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Not Under the Law, but Under Grace

Law of God, Law of Moses, Moses Law, Law of Moses, Under the Law

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Romans 6:14 tells us “you are not under the law, but under grace.”  Galatians 5:18 also says believers are “not under the Law”.  Many who respect the Law have explained that this means believers were not under the penalty of the Law.  However, Galatians 4:4 uses the same phrase.  If we apply this interpretation consistently we must believe that Christ was “born under the penalty of the Law”.

That does not make sense.  Messiah was not born with a judgment against Him.  Perhaps we should look at this again.


What is the Law?  Among other things, the Law is a covenant.  It was confirmed with Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy is basically a speech that Moses gave to Israel explaining the Law.  


These are the words of the covenant which the LORD commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He made with them in Horeb.” (Deu 29:1, see also Deu 1:1-3, 5).


Moses finished speaking all these words to all Israel,  46 and He said to them: "Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe––all the words of this law.” (Deu 32:45-46). 


The foundational terms of this law/covenant are the book of Deuteronomy.  Deuteronomy assumed the existence of the other books of Moses.  “…Moses spoke to the children of Israel according to all that the LORD had given him as commandments to them,” (Deu 1:3d).  After Moses presentation, the Law was confirmed as a covenant (Deu 29:9, 14-15).  The document Moses wrote, consisting basically of Deuteronomy, was then placed next to the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord.  It was a package deal under which Israel would live.


So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished,  25 that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD, saying:  26 "Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there as a witness against you”’ (Deu 31:24-26). 


The covenant of the Lord was in the ark.  The additional covenant Moses mediated between God and Israel, the Law, was kept outside the ark.  Two main differences between these covenants are that the Law established the priesthood of Levi and central worship at the temple/tabernacle.  Neither Levi nor the tabernacle is mentioned in the terms of the Covenant of the Lord documented in Exodus 20-23 and confirmed in Exodus 24:1-8.  The Law was added and the place of Levi and the tabernacle were added with it. 


The priesthood of Levi was an integral part of the Law.  Hebrews 7:11 is often translated to indicate that Israel received the law “under” the Levitical priesthood, (which did not exist in Exodus 24).  This is true, but a closer examination of the original text indicates more than that.  The Greek behind ‘under’ is ‘epi’ (Str. 1909).  The primary meaning is really ‘upon’ or ‘on’.  The Law was based ON the existence of Levi.  A number of translations reflect this such as: “Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law)…” (NASB, see also NIV, Philips, Alford or EGNT).  In fact, the Law without Levi is like a three legged horse.  It just can’t function as intended.


Messiah taught a different way than Israel had understood, emphasizing the full intent of the Creator.  The full intent requires we seek the spirit of, and principle behind the letter of Law.  Not only do we not murder, we walk in the spirit and do not participate even in character assassination. (Mat 5:21-22)  Not only are we faithful to our mates, we don’t even think about alternatives (Mat 5:27-28).  The rest of Matthew 5 explains additional aspects of the higher standard expected of the students of Messiah.  The Law did not instruct most of these things.  Other areas of the New Testament also add insight.  Some of the Law actually gets in the way of the full intent.


The Law set up Levi to be priests and represent the Creator (Num 3:12, 41, 1:53, 27:21, Deu 17:8-9).  The full intent is that we all be children of the Father and represent Him (Ex 19:5-6, Mat 5:44-48, I Pet 1:15).  The Law makes the temple the dwelling place of God (Deu 12:5, 16:16).  The full intent is that God lives in us and our conduct reflects that.  We act as He would act (John 14:23, Gal 2:20, I Cor 3:16).  The Law allowed for hard heartedness in Israel (Mat 19:8).  The full intent is that we are merciful and forgiving (Luke 6:36-37, Mat 23:23).  The Law assumed disobedience.  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.” (Rom 3:19 see also Lev 4-7, Num 28-29, Jer 7:22-23)  The Law assumed that everyone would fall short.  As a result, regular sacrifices were required in the Law.


Now the Creator calls on all to repent and walk in His ways and be His children (Acts 17:30, Mat 5:44-48, I John 3:2-3).  His ways have not changed (Mal 3:6).  It was not the intent of the Creator that Israel be separated from Him by Levi.  Some other stipulations of the Law are also not exactly what the Creator wanted.  However, Israel couldn’t be trusted to walk in His ways.  The Law established Levi to teach and judge Israel.  It also provided a means of forgiveness.  His original covenant with Israel in Exodus 20-23 assumed obedience.  Forgiveness was not built in.


The Levites judged the people according to the Law (Deu 17:8-9).  Israel brought their sacrifices to atone for sin to the sons of Aaron (Lev 4-7).  Those who accept Jesus as Messiah do not receive forgiveness that way.  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph 1:7). 


Believers recognize a different priesthood and live to a higher standard.  The administration has certainly changed.  For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.” (Heb 7:12, notice also vs. 17-18)  Was the Law changed to handle the replacement of Levi?  Remember, the Law is a covenant.  Covenants cannot be amended or annulled. “Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.” (Gal 3:15)  In fact the Law cannot be changed.  “…till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law…” (Mat 5:18bc). 


What is law must change, but the Law cannot be changed.  So what happens?  by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.” (Heb 7:22)  Is this an improved covenant or a different covenant?  But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.  7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second” (Heb 8:6-7).  


To solve the problem, a second covenant is established.  The Law and the New Covenant are mutually exclusive even though many of the terms are identical.  If one is under the Law, one is judged by the priest’s of Levi.  Sin is cleansed with animal sacrifices.  The believer in Messiah does not look to Levi or the forgiveness available through them.  The believer is dependent on the incredible grace and mercy of the Father and Messiah. 


It is the fact that the Law is a covenant and cannot be changed that led the Creator to establish a new covenant.  The Law of Moses did not eliminate sin; only atone for it.  Note that Hebrews affirms that the Law, based on Levi was unprofitable.  The problem was that it couldn’t cause perfection in those attempting to live by it.  For on the one hand there is an annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness,  19 for the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.”  (Heb 7:18-19) 


Drawing Near


Messiah made something better.   A better hope lets us draw near to God.  Do our sins no longer separate us?  How do we draw near?   Because this [is] the covenant which I will covenant with the house of Israel after those days, says [the] Lord, giving my laws into their mind, also upon their hearts I will inscribe them; and I will be to them for God, and they shall be to me for people.  (Heb 8:10 EGNT) 


If His laws are in our heart, by nature we do them. (Rom 2:14-15, Deu 8:2)  What is in a person’s heart can be discerned by what they do.  With the more perfect example and teaching of Messiah the Creator intends to place His Laws in the minds of true believers, so they can be written on their heart.  It would be their nature to uphold their part of the New Covenant bargain. 


Galatians also tells us Messiah came to redeem those who were under the Law (4:4-5).  Instead of being slaves (Lev 25:42) we can become sons, given the spirit of Christ and adopted by the Father.  What is entailed in having the spirit of Christ and what is it to be a son of the Father?


Adoption in Paul’s Greco-Roman world is an interesting study.  The purpose was not like today, mainly to provide a home for orphans.  The relationship was born out of more of a mentor relationship, on steroids, so to speak.  Often the adoptee was a full-grown adult.  Upon adoption the son left his old life for a completely new one.  Any debts he had were cancelled, as the original person no longer existed.  The new son was then expected to totally embrace the new father and his way of life.  (See, Adoption as Sons of God, by James Scott).  Overall that sounds like: “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts: and I will be their God and they shall be My people.” (Jer 31:33). 


If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.” (John 8:39b)  Even so, to be children of the Father we must do the works of the Father.  Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.” (Deu 8:6)  The ways, nature and the works of the Father are the keeping of His commandments, specifically the Ten Commandments.  Isn’t that the same as the Law?  Hold that thought.


He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked” (I John 2:6).  Those who claim their life is in Christ should act like Messiah, intent on following the example of Messiah and walking in the ways of the Father.  Messiah kept the law that applied, and kept and taught the full intent of His Father. 


It is the adopted son that will love his Father and will carefully study His conduct and seek to emulate it in all aspects.  In this way the Creator places His Laws in the mind of the believer.  They are written on the heart by the believers own will, by His own hand. “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I John 3:3).  Obedience is assumed.


Does the New Covenant then reestablish the Law that was weak and unprofitable?  If we read carefully we see that the Creator writes His Laws in the minds and hearts of those who grasp the New Covenant.  Remember, we are to keep His commandments, the Ten Commandments to walk in His ways (Deu 8:6).  Consider as well that Psalms equates His Law with His Covenant, which is also the Ten Commandments.  They did not keep the covenant of God; They refused to walk in His law” (Ps 78:10, see also Hos 8:1).  Hebrew speakers use repetition as a form of emphasis and clarification.  They don’t say the same thing over again to do this, but approach it from a different angle.  In this case they tell us that for all practical purposes His law and His Covenant are the same thing. 


So, if His Laws are written in our heart, it is not the Law that is being reestablished, but specifically the Ten Commandments, His Covenant, which is the covenant given directly by the Creator (Ex 20) and confirmed in Exodus 24.  His Law, His covenant, is not the covenant confirmed in Deuteronomy 29-31, but the law established in Exodus 20-23 that predated The Law.


Messiah is reestablishing the Law that was inside the ark, not the one that was placed outside the ark.  The instruction of this covenant is 100% workable for today except that believers do not have civil authority.  We can, however, bind ourselves to live by the terms of His covenant as documented in Exodus 20-23.  There is no need for Levi or the temple, so we don’t have to guess how to compensate for their loss.


We do need to understand that the Creator packed a lot into this instruction.  A gloss read is insufficient.  One must dig for the intent and seek the interlinking connections that reveal the full intent of the mind of the Creator.


His Laws embody His Ways


From the beginning the Creator intended to make us in His image and His likeness (Gen 1:26).  What is important about the Creator?  Is it His physical shape or the way He thinks?  It may well be that we look like He does, but of more importance is how He thinks.  That is what determines what kind of individual He is, how He conducts Himself and how He relates to others.  Having His children think like He thinks has always been His goal.


Messiah is the image of the Father.  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col 1:15 NASB).  Messiah embodies the full character and approach of the Father.  Believers are also renewed toward that end.  and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col 3:10).  This knowledge is not just academic, but indicates the understanding that allows one to escape the corrupting influences of the world (II Pet 2:20). 


For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” (Rom 8:13-14)   Seeking after physical things must take a back seat.  Both the body and the mind need to be purified to overcome the distractions and enticements of the flesh.  Improvement of the spirit and mentality in accord with the example of Messiah and the ways of the Creator must be the driving factor in someone’s life.  We must be focused on how the mind of God thinks, so we can conduct ourselves accordingly. 


If we are not doing that we are not the son of the Father.  "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)  Repentance sounds simple enough.   How easy is it?


Jas 1:14-15 “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.  15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full–grown, brings forth death. 


Our own lusts or desires are the root cause of sin.  The individual sin is a problem, but not really the problem.  Our insistence on looking to our self to take care of our self is the issue.  We allow ourselves to take what our Creator has not given us.  Perhaps it’s something we just like to do or something we want to have that is not good for us.  Perhaps we just think no one will know.  Repentance requires the release of our mindset that trusts me and replaces it with a mind that trusts and fears the Creator.


And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him” (Acts 5:32).  Not only must one say they will change, but they must evidence the change in their actions (Acts 26:20).  II Peter 1:4 refers to believers as having the divine nature .  This is consistent with the intention of adoption and sons. 


Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded.” (Jas 4:8) “And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (I John 3:3)  The adopted son of God is to become the image and likeness of Him.  We must carefully consider His instruction to understand the principle behind it and live according to the principle, not just the surface reading of the instruction.  His covenant of Exodus 20-23 is the foundation where one should start.  That is His way summarized.  Believers should examine this instruction very carefully.  All other instruction of scripture should be considered in light of this foundation and Messiah’s words.  A gloss read is insufficient.  We trust that His way is best for us and we put no confidence in our own ability to determine what is best. 


There is no substitute for personal study.  Also understand that after reading a certain meaning into scripture over time; we may no longer be able to read what the scripture actually says.  Yes, we do this!


If we neglect some aspect of His ways out of ignorance are we still obedient?  Sin in ignorance is still sin.  We must diligently seek better understanding.  The Law is a tool we can use.  It is available for consultation as the child guardian was available even after the child reached legal age (Gal 3:24-25, See also: “Novum Testamentum”, vol 29, 1987, “Paidagogos: The Social Setting”, by N.H.Young p174)


Ancient Israel did not have the heart to obey.  They were given physical reminders in the Law to try to keep them within a reasonable range of acceptable conduct (Gal 3:23).  They had the temple, their linage from the patriarchs, Jerusalem, the priesthood of Levi and the ark of the covenant.  They wore certain clothing and wrote the commandments on their doorposts.  Some carried the commandments around in a little container fastened between their eyes.  These are all physical things designed to remind them to live to a high standard.  Instead they ended up over emphasizing these things, putting their confidence in these fleshly things that don’t necessarily improve the mentality and spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.” (Rom 8:5) 


We need to focus on improving how we think, our values, in accord with the mind of the Creator and understand His full intent.  Recognize that His way is far superior to our own.  Serve His way with the mind and the deeds of the body will follow.


The Law had some aspects that caused a separation from the Creator.  He now expects us to set aside our ways to walk in His.  Separation, hardheartedness and disobedience are no longer tolerated.  We are to be caring for one another as He cared for us, selflessly.  The believer determines to change, then rids himself of unacceptable conduct.  He/she walks in the ways of the Creator and the old way is forgiven.  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light … the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7)


Messiah was born under the Law.  He kept it and also the higher way of His Father.  Most people today have not even tried to keep the Law.  The penalty for sin must still be paid.  Messiah will graciously pay our debt if we repent of our flesh-pampering self-centered way, and walk selflessly according to His standard. 


The Law contains valuable information detailing the ways of the Creator.  It is unlikely we could fully purify our hearts (Jas 4:8) without the instruction of the Law.  We would not have a sufficient picture of what to change, how to repent. 


Messiah taught us to seek that which was from the beginning.  The administration of Levi was not from the beginning.  The Creator zeros in on the Ten Commandments, His covenant, (Deu 4:12-13) as the foundation of His ways (Deu 8:6).  His Covenant is forever (Ps 111:9). 


The Law is important in that it clarifies many principles and intentions of His covenant.  His covenant is how He thinks.  It must be our nature, i.e. spirit, to walk according to His spirit in His way, obeying His covenant, His Laws, (Ps 78:10, Heb 8:10) according to the full intent and spirit. This requires faith and vigilance.  He will reward those who diligently seek Him. (Heb 11:6)


So believers in Jesus Christ do not look to the Law as the ultimate authority.  They look to Messiah.  He is incredibly gracious toward those who trust in Him.  What does that mean?


Under Grace


Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.  21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,  22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe…” (Rom 3:20-22) 


By law we understand what unacceptable conduct is.  The Creator’s righteousness is apparent and documented in the Law and the Prophets (Jer 31:34, Ps 145:8, Ex 33:19) even though it is not a function of the Law.  His largess and grace comes to all who believe in Messiah.  It is a matter of faith and trust.


The Hebrew concept of faith and trust was not a faith that no matter how derelict I am Messiah will make it right.  Rather faith was evidenced in ones conduct.  When one had faith he was able to do things he otherwise would be afraid to do.  Specifically, he no longer needed to depend on his own cunning to survive in this world.  He could live selflessly like Messiah did and trust that Messiah would keep him whole and sound.


The grace of Messiah and the Father is intended to produce the same grace in us.  He is caring and merciful to us.  We are to be caring and merciful toward others.  He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:6)


Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy,  2 fulfill my joy by being like–minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Phil 2:1-5)


Our faith allows us to trust our Creator to live as He expects us to live.  He expects us to live as He would live, representative of Him, as a son.  Believers have a Master who looks after them.  They do not need to be very careful for themselves.


but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (II Pet 3:18)


Those who receive His grace are expected to expand, grow, that grace in themselves.  This is done by seeking better understanding of Messiah and His example and exercising kindness and grace toward others.  The best way to learn is by a combination of accepting instruction from others and doing.  Seek the instruction of Messiah and follow His example in your conduct.


I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.” (Rom 6:19)


The grace we receive should redirect our conduct to support the cause of our Creator and Savior.  He wants us to live according to His example, which was the way of the Father.  Grace received is expected to make a change in our approach to life.  We pass that grace on to others by how we live in relation to others.


But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” (I Cor 15:10)


The grace that Paul received would have been in vain had he not correctly responded.  He did respond.  He worked harder than anyone in the gospel, yet he knew this was not because he was special.  It was due to the grace that was in him, Messiah living in him.  If we don’t respond to Messiah’s grace by being gracious to others Messiah’s grace is given in vain, pointless.  It does not accomplish what it is expected to accomplish.


For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you.” (II Cor 1:12)


The guide for our conduct is the example of grace exhibited through Messiah.  He conducted Himself according to the direction of the Father living simply and honestly.  His example then becomes our example. 


Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” (Heb 12:28)


A believer’s future is assured.  They don’t need to protect themselves, but they can extend grace, kindness and mercy to others.  In this they serve their Creator with reverence as He expects.


Grace is not a one way street.  It is not something that believers only receive so they can be clean.  It is given to those that obey (I John 1:7, Acts 5:32) so they can show the way of the Creator to others.  Messiah extends His life on this earth through those who trust Him.  That extension is intended to be 100% faithful to the example Messiah set.  If we are to become sons we are expected to fully repudiate our old life and live according to the values of our new Father.  His way is defined by His covenant.  If you haven’t already done so, we recommend you read ‘Pondering the Law of God.