Whenever the topic of Torah observance comes up inevitably the same few verses come up. One of the most misunderstood is Romans 6:14:
for you are not under law but under grace.
Inevitably the phrase here is used as a way of showing that we do not have to follow the law because we now have grace. This is faulty on both a philosophical and exegetical level however we have been told for so long that it is true that now the Christian church just takes it as fact. Let’s go a little more in-depth on this phrase and see what we can learn from its immediate context and the greater context of scripture.
A Philosophical Standpoint
There are really 2 phrases we need to examine: “under the law” and “under grace”.
Let’s begin with the more traditional teaching of Romans 6:14:
“Under the law” is taken to mean “obligated to follow the law”
“Under grace” is taken to mean “not obligated to follow the law”
Now this seems obvious enough however there are some very important ramifications from this belief that contradict the rest of scripture not to mention the rest of the Apostolic Scriptures including the corpus of Paul’s writings.
What This Teaching Causes
The ramifications of using these definitions to define the terms are:
- That the faithful who came before Messiah were “under the law” and not “under grace”.
- That the people “under the law” had another way of salvation other than the grace of God.
That means to teach “under the law” as meaning “obligated to follow the law” is also to teach 2 possible ways of salvation:
- Through obedience to the law
- Through grace.
Now we all know that Paul outright rejects the possibility of multiple ways of salvation:
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
7 “BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN,
AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED.
8 “BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT.”
Pre and Post Sinai
We see in Paul’s example here that both Abraham (pre-Sinai) and David (post-Sinai) were justified “by grace through faith”.
That means that neither their actions nor their obedience to the law were what justified them.
Their actions and obedience to the law are only of benefit to them when done in conjunction with faith and the grace which they had received.
David, as we know, was a Jew (from the tribe of Judah), predating the time of Messiah and was “obligated to follow Torah” yet we see that David was “credited righteousness apart from his works!”
To be “credited righteousness apart from your works” is the very definition of grace.
Meaning that even for those in the days before Messiah the 1 and only way to be justified was through God’s grace, not through obedience to the law.
To clarify, what Paul is stating in Romans 4:1-8 is that no matter who the person is or what time in history they come from or which covenants they are a part of, no one has ever received justification before God except by His Grace.
That means that “obligation to follow the law” is not and cannot be contrary to God’s grace.
If that were what it meant then Paul would be contradicting himself and the rest of scripture. That, then, means to be “under the law” cannot be the same as “obligated to follow the law” since according to Romans 6:14 to be “under the law” is clearly contrary to being “under grace”.
Since Paul’s teachings make it clear to be “under the law” cannot mean to be “obligated to follow the law” we must now look into what Paul is actually saying when he says that a person is “under the law”.
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