You Are Not Under the Law

Haven’t you noticed that on July 4th—or any other day—Americans don’t fly British flags or have King George III statues to celebrate and honor? We celebrate our freedom from the tyranny that once bound us. For Christians, that tyranny was the law. Many of you may be thinking, Of course, Zach. That’s Christianity 101. But let me take it a step further. God set us free from the Ten Commandments too. These ten are the law.

I’m not alone in believing this. It’s actually quite the debate among theologians, whether we are under the law or not and exactly what that means for believers. Many leading New Testament scholars agree that the purpose of the law has been accomplished and therefore believers are no longer bound by the Ten Commandments or any part of the Mosaic Law.

It seems clear to me that the New Testament teaches this, but before we look at that, I want to stress a few things. I’m not saying the Old Testament isn’t the inspired Word of God. It is, and we can learn from it. We can read the Old Testament law all while wearing polyester, eating bacon, and working on Saturday. Furthermore, in saying believers are free from the law, I’m not saying I’m “anti-law” or “antinomian.” I am saying I’m pro-Jesus and pro-context. I’m not hating on the law; instead, I’m just placing it in its proper context.

We cannot pick and choose from the law. We’re free from it. The only way to live free from sin and to live in the freedom Jesus bought us is to trust Jesus for everything, not just forgiveness. Jesus is better than anything the law offers us. And my goal is to point people to Jesus, not tablets of stone.

The book of Hebrews makes this clear: “For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God”(Hebrews 7:18-19 ESV). Hebrews 8:13 says, “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete.” This is why the New Covenant is described as better over and over again.

The law was only a “shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1). The good has come. His name is Jesus. We need to trust His sacrifice for our forgiveness, His resurrection life for our salvation, and His indwelling Spirit for our daily living. That’s the message of this book—that we can trust Jesus from start to finish.

It should be obvious by now, but I need to say this as well: Jesus will never lead a person to murder or steal or commit adultery or disrespect their parents or sin. But to say we still need the Ten Commandments as our guide is to disregard Christ in us, or to say the law is better than Jesus. We don’t need the law or the Ten Commandments for our morality. Jesus is our morality. We don’t need the law to guide us. Jesus in us is our guide. Jesus is enough to produce love, ethics, and morality in us and through us.

Yes, some of the commandments are repeated throughout the New Testament. But this just shows us that God’s character hasn’t changed. Nonetheless, we don’t find our source of morality in the Ten Commandments. That would mean working on the Sabbath is sin. Instead, we trust Christ and let Him be our source of morality. We let the New Covenant speak about what guides us and what love ultimately looks like when it’s expressed in our lives.

Paul gives us plenty of instructions on what love and trusting Jesus look like. There are behavior passages and commands found all throughout the New Testament. But the difference between those and Old Testament law is the foundation. Under the Old Covenant, we obeyed in order to get blessed, but under the New Covenant, we obey because of what Christ has done for us and by His power in us.

We forgive because God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). We love because God has loved us. We live holy because God has made us holy. Under the Old Covenant, obedience was the cause of God’s love and blessings. Under the New Covenant, obedience is the fruit of the love and blessing God has already poured out on us.

Jesus Fulfilled the Law

Jesus came to do for us what we could never do on our own. He came and fulfilled the perfect standards of the law. He did this to satisfy the requirements of the law so that He could bring in the New Covenant (see Romans 8:3–4). Galatians 4:4–5 tells us, “When the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (NIV ). Jesus was born under the law to fulfill it for us.

Romans 10:4 says, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Whether Paul means “end” or “goal,” the meaning is the same—the law points to Christ and the law finds its ending at Christ. This is why Jesus tells us that He didn’t come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). You will find no verse in the New Testament that commands believers to obey or fulfill the law of Moses. None. We don’t have to do something that Jesus has already done.

There’s a clear difference between law and grace. John 1:17 helps us see this: “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” As Galatians 3:24–25 says, the law led us to Christ, but now that we’ve been saved, we’re no longer under the supervision of the law. In Christ, we have “died to the law” and been “released from the law” (Romans 7:4-6 ESV). Did you know that the only way to bear fruit and live for God is apart from the law (see Romans 7:4 and Galatians 2:19)? Romans 6:14 makes it clear: “You are not under law but under grace.” Galatians 5:18 says the same thing: “You are not under the Law.”

In Christ, we are completely and totally free from the law. He does what the law could never do: “And through Him everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses” (Acts 13:39).

The law is not for believers. Paul makes this clear in 1 Timothy 1:8– 10: “Law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious” (NIV ). The law came in to show that everyone was a prisoner of sin and to silence us and make us conscious of sin (Romans 3:19–20; Galatians 3:19–24).

Being free from the law is not just about justification. Everyone agrees that the law doesn’t justify us, but we still think we need the law as our guide. Galatians 2:16 is clear that the law cannot justify anyone. But we can’t pick and choose what parts of the law we want to obey or how we apply it. It’s all or nothing. We’re either totally free from the law or we’re not.

The law was only a shadow; the true substance and reality is Christ (Colossians 2:17). To say that we’re only under part of the law (the Ten Commandments) is to do something no New Testament writers did. You can’t separate the Ten Commandments from the rest of the law. Many theologians try to separate the law into three categories, but the New Testament never does this.

James 2:10 says, “Whoever shall keep the whole Law, yet stumbles in one point, he is guilty of breaking all of it.” Paul echoes the same thought in Galatians 5:3 when he says that if someone wants to be circumcised, they’re obligated to keep the whole law.

The law “arouses sin” (Romans 7:5) and produces sinful desires in those who try to keep it (Romans 7:8). And “all who rely on observing the law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10 NIV ). Further, the law is a ministry of death. In 2 Corinthians 3:7, Paul says the Ten Commandments specifically is a ministry of death: “if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone.” Only the Ten Commandments were engraved on stone. Do you see the clear picture?

This is why it’s God’s grace, not law, that teaches us to live godly and say no to sin (Titus 2:12). Paul discovered that apart from the law, sin had no power over him. Let’s look at Romans 7:8 again: “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.” Coveting is one of the Ten Commandments. When Paul placed himself under the Ten, He didn’t covet less, but more. So living under the law actually leads us to sin more, not less. That’s why God’s answer is for us to trust in His Spirit to lead us, teach us, guide us, and inspire us to live godly.

Freedom from sin is found when we live under grace, not law. Only grace can produce in us and through us what the law never could. Those who disagree with me on this issue don’t disagree on the goal. The goal is the same—upright living and dependency on Christ. But the method is different. I’m saying the New Testament teaches that the method is God’s grace, not law. The method is trust in Jesus from start to finish: “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6). We are led by God’s Spirit, not the law (Romans 8:14; Galatians 5:18, 25).

Paul, after calling the Galatians foolish in Galatians 3, asks them a series of questions: “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (vv. 1–3). So he equates “human effort” with living by the law. Notice, this is about daily living. So we live the same way we began, by dependence on God’s Spirit. That’s the difference between the law and Jesus. Under the law, it’s all about you and your effort. But under the New Covenant, we live by God’s strength, His power, and His life in us. I broke my thumb my senior year of high school. When I went to the doctor, they took an x-ray of my thumb, which confirmed that it was broken. But the x-ray machine couldn’t fix my broken thumb; it could only reveal or expose the problem. The law is like an x-ray machine. It can show you what’s broken, but it has no power to fix you.

The law cannot save, nor can it grow or empower a person. The law is holy and good, but it cannot make a person holy or good, nor can it empower holiness. The law only condemns, kills, and reveals our need for something better. The law is a perfect standard that no one can attain. When we place ourselves under the law as our guide or our source of morality and godly living, then we are setting ourselves up for failure, condemnation, and death.

We love to sing about how amazing the grace of God was to save us. But why stop there? If grace is powerful enough to save us, then it’s powerful enough to teach us, guide us, and keep us from sinning.

Our focus doesn’t need to be on “keeping the rules” or “obeying the Ten Commandments.” Our focus needs to be on Jesus. Yes, there are still commands. First John 3:23 tells us what they are: “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another.” This is the same thing Jesus commanded us in John 13:34. This is why “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

His commandments are not Old Testament law, because if they were they’d be burdensome. We know that the law is a yoke no one can bear: “Why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10).

Living under grace doesn’t mean obedience doesn’t matter. It does! We’ve become obedient from the heart (Romans 6:17). The New Testament gives us plenty of instructions on how we are to live our lives. But they are all an expression of love. They come from our new heart and Christ in us. The New Testament calls this the “law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21). And law here, contrary to Old Testament law, is more like a power or influence. We are now guided internally by the influence and power of Christ, who is love. This is why Paul says he’s compelled by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14). And since our hearts have been filled with God’s love, it’s our desire to love (Romans 5:5).

You are free. You are free to trust Jesus for your behavior and morality. Your relationship with God is not law-based; it’s love-based.

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