Phil Cox


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Not under law

23rd November 2013

I'm in the middle of a preaching series on Romans at the moment. It's such a privilege to be a member of a church that loves the Bible and really wants to know and understand what it says. And Romans is such a wonderful book. It lays out the Good News of Jesus Christ so logically and clearly. The discipline of studying it week by week is great for me.

This week, let's think about a much-quoted phrase from that letter: "we are not under law but under grace". When I was younger, I was in a church where people spent quite a lot of time quoting that without ever telling me what it meant. It seems that the only way to find out is to study this amazing letter.

Perhaps the first insight we can gather comes in:

Romans 3v20-25a
... no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

These wonderful words tell us that no-one will be declared righteous in [God's] sight by observing the law but also that there is a righteousness from God, apart from law. God will accept us as righteous even though we haven't obeyed His law. We obtain that righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. That is, all who accept the Good News of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of atonement that He made on the cross.

If we've been born again, we've stopped trying to impress God by living good lives. And we've been set free from the despair that comes from knowing that we don't live good lives. And we've accepted the forgiveness of our sins. Our fear of judgement has gone. We'll never be separated from God's love. We serve God not because we're afraid of the consequences of getting it wrong, but because we're so grateful to Him for paying for our sins through His Son, Jesus Christ. Our obedience to God is now motivated by love for Him.

Later, Paul writes:

Romans 6v14
... sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Paul is saying that Christians are not just set free from fear of the consequences of sin; we're set free from sin itself. Not that you or I never sin, but that we are free to refuse to sin (though it doesn't always feel like it). We're not just free from the penalty for sin, we're free from the power of sin (though it takes time for us to accept this in all its fulness and live it out).

The very next thing he writes is:

Romans 6v15
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!

(That's where the quote comes from)

I've heard it suggested that our sin doesn't matter very much, because it'll be forgiven anyway, so who cares? I've even heard this in church. But if we love God, we will want to obey Him. The very essence of the New Covenant is:

Jeremiah 31v33a
"This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people."

God loves His law. And if we love God, we'll love it, too. We'll keep it, not out of fear but out of love for the One who both created us and redeemed us through His blood. If we don't love God's law, that demonstrates that we don't really love God.