peaceably.
The Priestly Law. God’s concern for holiness and purity comes to expression in the priestly laws (Ex 25–31; 35–40; Lv 1–27; Nm 4–10). The regulations pertain to the construction of the tabernacle, the consecration and ordination of priests, the offerings and sacrifices, rules of purity, the holy days, and vows.
The tabernacle was set in the middle of Israel’s camp in the wilderness. It symbolized the presence of God with his people. The priests and Levites were encamped around the tabernacle to serve and protect God’s holiness. All the tribes were situated around the tabernacle; and though the members of the tribes did not have access to all parts of the tabernacle, they had to be ritually clean to live in the camp. Anyone who was ritually defiled (Lv 13:46; Nm 5:1–5) or had sinned grievously was put outside the camp (Lv 24:10–23; Nm 15:32–36). This regulation even included objects that had become defiled (Lv 8:17; 9:11).
Laws of Deuteronomy. The Deuteronomic laws are explications and new applications of the book of the covenant in view of Israel’s new historical situation. Israel was about to enter the Promised Land when Moses outlined to them the Law of God (Dt 1:5). The impersonal element of the book of the covenant is here transformed by personal appeal. Moses strongly appeals to Israel to be loyal to the Lord, the covenant, and the covenantal stipulations
Purposes of the Law. The Law revealed at Mt Sinai was intended to lead Israel closer to God. Rebellious though they were, God used the Law as his righteous instrument to teach, in a very specific way, what sin is (cf. Rom 5:20; 7:7, 8b) and how they should walk on a path which kept them undefiled by sin and holy to the Lord. The Law was the teacher and the keeper of Israel (Gal 3:24). The detailed explications of the laws in all areas of life (work, society, family, cult, and nation) had an important place in God’s dealings with Israel
The Law of God is his means of sanctification. He consecrated Israel by an act of grace, and he required Israel to remain holy. Jesus confirmed those uses of the Law whereby one may know his sinfulness and by which he may be driven to Christ.
The purpose of the Law is to transform regenerate man into maturity. Spiritual maturity is not a privilege that was reserved for believers after Christ
Law and Covenant. Law was incorporated into the covenantal structure (Ex 20–24) at Mt Sinai. The symbol of the Mosaic covenant was the tablets of the covenant, given to Israel through Moses. The covenant may be defined as an administration under which God consecrates his people by divine law. The Law protected the promises of God until the coming of Christ
this form of the question permits Paul to deal with the false contrast between law and grace. Law and grace are not alternatives. It is not necessary to reject one in order to accept the other. The true alternatives in life are sin and obedience or sin and God
For sin shall not be your master (verse 14). Here Paul is elaborating upon what he said earlier: believers have been freed from the dominion of sin, so sin shall not have dominion over them. That is, if you are truly in Christ you will not be under the rule and reign of sin because you are not under law, but under grace.
To be under sin means to be under the bondage of sin, under the pressing weight of sin and under the curse of the law. Previously, we were groaning under the weight of the law. But now, grace has come into our lives and has replaced the awful threatening judgment of the law. As Christians we live under grace. We began the Christian life in grace, we continue to live the Christian life in grace and the Christian life will be completed by grace. The grace of God is to rule our lives.
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey (verses 15, 16a). Sometimes Paul has a marvellous way of stating the obvious. If I yield myself as a slave to God, then what am I? I am a slave of God. If I bow before God, that makes me a slave of God. If, on the other hand, I yield myself to sin, then that obviously makes me a slave of sin. Remember in the very first verse of this letter, how Paul identified himself: ‘Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.’ The very first thing that Paul said about himself after he gave his name, was that he was a slave to Christ. The conclusion is clear: whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? (verse 16b). ‘Sin which leads to death’ or ‘obedience which leads to righteousness’ are the only options: You either serve sin, and if you do you are doomed to death, or you serve obedience, in which case you will be moving towards righteousness.
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted (verse 17). Paul doesn’t know the name of every person to whom he is writing; he doesn’t know the state of each person’s soul. All he knows is that the people who will be receiving this letter have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. But Paul also knew what Jesus had said, that there would be people who would make a profession of faith, but who had no faith. Nevertheless, he exercises the judgment of charity, and so should we.
But Paul is also saying, ‘If you are in Christ, you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered to you.’ Paul talks about doctrine not as an abstract science, but as resulting in obedience from the heart. Our doctrine leads to obedience, not simply to knowledge. Our doctrine is designed for action.
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (verse 18). Sanctification begins right away. Notice the tense here: ‘You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.’ The moment you received Christ as your Saviour you also yielded to him as Lord and became a slave of righteousness. Now you are the slave of righteousness, you are called to have your life devoted to righteousness.
I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Here he explains why he has given this lengthy figure of speech. Paul could understand doctrine at a heavier level, but he realised others were not so able.
Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness (verse 19). Notice that when a person surrenders himself to wickedness the result of that wickedness is more wickedness. Sin breeds sin, which breeds sin, which breeds sin. Sanctification is the goal of our Christian life, and the more we yield ourselves in obedience to righteousness, the more that righteousness brings about holiness.
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness (verse 20). Notice the play on words here. If you are free from one thing, you are bound to another. No one is autonomous. Augustine said that a human being is like a horse, and the horse has one of two riders: either Satan or Christ is riding the horse. Before you were justified, Satan was riding the horse. Now that you are justified, Christ is riding the horse. When you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness.
What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! (verse 21). Think back, O Christian, to your non-Christian days: what kind of fruit did you have? You didn’t have any. Had you lived out your life, following the course that you were on, you were headed for death. You can only be ashamed of the style and character of your life when you were a servant to sin.
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. Sanctification is the result of this new, and willing, slavery to God. Holiness. Being increasingly conformed to the image of God in Christ. Putting off the old, being adorned with the new. These concepts, these realities, should be the delight and goal of each believer. Nothing should suppress the longing for personal holiness that the Spirit has implanted in our hearts. The contrast between our new estate and our former shameful life (verse 21) should be a shining example to the church and the world of the free gift of eternal life.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (verses 22, 23). Servants of sin earn wages; they get what they deserve. But eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord is a gift from God. A gift cannot be purchased, a gift cannot be earned, a gift cannot be merited. It is something that God gives freely.
The reason that sin must not rule over the believer is that he does not live under law but under God’s grace. Paul looks upon the law as giving sin a free hand and contributing to its strength (see verses 5:20–21). Moreover, law and sin are related not only on this basis, but on the basis that law is symbolic of man’s strivings by his own efforts to put himself right with God. God’s grace (literally “grace”), on the other hand, delivers a man from sin, because it depends not on the human will or on human strength, but on the divine activity
“Grace,” too, is general, its quality being stressed. Here it is regarded as the opposite of “law.” See 3:24. Here it includes all that comes to us from the favor Dei through Christ: justification, baptism, the new life and newness of life. Law only increases and condemns sin and thus puts us hopelessly under its dominion; grace removes the curse of sin, breaks its dominion, joins us to Christ and God, fills us with spiritual power to trample unrighteousness under foot and to work righteousness. Gratia non solum peccata diluit, sed ut non peccemus facit. Augustine. “Under grace” still regards us as being subjects. Man is or can never be independent. But being subjects to grace is pure blessedness for sinners, for while law comes with threatening demands which we are helpless to fulfill, grace showers upon us not only what we need but all that it possibly can bestow, even the capacity to receive, and asks no merit or worthiness on our part
There is a strong inclination to think that law stops sinning, that, unless we have at least some law, we shall not be kept from sinning even when we are under the fulness of grace; that grace alone is insufficient for this purpose. For this reason so many Christians are legalists. On the other hand, some are inclined to think that, since grace pardons sins so freely, one need not be so careful about not sinning, a few sins more or less make no difference to grace which will take care of the additional sins.