Some notes on the phrases ‘not under law but under grace’ and ‘released from the law’

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There are many kinds of teachings and dogmas in regard to “law and grace”. Some say that nothing matters and that one can do whatever one wants; some claim that the Old Covenant and its rules are still in force, however somehow combined with “grace”. There are even other views. Really how is with that matter?

Many New Testament passages are connected to the matter of “law and grace”. Romans 6:14 and 7:6 are among the most relevant ones, and possibly the most cited ones, in that context. So, let us consider them.

Romans 6:14 records how the apostle Paul noted that the saints were “not under law but under grace”. At the same time, the context makes it clear that the concept that one can do whatever one wants, is not correct.

Romans 6:12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (NASB77)

And then, Romans 7:6 makes it clear that the claim that the Old Covenant is still in force, is not correct, either.

Romans 7:1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? […] 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (NASB77)

A note: The above-quoted Romans 6:13 shows that the saints were not to live in sin but were to use their bodies as “instruments of righteousness to God”. The article rga082.htm considers the matter of righteousness, including what new-covenantal righteousness is and consists of.

Another note: In this article, the word “saints” refers to those who received the Holy Spirit in the first century.

2 Corinthians 3:6–7 and Romans 7:6, ‘the Spirit’ versus ‘the letter’.

The earlier cited Romans 6:14 shows that the saints were “not under law but under grace”. But, many people have been subjected to dogmas which claim that the New Covenant is not new but merely a “spiritual application of the rules of the Old Covenant” (the article rca092.htm sorts out that matter). That concept of “spiritual application” has then been used for making people believe that the saints nevertheless were “under law”.

This has to do with 2 Corinthians 3:6–7 and Romans 7:6. Some have used those verses for producing dogmas regarding “the letter of the law” and “the spirit of the law”. But, those passages do not contain such phrases or concepts, nor are they found elsewhere in the Bible. Please note that 2 Corinthians does not contain the word “law” (except in a few misleading translations). In the case of 2 Corinthians 3:6–7, the apostle was talking about the two separate and different covenants, old and new. By the phrase “the Spirit”, verse 6, he referred to the Holy Spirit and the New Covenant. By the phrase “the letter”, same verse, he referred to the Old Covenant and its rules. Romans 7:6 does contain the word law – the apostle noted that the [Jewish] saints had been released from the Law (the Old Covenant). The article rca112.htm has more on those scriptures.

A note: Some writers have constructed dogmas regarding Galatians 3:17–19, claiming the meaning to be that the Old Covenant is still in force, except for some “added rituals”. But, it is not so. The apostle was talking about the two covenants, old and new. He noted that the Old Covenant was to last “until the Offspring would come to whom the promise had been made” – that is, until Jesus came. When Jesus came and then made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, the New Covenant could be launched. When this happened, the Old Covenant had served its purpose and was set aside, came to its end. The article rca081.htm has more on Galatians 3:17–19 and its context including verse 21; it clarifies even the translation and meaning of Matthew 5:17–18. Jeremiah 31:33 and its translation is discussed later in this present article. The article rca121.htm clarifies the translation and meaning of 1 John 3:4. The article rca052.htm contains a study on the matter of the Decalogue, the “words of the covenant, the ten words”.

Grace, justification and faith.

The saints were “justified”: Through Jesus’ sacrifice, their sins had been forgiven. But, they were not to continue in sin. It was the same, concerning the fact that they were under grace and not under law. They were to be led by the Holy Spirit. They were not to grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) or hinder the Spirit from working (1 Thessalonians 5:19). They were to serve God “acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

Romans 3 talks about “justification of God without law”, “by his favor” (or “grace”, Greek charis, verse 24).

Romans 3:21 But now, a justification which is of God, without law, is exhibited, attested by the law and the prophets: 22 even a justification which is of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, for all, and upon all, who believe; for there is no difference. 23 For all, having sinned and come short of the glory of God, 24 are justified freely by his favor, through the redemption which is by Christ Jesus: 25 whom God has set forth a propitiatory, through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his own justice, in passing by the sins which were before committed, through the forbearance of God: 26 for a demonstration, also, of his justice in the present time, in order that he may be just, when justifying him, who is of the faith of Jesus. 27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. By what law? of works? No: but by the law of faith. (LO)

Verse 21: Here, the apostle Paul used the word “law” in two different meanings. “Without law” = without the Old Covenant and its rules. “Attested [witnessed] by the law and the prophets” = the New Covenant was foretold in “the Law” and in “the Prophets” (those are names for two specific sections in the Old Testament).

Regarding the word “justification”, verse 21: The Greek text has dikaiosunê (cf. dikaios, “just”, and dikaioô, “to justify”). That word could refer to justness (“righteousness”), but it appears that in this case, the apostle used it in the meaning “justification”. That harmonises with the context, such as verses 23, 24 and 26; see them quoted above.

Right here, the point is that verse 24 mentions justification “by his favor”, which is to say, “by his grace”. Even Ephesians 2 mentions grace. Verses 7 and 8 in the below-quoted LO version have “favor”; some other translations have “grace”.

Ephesians 2: […] 7 that he might show, in the ages to come, the exceeding riches of his favor in his kindness toward us by Christ Jesus. 8 For by favor you are saved through faith; and this salvation not by yourselves; it is the gift of God—9 not by works, that no one may boast. (LO)

Compare Ephesians 2:8, “by favor [grace] you are saved through faith”, and the earlier quoted Romans 3:24, “justified freely by his favor [grace], through the redemption which is by Christ Jesus”.

Again: The saints were “justified”. This meant that through Jesus’ sacrifice, their sins had been forgiven – but, they were not to continue sinning; see Romans 6:12–15 which is cited in the first part of this article. It was the same, concerning the fact that they were under grace and not under law. They were to be led by the Holy Spirit. They were not to grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) or hinder the Spirit from working (1 Thessalonians 5:19). They were to serve God “acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).

A note: The above-quoted Romans 3:27 mentions “law of faith”. Here, it must be noted that the modern-day concept of religious faith has very little to do with what the Greek text of the New Testament talks about. The old Greek word in question, pistis, had a two-fold use and meaning. On the one hand, it referred to putting one’s trust in someone, and, on the other hand, it referred to being trustworthy and faithful, on one’s own part. The article rba092.htm has more on the matter of faith.

Jeremiah 31:34 and the matter of grace.

This is regarding still future times:

Jeremiah 31:31 “The day is coming,” says the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. 32 This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the Lord. 33 “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions [a] deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,” says the Lord. “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” (NLT04, note sign added)

Verse 34, “and I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins” – that certainly is an example of God’s grace.

a In verse 33, the above-quoted NLT04 correctly translates the old Hebrew word torah in its literal meaning, “instruction”. (It was related to the verb yarah which meant “to teach”, “to instruct”.) ‘Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament’ by Harris, Archer and Waltke states,

The word tôrâ means basically ‘teaching’ whether it is the wise man instructing his son or God instructing Israel.

Regarding verse 33: What the Lord promised to “write” (place) in the “hearts” of the whole nation of Israel (in the future), is not some “law-text”. No, it is the Holy Spirit the Lord promised to “write” (place) in men’s inner being. The saints were a “first-fruits” fulfilment of that promise/prophecy; the main fulfilment has not taken place yet.

Other New Testament passages.

In connection with the matter of “law and grace”, some might wonder about certain other New Testament passages. Often, that is connected to translation-related problems. Many such passages are discussed and clarified in other articles at this site. Here are some of them:

Summary.

What the apostle Paul meant by his words “for you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14–15), and “we have been released from the Law” (Romans 7:6), is quite simple and clear. That is, if one reads even the context and related passages. But, many people have been subjected to confusing dogmas which have made it hard for them to understand those verses.

The Old Covenant was between the Lord and the ancient Israelites. The other nations did not have any such covenant with the Lord. And, even in the case of the Israelites, the Old Covenant was a temporary arrangement which was “added because of transgressions”, Galatians 3:19, and was to last “until the Offspring would come to whom the promise had been made”, same verse. That is, until Jesus came. When Jesus the prophesied Offspring of Abraham came and then made his Sacrifice by giving his life in place of others, the New Covenant could be launched. When this happened, the Old Covenant had served its purpose and was set aside.

So, when the apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Rome, “you are not under law but under grace”, Romans 6:14, he indeed meant what he said.

Regarding the matter of grace – it is connected to forgiveness. The saints’ sins had been forgiven. But, that did not mean that they could continue in sin. See for instance Romans 6:12–15 which is quoted in the first part of this article.

The Old Covenant had its written rules, “the Law”. The New Covenant does not have any “law text” of that kind. The New Covenant is written,

“not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3, NRSV).

In other words: The Holy Spirit is New Covenant’s “writing”. If and when people are led by the Holy Spirit, they will act and live in a just, righteous manner. (The article rba011.htm has some notes on the giving of the Holy Spirit.)

For more on the matter of the two covenants, old and new, look under the heading “Covenants” on the page rkw131.htm. See also the “recommended reading” section, below.

Please send or mention the address to this site to others. Please also link to this site. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/contents.htm

Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters.

An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa091.htm

On the King James translation. The story behind king James’ bible, including the men who were involved in producing it. → rsa031.htm

What does the word “righteous” really mean? What does the Bible say about righteousness? → rga082.htm

Many talk about “the spirit of the law” versus “the letter of the law”, but those expressions are not found in the Bible. On the meaning of the phrases “the Spirit” and “the letter” in 2 Corinthians 3:6–8 and Romans 7:6. → rca112.htm

On Galatians 3:17–19 and what the apostle Paul meant by “added law”. → rca081.htm

The New Covenant is indeed something new, and not a “renewal” or “modification” of the Old Covenant. → rca092.htm 

On the Decalogue, “the words of the covenant, the ten words”. → rca052.htm

What does the word “faith” mean? What is true faith? → rba092.htm

The apostle Paul and his teachings. → roa112.htm

On Titus 1:15 and the translation “to the pure all things are pure”, and what that verse really means and refers to. → rea051.htm

On 1 John 3:4 and its translation and meaning. → rca121.htm

The New Covenant versus the Old Covenant. Also, some notes on Matthew 5:17–18 and 19–20. → rca011.htm

What does the word “saint” mean and refer to, in the Bible? → rga032.htm

On the giving of the Holy Spirit. → rba011.htm

For more on the matter of the two covenants, old and new, look under the heading “Covenants” on the page rkw131.htm.


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