There is just something about the idea of not being ‘under Law’ that sets off all kinds of alarms in the minds of many Christians. One might be forced to concede to the idea because the words are biblical, but those words are often compulsively followed by a multitude of caveats.
It almost feels as though Paul stepped over the line by using that phrase. It might be okay to say that we are not saved by our obedience to the law, but we Christians still need the law to supervise us, right? Otherwise, what would keep us from going completely off the rails?
Yet, in Galatians 3:25 Paul says, "So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law."
The fact is, no matter how crazy it sounds, Christians really are no longer under the Law. To think otherwise is to misunderstand why the Law was given in the first place.
Intuitively, it seems that the law must have been given to decrease sin, yet Romans 5:20 says the law was actually given so that sin would increase.
Romans 7 goes into great detail explaining that, while the law itself is holy, righteous and good, the practical effect it has on us is to produce sin in us, and therefore to kill us. In Galatians 3:13, Paul says that the law was a curse from which we had to be freed, and in Romans 8:2 he refers to it as the "Law of sin and death."
If you want to know what the actual power of sin is, 1 Corinthians 15:56 goes so far as to say that the power of sin is the Law.
Martin Luther says that the Law always accuses (Lex semper accusat). This very principle is the reason why Christians can no longer think of themselves as being, in any way, under the Law. Were we to allow the thought that the law still holds any authority over us, we would automatically perceive it as accusation and condemnation, because we are hardwired to do so.
Paul’s assessment in Romans 4:15 is that, "The law brings wrath," but in Romans 8:1 he states that, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." It is not possible to live under both the law and grace. That is why the law had to end. In Romans 10:4 Paul explains that "Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes." If Christ were not the end of the Law, there would not be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Much of the book of Romans deals with the concept of a life no longer lived under the Law, but Romans 6 is the chapter that tackles the hard questions head on. Back when I first began to understand the gospel, Romans 6 terrified me. I felt like the amazing good news presented in chapters 1-5 was merely the bait and Romans 6 was the switch. I see now that is because I was reading it as if its intention was to place me back under the Law when, in reality, it was saying exactly the opposite. In Romans 6, Paul is laying out the brand new thought process for one who is not under the law. He does this to answer all of those whose alarms are ringing and who come armed with caveats.
In verse 1, Paul, anticipating the push back from all he has said in Romans 1-5, poses the elephant-in-the-room question, "What then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?" He then dives straight into the gospel understanding of the difference between life under Law and life in the Spirit.
He begins by explaining that, in Christ, we died to sin, so we cannot go on living in sin. He does not say that we must not go on living in sin, but that death renders this an impossibility. He later expands this concept in Romans 7, by giving us the example of the death of a spouse. Once your spouse dies, you are no longer bound to him or her. In this example, the twist is that we are the ones who died (in Christ) and as a result are now freed from the Law. By dying to the law, we died to sin; not in our behavior specifically (See Romans 7:15-24), but in the way God sees us.
The dominion of sin is powered by our inability to meet the demands of the Law. The threat of judgment looms over us, with no hope of escape. The only way out is to die with Christ and to be resurrected with him. If we have died with Christ, the dominion of sin is broken because the Law's demands have been satisfied forever. We now stand safely with him on the other side of the grave. The Law can never threaten us again.
On the far side of the grave, we walk in newness of life. Our motivation for this new way of ‘walking according to the Spirit’ is no longer the "Law of sin and death" but, rather, all that Christ has done for us. Paul points out what keeps us from going off the rails now in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15. "For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
In verses 10 and 11 of Romans 6, Paul says that, as Christ died once, and now lives for God, we also must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God. This is not Law. The difference is that there is no threat, no condemnation...because, in Christ, we are already safe, and that safety itself becomes our motivation.
Paul directs us, in verse 13, "Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." Then he gives us the reason why we should consider this, "For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace." (verse14)
In Christ, we stand before God as if we have already perfectly kept all of the Law's requirements. The Law has nothing more to say to us. We can no longer be accused by it. Ever.
Before we knew Christ, while we were still under Law, we had no choice. We were slaves to sin with no ability to serve righteousness; but now, under grace, with no implied coercion or threat that we must obey or else, “The benefit [we] reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (Romans 6:22)
This holiness is not something we need to earn God’s favor, because we cannot be more pleasing to him than we already are, in his Son. This is purely for our benefit, a gift from God, not a requirement, and that makes all the difference.
At the cross, the stranglehold of the Law was broken for all those who are in Christ: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13-15)
After the cross, there are many descriptions of what a life of love will look like, as it is lived out in response to what Christ did for us. These descriptions, however, are not Law and carry no threat of condemnation or wrath.
We are free to rejoice and rest in Christ’s finished work for us because, “Now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6)