One of the accusations made against Christianity by heretical groups such as the Hebrew Roots Movement is that Christians are lawless, and advocate lawlessness. This accusation comes as a result of a gross misrepresentation of the teachings of the apostle Paul.
Unfortunately, some Christian ministers have not helped the cause of Christianity by teaching doctrinally unsound things regarding Paul’s gospel of grace.
Did Paul teach that we are lawless now that we are under grace? Absolutely not! Consider the following from Paul:
And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. ~ 1 Corinthians 9:20-21
In the reference above Paul’s reveals his evangelistic strategy. Paul was an incredibly versed scholar of the Jewish scriptures with great understanding of the law of Moses. In his evangelistic approach to the Jews, Paul knew how to use the law to preach Christ to them. Paul was also very skilled in his communication with those outside the Jewish community, and could debate with the most intellectual among the Roman empire. In his strategy towards them Paul took a different evangelistic approach. He became as one without law, though he himself was not without law to God.
Paul declared himself as “being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.”
Though Paul believed that in Christ we we not under the law (the law of Moses), Paul did not believe, nor did he teach, that we are without law (lawless). To explain Paul’s position regarding the law, I want to draw your attention to the words of the apostle John.
Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth. ~ 1 John 2:7-8
The ESV says, Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. ~ 1 John 2:7-8
Allow me translate what John is saying here.
John is basically saying, “the new commandment is the old commandment, but it’s new in that we now have it in view of the light of the glory of God. The light of God has shinned in the person of Jesus Christ, overpowering the darkness. The commandment is new because we now understand it in a whole new the light, and we see it through an entirely new lens – the lens of the grace of God in Christ.
When Jesus came, the law of God was transferred from the administration of death and condemnation as the law of Moses, to the administration of life by the Spirit Christ Jesus.
This is why Jesus could quote the law and, say, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” ~ Matthew 5:27-28
Jesus wasn’t establishing a new law. He was citing the law of God in view of the spiritual life and light of God that now shines in our hearts through the gospel. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men.” ~ John 1:4
In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul expounds on the administration of the law under Moses, referring to it as the ministration of death and condemnation. He says this in contrast to the law in Christ being the ministration of the Spirit and righteousness. In the very next chapter Paul says, “Therefore seeing we have this ministry (the ministration of the Spirit and righteousness), as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
When the law of God, which is fulfilled by love, is obeyed from the heart we walk in the light, the Spirit, and righteousness of Christ, A man may refrain himself from physical adultery, and be guiltless of violating Moses’s law which says, “though shalt not commit adultery”, but if he has lust in his heart towards another woman, he has violated the law of God in his heart.
Only Jesus can bring to light the things that are in a man’s heart.
When God gave the law through Moses he appeared to the children of Israel in a thick cloud of darkness.
And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. ~ Exodus 20:21
These words the Lord spake unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice: and he added no more. And he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me. And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders… ~ Deuteronomy 5:22-24
The darkness was representative of the spiritual condition of the people to whom God was giving the law under Moses. The law, as it was administered through Old Covenant Israel, was for a nation in spiritual darkness, and not for a nation abiding in the light.
Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm. But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. ~ 1 Timothy 1:5-11
When Paul says the end of the commandment is charity (love) out of a pure heart and of a good conscience, and of unfeigned faith, he is describing the work of the law of God in our heart under grace. He says that this is what some “swerve” from, and and consequently turn aside to “vain jangling”. They do not understand the law of God “under Moses”, in contrast to “under Christ.”
The writer of Hebrews contrasts the two covenants (the law under Moses, and grace under Christ).
For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard intreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake:) But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. ~ Hebrews 12:18-29
Never once did Paul or any New Testament writer teach that we are without law to God as New Covenant believers. When Paul teaches that were are not under the law, he is specifically referring to the law of Moses, which was given to a nation in spiritual darkness. Under Moses, God’s law was catered for a nation that was under the power of the flesh to teach them God’s ways, and to lead them to Christ!
God’s law (God’s rule, authority, and dominion) has not been abolished, but the administration of it through death and condemnation has. The ministry of the law of God has changed hands from Moses to Jesus, and through Jesus God’s law rules the hearts of those who love him. They do not have to be told to not commit adultery because their aim is to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. Like their Master, their prayer is, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.” ~ Psalm 40:8; Hebrews 10:7-10
When Paul speaks of not being under the law he is not referring to being without law towards God, for Paul declares, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” ~ Romans 8:2
When Paul speaks of not being under the law, he is talking about not being under Moses as his mediator. He is talking about not being under the administration of commandments designed to corral sin in a nation filled with people in spiritual darkness.
Paul believed that Jesus is our mediator with God, and Jesus is he who searches the reins and hearts ~ Revelation 2:23. He is the one that can see the lust in our hearts and it is this same Jesus who gives us grace and power in our hearts to do his will and to please God.
Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son… ~ Colossians 1:12-13
Because we are no longer in darkness, but translated into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son, we produce fruit unto holiness through the power of the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law (Moses), but under grace (Christ). ~ Romans 6:14