Grace Does Not Exclude Law
by Douglas Hoff
Some things that Paul wrote are admittedly difficult. Even the apostle Peter said so (2 Peter , 16). Because they are hard to understand, people sometimes come to erroneous conclusions. A certain amount of mental industry is required to correctly interpret the scriptures. Those unwilling to put forth the effort may quickly accept what appears to be the obvious meaning of a verse or passage.
For centuries scholars have regarded the book of Romans as a remarkable literary composition. Its central theme of justification by faith is not terribly hard to grasp yet the wisdom of God plumbs great depths. As such, some things are easily twisted to mean other than what God intended.
Take for example Romans that says, For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. At first glance this verse seems to indicate Christians are not under law at all. Some would love to have it so. However, if there is no law then nothing is wrong. With no law to declare what is prohibited or what has been commanded sin could not exist for sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). If there is no sin, man could never be guilty and grace would be unnecessary for none would be lost. Clearly this is an incorrect view of the verse.
What then does it mean? No one can be saved by trying to obey law. Why? Because no human can ever perfectly keep the law. The first violation means one is subject to the penalty of the law. Thus, the only way a person could be saved under law would be perfect obedience. No one but Jesus could ever do this. Therefore, the basis for salvation is not law but grace. Thus Paul could say we are not under law but under grace.
Does this mean that mankind has been exempted from law entirely? No. In fact, grace requires law (Romans ). The grace of God that brought salvation teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus , 12). Since grace teaches us to deny sin and live righteously, law must be present. As we have already seen, sin cannot exist without law. Mother meaning for law is a rule of conduct. Without law one could not know what right living is.
So then, what does Paul mean by the first part of the verse sin shall not have dominion over you? If one were trying to obtain salvation on the grounds of keeping law he would always be frustrated. The person would always be conscious of the fact that he had broken the law for all have sinned (Romans ). Sin would be his constant oppressor barring him from the very thing he seeks. Thus, for one under law sin is the cruel taskmaster. However, Paul said we are under grace. Salvation can only be found through forgiveness of sins. Law cannot forgive transgressions. It only condemns. Since Gods grace extends forgiveness to the obedient, sin does not have dominion on them.
Today, Christians most certainly live under the law of Christ. Paul even said as much. Remember, there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1, 2). Christians must obey the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Their salvation arises not from a perfect keeping of that law but by grace though faith (Ephesians 2:8).
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