What’s This About Not Being Under the Law Anymore?

Title: What’s This About Not Being Under the Law Anymore?

Text: Romans 7:1-6

Time: September 24th, 2006

One of the most startling things the Apostle Paul says in the Book of Romans, as well as in the Book of Galatians and elsewhere in the New Testament, is that the Christian is no longer under the law. Paul said it in the last chapter, six, in verse 14-15, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means.” Paul says it in other places as well. But just what does it mean to say that a Christian is no longer under law, but under grace? It sounds strange to hear such a thing, it even sounds wrong at first. Christians are now not under the law? “Paul, have you gone too far this time? Have you taken a good thing too far?” You can imagine why this was one of the Apostle’s most misunderstood points. You can imagine why of all things, this got Paul into the most trouble, not just with Jews, but also with fellow Christians who didn’t at first understand what he was talking about. In fact, even today, if we simply ask a group of Christians at random, “Is a Christian still under the law?” we would probably get most of them telling us that yes indeed a Christian is still obligated to living under God’s law. In fact, most all Christians if asked the question would reply that Christians are still obligated to live as if under the law, even though the Apostle Paul clearly states that Christians are not any longer living under law. So this whole question needs to be addressed today, just as it was needed 2000 years ago. Paul was most frequently misunderstood on this point during the 1st century, and is still most frequently misunderstood on this same point today. You can see how some people might draw the false conclusion from Paul that because Christians are no longer under law that they can go out and sin and live any way they like. But again, this is another misunderstanding of the Apostle. He says over and over again, that this is not what he is teaching. What he tries to explain over and over again is that while Christians are not under the law and motivated by the threat of judgment and punishment to obey it, they are motivated by a new incentive — God’s Spirit. This new motivation for good and holy living is even better than the old incentive of obedience or else punishment. Paul is not giving people a license to sin, he’s giving them a new and different motivation for holy living. But most people are so horrified at the thought of being without the motivation of obedience to the law through threat of judgment and punishment, that they never hear Paul explain, as Paul Harvey likes to say, “the rest of the story.” In Romans 7:1-6, Paul tries to explain the rest of the story. Let’s hear what the Apostle says that can help us understand what he means when he tells us that we are no longer under law, but under grace. Romans 7:1-6 (read). Three important points are made.

First, having died to the law, we are free to live under another authority. Romans 7:1-3, “Do you not know, brothers – for I am speaking to men who know the law – that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.” Paul’s point for Christians is that just like the woman in the illustration, we used to be bound to a certain law and lived under its authority, but when a death occurs and changes things, we are free from the first authority to form another arrangement under another authority. When Christ died on the cross to the law, sin, and death, we died with him to these very same things as well through our identification with Christ by faith. We died to the law, because Christ fulfilled the law for us with his perfect and sinless life, and then died to it on the cross. When Jesus rose again to a new life, we rose again also with him to a new life. This new life frees us from the former obligation to the law that we lived with in our former life. Just as in the illustration with the woman and marriage, we are free after death to form a new covenant with God apart from the law; we now form a covenant with God through faith. Death in Christ separates us from our old life of law, sin, and death. Our resurrection with Christ brings us into our new life of grace and life in the Spirit. We can see this same principle at work in our own day with laws against being tried for the same crime twice and laws that prohibit being punished twice for an offense. There are actually laws on the books today that prohibit an executed prisoner from being executed more than once — if the first execution isn’t successful. I’ve heard of prisoners who were executed yet somehow lived through the ordeal. What happens? They are let free. According to the law, they were executed and died. If they somehow miraculously live, they are considered by the law free. That’s something like what happens to us when we become a Christian and what our baptism symbolizes. On the cross, Christ died for us and we died with Christ in our identification with Christ by faith. God the Father considers us dead to the law, sin, and death, because we died with Christ. Having died, we are now free from the law’s authority and free to live under a new authority, God’s Spirit. We live good and holy lives in obedience to God by the power, motivation, and inspiration of the Holy Spirit now, not under obligation to the law, and certainly not now out of fear of judgment and punishment. Paul explains why the old motivation of the law didn’t work.

Second, the old way of the law provoked our sinful desires to serve sin. Romans 7:4-5, “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.” Ever wonder why you have a natural inclination to rebel against all authority? Ever wonder why children find it easier to disobey than obey their parents? Ever wonder why breaking rules is easier than keeping rules. It’s because we are born with the inherited original sin and sin nature of Adam. We come into the world with a rebellious spirit. If someone tells us not to do something there is some strange, weird desire within us to do just that thing. We don’t like to be told what to do, and if someone tells us what to do, we resent it, and if we can, we will do what they told us not to do just to show them what we think of being told what to do. Now if we get rebellious when other people tell us what to do, it is all the worse when God tells us what to do. We rebel against God. When we learn the laws of God we naturally resist them and rebel against them. God gives us the laws to show us how to live but we are too busy rebelling against them and disobeying them to follow them. Yes, we may make some kind of effort at obedience, but even when we obey on the outside, we often find ourselves resenting it on the inside. What that really shows is that deep down we really don’t want to obey God’s laws, and if we could get out of obeying them we would. This is all documented human nature — it’s basic human psychology, it’s what we all are like even if we don’t like to admit it. The law was given by God to give us instructions for life and if we could ever obey them we would have a better life, but these very instructions provoked within us rebellion and disobedience, so that far from giving us a better life, the reaction we have to the law drives us further into the darkness of sin and a worse life. It’s not because the law is bad, it’s because we are bad and we react rebelliously against the good law resulting in a bad life for us. We might think of it as a volatile mix producing a bad chemical reaction. Mixing God’s law with human original sin produces spiritual rebellion, which leads to death. The Apostle Paul goes on in the next section of chapter seven to explain this is greater detail; we’ll get to that next week. But for now, we can know that what he is saying is true, because we’ve all experienced it. We know how it feels to rebel against the authority of the law; we know what it’s like to get stubborn and disobedient, because we’ve lived it many, many times in life. Paul is not talking theory, he’s speaking fact, and we all know it to be true from personal experience. But we don’t have to operate under that old way any longer because of Jesus Christ. Paul explains our new motivation for serving God.

Third, The new way of the Spirit inspires us to serve God in a new way. Romans 7:6, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” If we died with Christ to the law, then the law no longer has any authority over us. If the law no longer has any authority over us, it no longer threatens us with judgment, punishment, and death. If it can’t any longer threaten us, we are no longer threatened by it. If we are no longer threatened by the law any more, we have no need of rebelling against it. If there is no longer any need to rebel against the law, then why do it? The whole rebellious motivation is gone. This is amazing psychology. Under the old system of law, if we didn’t perform to the law’s standards we were sinners facing judgment and punishment. We were under pressure to obey and conform perfectly to the law under threat of judgment and punishment. And what an awful punishment it was – eternal condemnation and separation from God in hell. All of this put pressure upon us to perform. How did we react to this pressure? We rebelled against it with our original sinful nature by sinning. But now, because we died with Christ to the law, we are set free from the pressure of performing to the standards of the law. We are set free from the fear of judgment and condemnation. We are set free from the volatile mix of law and natural sinful rebellion. Now we can walk freely in grace through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And as a result, as we walk freely under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we will actually live a more holy life than under the old law system! “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, not in the old way of the written code,” Romans 7:6. We can serve God freely without being under the pressure of the law, without being “under the gun” so to speak. We can freely serve God under inspiration of the Spirit, and as a result we can experience a new life. Now this clears up a lot of the confusion that people have with Paul saying, “Christians are no longer under the law.” It shows that Christians have a new motivation for serving God, for being good and holy. It doesn’t excuse Christians from serving God and living good and holy lives, it just gives them a better motivation. A Christian is really free now to really serve God in the right way, not out of fear by out of faith, not out of law, but out of love. If people could fully grasp what Paul is explaining it would revolutionize their lives. I think a lot of Christians are trying to live the new life of Christ through the methods of the old life of law. I think a lot of Christians are tying to serve God from the old motivation instead of the new motivation. I think that’s why a lot of Christians are frustrated by their inability to resist sin and walk in holiness. But if we would all learn to live the new life in Christ from the new motivation of the Spirit, we’d be a lot more successful at it. Have you been trying to live the new life in the old way? If so, why not decide today that from now on you are going to live the new life in the new way!

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