This question—Are we still under the law?—is often asked in an effort to diminish the law of God in the life of the Christian. It is said, “Since we are not under law but under grace, we do not need to keep the Ten Commandments any longer.”
But is this a valid point?
The Bible certainly does say that we are not under law, but does that imply that we are free from the obligation to obey it? The passage is found in Romans 6:14, 15.
“Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
How easily we could prevent confusion if we accepted exactly what the Bible says. Paul gives his own explanation of this statement. After stating that we are not under the law but under grace, he asks, “What then?” This simply means, “How are we to understand this?”
Notice his answer. In anticipation that some will construe his words to mean that you can break the law because you are under grace, he says, “Shall we sin (break the law) because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” In the strongest possible language, Paul states that being under grace does not give a license to break the law. Yet this is what millions believe today, ignoring or missing Paul’s point.
If being under grace does not exempt us from keeping the law, then what does Paul mean by saying that Christians are not under the law? He gives that answer in Romans 3:19:
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.”
Here Paul equates being under the law with being “guilty before God.” In other words, those who are under the law are guilty of breaking it and are under the condemnation of it. This is why Christians are not under it. They are not breaking it—not guilty and condemned by it. Therefore, they are not under it but, rather, are under the power of grace instead. Later in his argument, Paul points out that the power of grace is greater than the power of sin. This is why he states so emphatically,
“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
Grace overrules the authority of sin, giving power to obey God’s law. This is the effective reason that we are not under the law’s guilt and condemnation and also why Paul states that we will not continue to sin.
Suppose a murderer has been sentenced to death in the electric chair. Waiting for the execution, the man would be “under the law” in every sense of the word—under the guilt, under the condemnation, and under the sentence of death. The governor reviews the condemned man’s case and, just before the execution date, gives him a full pardon. Now the man is no longer under the law but under grace. The law no longer condemns him. He is considered justified as far as the charges of the law are concerned. He is free to walk out of the prison and no policeman can lay hands on him.
But now that he is under grace and no longer under the law, can we say that he is free to break the law? Indeed not! Yet he has another reason to keep the law this time—as a loving response to the pardon. In gratitude, he will be careful to remember and honor the law of the state that granted him grace.
Is that what the Bible says about pardoned sinners? “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). Here is the answer to the entire problem! Paul asks if the law is nullified for us just because we have had faith in Christ’s saving grace. His answer is that the law is established and re-enforced in the life of a grace-saved Christian.
The truth of this is so simple, but the faulty reasoning of those who try to diminish obedience makes it necessary to press this point a bit further.
Have you ever been stopped by a police officer for exceeding the speed limit? It is an embarrassing experience, especially if you know you are guilty. But suppose you really were hurrying to meet a valid emergency, and you pour out your convincing explanation to the officer as he writes your ticket. Slowly he folds the ticket and tears it up, and then says, “All right, I’m going to pardon you this time, but ...” Now what do you think he means by that word "but"? Surely he means, “… but I don't want to ever catch you speeding again.” Does this pardon (grace) open the way for you to disobey the law? On the contrary, it adds compelling urgency to your decision not to disobey the law again.
Why, then, should any true Christian try to rationalize his way out of obeying the law of God? “If you love Me,” Jesus said, “keep My commandments” (John 14:15).