Not Under Law but Under Grace

This past Sunday Pastor Michael preached on Romans 6:12-23, a sermon entitled, “Not Under Law but Under Grace.” Here’s the full audio of the sermon:

Here’s a written excerpt:

In our Scripture text this morning Paul affirms three things:
we are not under Law,
we are under grace—
yet this means we are no longer under sin.

The second of these we can understand, even if we have a hard time fully appreciating it: “we are under grace,” forgiven and accepted by God not because of who we are or anything we do or don’t do. It’s God’s favour entirely undeserved, completely unexpected. We are under grace.

But how does this fit in with the other two things Paul affirms: that we are not under Law, and that we are no longer under sin? How do we make sense of these three things all together?

When Paul says that “we are not under law,” he doesn’t mean just any law. He doesn’t mean “we are not under Roman law,” or even “we are not under any law at all.” He means “we are not under the Law of Moses.”

This is really important to understand if we want to make sense of what Paul says not only here but through much of Romans and even his other letters. For Paul, “the Law” is the Torah, the Law God gave through Moses to the ancient people of Israel. It is the Ten Commandments given on Mount Sinai, and all the other roughly 600 commandments that expanded and applied those Top Ten.

Being “under the Law,” or “under Torah,” then, was the way the Jewish people spoke of being bound to the covenant God made through Moses with ancient Israel.

Being “under the Law” meant that they were to obey all those commands found in our books of Exodus through Deuteronomy. But this was not only about keeping the commandments; this was even more about maintaining their identity as God’s people. Their very identity was defined by the Law of Moses, and especially by certain specific commandments that marked them off as God’s chosen people in contrast to all the other peoples around them: circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and the kosher food laws.

So, being “under the Law” was a pretty big deal for Jews such as Paul. It not only prescribed how they were to live, it defined who they were as God’s people.

When Paul says “we are not under Law,” then, this is no small thing. He’s saying God’s people are no longer defined by the Law of Moses. He’s saying the Law of Moses is no longer the first place God’s people look to determine how we are supposed to live. Put another way, the Old Testament Law is neither covenant nor command for God’s people in Christ. We are not under the Law.

“But wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “Isn’t the Old Testament still Scripture for us? Didn’t Jesus say he came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets but to fulfill them? And if we’re not bound by the Old Testament Law, how do we know what sin is and what a righteous life looks like?”

Good questions. If any of those questions come to your mind, it means you’re tracking right along with what Paul is saying here. Just hang on, though, we’re getting there.

So, 1) “we are not under Law.” We are not bound to obey the Old Testament Law. We are not defined by the Old Testament Law. The Law of Moses is neither covenant nor command for us.

Instead, 2) “we are under grace.” We are forgiven and accepted by God not because of who we are or anything we do or don’t do. It’s God’s favour entirely undeserved, completely unexpected.

But don’t forget, there’s a third thing Paul affirms here in Romans 6:
we are not under Law,
we are under grace—
yet this means we are no longer under sin.

How exactly does this work?

We are not under the Law of Moses, but this doesn’t mean we are lawless, left without any guidance for how to live. As Paul puts it here in Romans 6:17, we have been entrusted with a “form of teaching” that we “obey from the heart.” What is this teaching?

This teaching is what Paul calls “the law of Christ.” Paul puts this most clearly in 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, where he talks about his ministry to Jews and Gentiles:

To those under the Law [Jews] I became as one under the Law (though I myself am not under the Law) so that I might win those under the Law. To those outside the Law [Gentiles] I became as one outside the Law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under the Law of Christ) so that I might win those outside the Law.

According to Paul, then, we are not under the Law of Moses but rather we are under the Law of Christ. And what is this Law of Christ? To put it simply, the Law of Christ is the life and teachings of Jesus; it is the pattern of Jesus’ death and resurrection; it is the law of love.

A few chapters down the road in Romans Paul talks about this. In Romans 13 he says:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the Law. (13:8-10)

In this Paul is directly following the teaching and example of Jesus. The Law of Moses is fulfilled in love. When we love others in the way of Jesus, we are fulfilling the divine intention, the deeper purpose, of the Old Testament Law.

Or, to put it another way, this “Law of Christ” is about bearing one another’s burdens, just as Christ did for us. That’s exactly how Paul puts it in Galatians 6: “Bear one another’s burdens,” he says, “and in this way fulfill the Law of Christ” (6:2).

Or, to put this yet another way, this “Law of Christ” is what Paul in Romans 8 calls “the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (8:2). It is the Spirit of Christ at work in our hearts and minds and lives, shaping us from the inside out to be more like Jesus. It is God’s Spirit prompting us to put off greed, lust, pride, selfishness, and the like, and instead producing in us the character of Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Last week I talked about this, how God has done something truly radical, truly momentous, even earth-shattering in Jesus: God has put to death a whole way of being human in the world, our old humanity, and God has brought to life a new way of being human in the world, a brand new humanity.

This new humanity, this new way of being human, is the way of Jesus. It is the difficult way of death and resurrection. It is the narrow way of selfless love bringing life for all.

All this is the “form of teaching” that Paul says in Romans 6:17 we “obey from the heart.” It is this “Law of Christ,” the life and teaching of Jesus, Jesus’ way of love that fulfills the Law, the Spirit’s way of shaping us into the likeness of the crucified and resurrected Jesus.

And this is how Paul can say that we are no longer under sin even though we are truly not under Moses’ Law and we are truly under God’s grace: because by God’s grace Jesus summons us to a new way of being human in the world, a way of being human that is prompted by God’s Spirit and marked by love, and this way of being human fulfills all that God desires for us to be and to do.

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