What does it mean to be under Grace? (Part 1 – The Law)

Romans 6:14-15 tells us that we are under Grace and not Law, but what does this actually mean?

To properly answer this question we should really have a clear definition of what the words grace and law mean.

under Grace Romans 6
Does being under Grace throw out God’s Law?

The original use of the word law in common language means rule, regulation, ordinance and even jurisdiction of authority.

Laws are explicit rules or codes of behaviour that held a penalty/punishment if they were transgressed.

The word Grace is commonly held to mean the unmerited favour of God, however its etymology shows that Grace includes the following characteristics:

  • Mercy/pardon
  • Esteem/regard
  • Desire to bless

These characteristics can be summarised as the benevolence of God or His ‘Good will’ or good intentions towards us.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares YHWH, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

But Grace also means much more than this, Grace is a gift from God (Romans 6:23 and Ephesians 2: 8) which means that it is spiritual, divine and supernatural in essence, this is very important. We will explore why in a bit.

In Romans 6, Paul holds up Grace and Law as two choices, he says that we are not under law but under Grace, why? Was he saying that the Law was bad and that Grace was good? This is what many people believe but no this is not what he is saying, Paul himself testified that the Law is good (1 Tim 1:8, Romans 7:12, 14, 16) and kept God’s Law to the best of his ability however he recognised that in itself, it was insufficient to meet our needs.

 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, (Romans 5:20)

The giving of the law created a real-dilemma for mankind. God gave it to separate His people from the surrounding nations, to separate them (make them holy) so that He would be able to move around them and bless them.

The law was given for good reasons however it served an additional role which was to highlight any behaviour that was unpleasing to God.

So, the written Law had/has a function to increase or make manifest our sinful nature as shown through our inability to keep God’s commandments.

Every time we transgressed from a law we sinned, fell short of God’s standard for being separate onto Him (Holy).

The point here is separation, God wanted His people to be distinct from the surrounding nations. Their behaviour was the physical sign of this distinctiveness, whenever they failed to ‘behave correctly’ they would in essence make themselves like those outside of God’s Covenant.

So here we begin to see a relationship between law and sin.

 Law + carnal nature (being led by senses) = propensity to sin

 If we were perfect in that we could control our carnal nature instead of being controlled by it, even in the presence of the law we would not sin. However, in our fallen state we sin (transgress the law).

So the law shows us that it is in our nature to transgress it (sin).

This explains why sin increased with the introduction of the written law. This is not to say there was no sin prior to the Mosaic laws, people still sinned or trespassed against the Holiness of God outside of the written law however there was nothing which legally pointed to their action as sin.

Just to reiterate,  the law points to our sinfulness.

Transgression is another word for sin, when we transgress we go against a rule or law, it is a type of misbehaviour, we act in ways that go against God’s desire and will.

In our everyday lives we know that children tend to misbehave a lot, most of the time they misbehave because they don’t know how they should be acting but there is also a part of them which enjoys doing what they want to when they want to. By the time they reach adulthood we would expect them to be more able to regulate their own behaviours and lusts in accordance with the rules and regulations of their society.  We would expect them to govern and not be governed by their desires.

The same applies here.

Paul said that the law was our schoolmaster or tutor. Our instinctual nature as children is to misbehave (transgress) so the law was put in place to teach us how to behave until we reached a state where we no longer needed the tutor anymore.

When I looked up the word for schoolmaster in the Greek I found the following:

 A tutor i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.

The word here is paidagōgos (G3807) which is probably where we get the word pedagogy, the method and practice of teaching from.

So we see another function of the law, to teach.  Not only does it teach but, it is obliged to teach us.

Just like a teacher uses reward and punishment to in still a lesson, the law also uses reward (blessing onto life) and punishment (curse onto death) to teach us, it has no choice.

In other words, when we have done something wrong, misbehaved in some way (the law tells us) and we feel awful about it and want to change for the better (repent) we need to know how we should behave (the law also tells us this too).

Saying all this, the law wasn’t enough to save us from ourselves. In essence, it wouldn’t matter how old somebody would get, there would always be a need for the law to keep them in check.  There was no escaping it’s authority over them!

In this, the law wasn’t enough to stop us from being led astray by our carnal nature and continuously falling back into misbehaviour (transgression). So when a person died they would be judged still under the guardianship of the law and rewarded and punished under it’s authority.

Well, since we all sin and fall short of God’s standards of righteousness the end result would of course be punishment/death.

Not such a bad thing if it meant only really ‘bad’ sins like rape, murder, theft etc were punished.  But the scriptures make clear that the breaking of any law is treated the same, there is a need for atonement whether for big or small transressions.

If blood needs to be shed to pay for sin, then death is needed as the ultimate penalty for all sin.

Step in Grace.

This article is to be continued…


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