But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
Being “not under the law” does not mean that Christians don’t need to be obedient to the moral law. Our freedom in Christ has not given us a licence to sin. To put it differently: Christ’s blood has not given us a cover under which we can continue in sin.
While it is true that those Christians today, who argue against having anything to do with the moral law of God, have no intention to abuse Christian liberty1 (compare Romans 8:21; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 5:1, 13-26; James 1:25; 2:8-12; 1 Peter 2:16.)—the same “not under law” argument will be used by people who profess to be Christians but in reality are not.
Christians do not excuse their sins by arguing that since they are “not under law”, they are therefore free to be immoral (e.g. 2 Peter 2:18-19).
The apostle Paul directly addressed the argument for lawlessness in Romans chapter 6. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid…” (v1-2). He explains that Christians have been baptised into Christ’s death (as was symbolised by their being baptised with water) – or, as he says a few verses later, they have been crucified with Christ (v.6; see also Galatians 2:20).
This being true of the true Christian, they should think and act accordingly. By taking seriously what was accomplished at their baptism with Christ, they should now reckon their old sinful nature as having already been mortified and put away in burial with Christ, as it were, in the tomb.
Moreover, they know that a new nature has been bestowed upon them by the Holy Spirit—so that they are now, in real life, as born-again Christians, resurrected with Christ. And it is in this regenerate state that they “should walk in newness of life” (v.4-14). And walk in the Spirit, etc.
As these core truths of Christianity were not enough to abolish the antinomianism of his day, Paul immediately brings in another consideration. So, who will you serve and obey, Christian—God or your sinful lusts?
“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? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (v.15-18).
Do not misunderstand: I mention these verses of Paul, not because I have any suspicion of immorality in those Christians who argue against the Christian learning and keeping the moral law, but because of what they do with these verses.
They say, “See? Paul is not saying Christians should obey the moral law—but he is saying we should obey from the heart (in other words, believe) that form of doctrine that the apostles and other Christian preachers delivered to the churches. This form of doctrine is, of course, their teachings—not the law, definitely not the law.”
To which I respond:
But they have already admitted that the New Testament form of doctrine does not include freedom to serve sin but freedom from having to serve sin.
They must also understand that this involves obedience to the law of Christ (such as is in his Sermon on the Mount), and that it involves obedience to the two greatest commandments in the law (to love God and love our neighbours, Matthew 22:36-40).
And they must understand that having close communion in prayer to God is closely related to having obedience to his commandments, and doing what is pleasing in his sight (1 John 3:21).
What Law-Keeping Looks like in Practice
There are plenty of resources out there to help you in studying God’s moral law. You could start with one of the many of the Reformed Catechisms that have a built-in exposition of the Ten Commandments.2 Then there are numerous commentaries and sermon-series and treatises too, by Reformers and Puritans and those who still hold to these same teachings today.
In all these witnesses from the past and up to the present day, the purpose is never to learn in order to obey and thereby be saved; but always to learn in order to obey and live a moral life, as a faithful Christian, and all to the glory of God.
You will soon find there the repeated usage of a principle of interpretation that considers the Ten Commandments negatively and positively—detailing what the laws are against and what the laws are for.
This is not legalism. This is Biblical application for the Christian life.
If you argue that we should “walk in the Spirit” and bear the “fruit of the Spirit” instead of learning to keep the moral law, then—you are already familiar with this principle of negatively and positively considering a Bible precept. For you understand already, that these statements are opposed to other statements in Paul’s teachings: we should not walk in the flesh and we should not bear the fruit of the flesh (or, not do the works of the flesh).
Now, notice that Paul emphasises of the fruit of the Spirit, that “against these things there is no law” (Galatians 5:23). Understand how when we logically invert this statement we find another that is equally true: the whole law of God is not against but for the fruit of the Spirit.
And Paul taught elsewhere that “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). Again, understand how when we logically invert the statement we find another that is equally true: unlike the carnal mind’s insubjection to the law of God, the spiritual mind (of the regenerate soul, the Christian) is subject to the law of God.
It cannot be any other way!
And that is why you already agree with Reformed Christians, that walking in the Spirit and bearing the fruit of the spirit—and, of course, fulfilling the law of Christ—is what moral law-keeping looks like in practice.
If you are not ready to put your heart and mind into serious study of the law of God and consequent efforts at holy living, then I recommend you to learn and sing Psalms 119. Even if it takes you a hundred and nineteen times—do whatever it takes until you get it.
We should all really have the same heart as this Psalmist.
Do not say that you should have nothing to do with Psalms 119 “because that is in the Old Testament”. These are among the words of Christ that we as Christians should let dwell in us richly in all wisdom (see Colossians 3:16).
What “Not Under Law but Under Grace” Means
So if Christians are not free not to keep God’s moral commandments—and Christians should learn and obey God’s moral commandments what does Paul mean in his teaching that we are “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14-15)?3
By the phrase “the law”, as often used by Paul, Reformed theologians and Reformed Christians have understood that he means the the covenant of life (also known as the covenant of works) that God established with Adam, and all his posterity in Adam. This same law has continued as a perfect rule of righteousness for mankind; and as such it was delivered by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, in the Ten Commandments.4 And the Ten Commandments (the “two tables of the law”) were the foundation of the Old Testament (Old Covenant) that God established the people of Israel under Moses who was their leader, priest and prophet (Exodus 20; 24; Deuteronomy 4:13,23-31).
So, we say that we are not under “the law” in this covenantal sense: we are in the New Covenant (the covenant of grace) in Christ—and in Christ “we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:14). Christians are led by the Holy Spirit, and they are not under the broken covenant of life (“the law”) any more (Galatians 5:18). But this in no way means that the moral law has ceased to remain a perfect rule of righteousness for us as Christians.
Is this Reformed understanding right or wrong?
Now we simply need to consider Paul’s allegory of the two mountains in Galatians ch.5. He describes “the law” as “the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar” (v.24; Agar is Hagar in the Hebrew). But Christians are they who are gendered to the spiritual “Jerusalem which is above” and “is free, which is the mother of us all” (v.26; compare also Hebrews 11:10,16; Revelation 21:2).
“For these are the two covenants”, says Paul (v.24). Christians are not under the law (or, mount Sinai) as a covenant of works but we are “under grace”—under spiritual Jerusalem (on the spiritual mount Zion).
And, being spiritual “children…of the free” (v.31), Paul goes on to argue in the next chapter, that this is a state of liberty in which we should not again take on the “yoke of bondage” (5:1; meaning, get circumcised and keep the Jewish ceremonials, v.2-12) but instead we must walk in the Spirit in order to bear the fruit of the Spirit (v.16-26)—which walk and fruit, as has been pointed out already, comes to fruition by keeping God’s commandments.
If you have been keeping track, you will have noticed that I have skipped over verses 13-15. I will now quote them here:
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Galatians 5:13-15).
Fellow Christians, we have been called to liberty. This liberty is not a licence to sin, but a liberty in which we should by love serve one another. And what is this but the fulfilment of Christ’s second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39)?
No, we are not under the law. Even so, we should keep this commandment. Are you with me?
To be continued.
- Thus they are not actually antinomians.↩
- For example, look at the catechisms among the historic Reformed Documents on reformed.org and the catechisms of the Reformed Baptists at Reformed Reader.↩
- There is a constellation of relevant passages, which we need to consider: Romans 6:14-23; see also Galatians 3:10-14; 4:21-28,31; 5:18-26.↩