What is the meaning of the phrase “Under the Law”?
In Romans 6:14, Paul wrote: “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
People use this one verse to say that God’s Law is no longer necessary in a believers life and that we do not have to obey it any longer. What does this verse really mean? The key with this verse, and all verses, is the context.
In the next two verses, Paul wrote, “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Rom. 6:15-16)
One definition of sin in the Bible is transgression of God’s Law (I John 3:4). To clarify the phrase “under the law”, we must go to the other letters of Paul.
In Galatians 4:4-5, Paul wrote: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (KJV).
If the phrase “under the law” in Romans 6:14 means obeying the Law, then Paul said in Galatians that Christ only came to redeem those that were obeying the Law. We know that is not true! Christ came to redeem all mankind (John 1:29, 3:16).
The phrase “under the law” means under the penalty of the Law. We were under the judgment of the Law because of our sins! Christ was born under the penalty of the law to free those who were under its penalty – which is all of us! All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
In Romans 2:13, Paul wrote: “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.”
Later in Romans, Paul wrote that the Law is holy, righteous and good (Romans 7:12-14). In Romans 8:7, Paul explains that the sinful mind is hostile to God’s Law and refuses to submit to it.
Being under grace means that we have a grace period to learn right from wrong. We are not under the law’s penalty, but we are not free from its requirements because grace is not a license to sin or transgress God’s Law.
Our goal and aim is to let the Holy Spirit guide us in obedience to the commandments of God. Since we are under grace, we are alive in Christ and enabled to obey the Law of Life (see also Deut. 30:11-15, I John 5:1-5).