“…you are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6.14)
This is a very popular verse among Evangelical Christians. Unfortunately, it is also often misunderstood. The assumption is made that since we are no longer “under law” but are “under grace” that the Law of God no longer applies to the Christian life. This proof-texting error occurs when one uses the text without giving consideration to the surrounding context.
Proof-texting is when a person takes a verse(s) of Scripture and then applies it to a certain teaching or situation in order to support their argument. To be fair, everyone proof-texts from one degree to another, there’s really no way around it. And, there’s nothing inherently wrong with doing so, as long as what is being argued is truly supported by the text being cited.
Now, if you are an observant reader—and I imagine you are since you’re reading my material; let’s be honest you need to be to follow my lines of argumentation—you will pick up on the fact that I have only cited a portion of Romans 6:14. All I’ve given you is the second half of the verse. Essentially, what I’ve done is taken a snippet of what Paul is saying and then ran with it.
Well, actually, I haven’t been running since the weather turned cold, but you get my meaning. Technically, I haven’t even made a point yet other than to start cautioning the reader of a very bad habit that sloppy readers and arguers use. If a person makes an argument on half a thought, then either they are being intellectually dishonest or are ignorant. Ignorance is like anything else in life, it’s either purposeful or not. If it’s purposeful, then shame on you. If not, then there is always time to learn to correct what you don’t know.
One of the greatest boons to Christians, other than having direct access to a Bible (something that was not possible hundreds of years ago), is the chapter and verse divisions in Scripture. Many people are not aware of what sort of luxury that even is. The original manuscripts did not possess such divisions within them. A guy by the name of Stephanus added them in order to help facilitate learning amongst believers who were not overtly familiar with the biblical texts. Of course, all things have their pros and cons.
The same is true with the chapter and verse divisions in the Bible. The primary con is neglecting what has come before and what has come after the passage we are studying. Failing to study the writer’s flow-of-thought limits the reader from being able to understand the intent of the message being given.
This brings us back to Romans 6:14. What came before “…you are not under law but under grace?” What comes after this statement is vitally important as well, but looking before is always a good place to start. Here’s the entirety of the verse, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”1 Just to help facilitate a better understanding of what Paul is saying here let’s look at this same verse in a couple more translations of the Greek text:
- “For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace” (HCSB).
- “For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace” (NET).
- “For sin will not be master over you, because you are not under law, but under grace” (LEB).
- “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (TNIV).
- “for sin over you shall not have lordship, for ye are not under law, but under grace” (YLT).
The meaning here seems rather plain just from the inclusion of the rest of Paul’s statement. All these translations (and there are many more, sadly too many in English) highlight that Paul’s concern is that these Christians in Rome know that sin no longer has dominion over them as believers. Sin will no longer act as lord over their life ruling them, for the bonds of their former master have been broken. We learn that just from reading the whole sentence.
To be honest there is actually more, which we shall look at here in a moment, but please notice that the reason we Christians are no longer “under law, but under grace” is because the bondage of sin has been broken. This should guide our focus as we seek to comprehend the meaning of this often misunderstood phrase. To argue that this phrase means Christians are no longer bound to be obedient to the Law of God grossly distorts the truth. In fact, all you need to do is look at the very next verse to see that is not what Paul intended: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Rom 6.15); or, as the NET translates it “Absolutely not!”
What does it mean to no longer be under the law, but under grace? In order to answer that question, we need to look deeper into the argumentation of Paul that led him to say what he did in Romans 6:14.
Paul’s concern is pretty clear from the get go in his Roman letter. After his introductory remarks, he makes a very poignant statement regarding the good-news of God. He says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek” (Rom 1.16).
It is precisely at this point where Paul takes a drastic turn from the good-news of God to the bad-news of man (human beings). And he spends the better part of two chapters proving it (cf. Rom 1.18-3.23).
Contrast Between the Bad and Good News
Through Paul we are told by the Holy Spirit that every person born is under the “wrath of God” (Rom 1.18). Why? Because people would rather worship the creature, than the Creator and so they suppress the truth that is evident all around them by their sin (cf. Rom 1.18-23). No one is better than the other for both groups—Jews and Gentiles; those who have direct access to the Word of God and those who do not—are rightly condemned (cf. Rom 2.12-13). Why? “[Because] we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside [since Adam]; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one'” (Rom 3.9-12). “For there is no distinction: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Rom 3.22b-23). The news about human beings, Paul says, “is all bad.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3.18).
However, after lambasting the human race Paul does offer a ray of hope, found in the grace of God and the good-work of Jesus Christ. For it is God who “…justified [us] by his grace as a gift through redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom 3.24-25). He then adds shortly after this the following truths: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Rom 3.27-30).
So, in three chapters Paul has said that the gospel is the power of God for both Jews and Greeks. He has identified the problem that plagues the whole human race since the Fall of Adam in the garden and the necessary consequence—we are under God’s wrath/judgment. He explains that all are in this state under the dominion of sin (cf. Rom 3.9) regardless of our heritage, knowledge, etc. The result is that all people do not have faith in God, for no one fears God in his natural state. Man is not neutral towards God, but is, as Paul will later write, downright hostile towards God incapable of obeying Him (cf. Rom 8.7-8). Yet in the midst of this bad news, the good-news of God is the salvific work in Jesus Christ which is more powerful than our fallen state. Access to this redeemed state is not by works of the law—how can man do good in God’s sight, if man is hostile towards God naturally?—but by the gracious kindness of God.
Paul Expands his Argument
In Romans 4 Paul explains what this grace without the works of the law looks like in the faith of Abraham.2 Taking God at His Word, trusting in His promises, believing that He is and that Jesus Christ is in whom we place our undying fealty…that is what accredited (put in our bankrupt account) as righteousness.
(Am I saying that Abraham would have understood all that in light of the revelation given to him at that time? No. It was enough that God promised to do for Abraham what Abraham could not do for himself that is in view here. But in light of what God did for Abraham by His [God’s] own initiative is what is promised to us—cf. Rom 4.23-25).
In Romans 5 Paul explains the power (cf. Rom 1.16) of God’s work in Christ. How God “shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”( Rom 5.8). Jesus died for his “enemies” (Rom 5.10). He saved those who were too “weak” (Rom 5.6) to save themselves “…from the wrath of God” (Rom 5.9).
This is demonstrated in the two federal heads of man. This is the point of Romans 5:12-21. What Adam ushered into creation in his rebellion (sin), Christ (the last Adam) defeated upon the cross when he ushered in righteousness:
- “Therefore, as one trespass led to the condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the man were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5.18-19).
In other words, all in Adam stand condemned before God, because all in Adam are under the wrath of God, since all in Adam suppress the truth in unrighteousness denying the Creator who made them in preference for the created things (idols) they fashion in their own hearts. This, all in Adam do, because all in Adam were made sinners by Adam’s sin. Adam (the first) represents the whole human race.
But, as Paul fondly points out in retrospect “the free gift is not like the trespass” (Rom 5.15, 16). The distinction Paul makes between the condemned and the justified (the sinners and the righteous) is that all in Jesus Christ (the last Adam) “reign in life” (Rom 5.17).
I realize that I have already covered this previously, but understanding this is vital to what follows in Romans 6. This chapter speaks of the transaction that has occurred because of the free gift in Jesus Christ. All those who are in Christ are ushered into life. That is what the work of the Triune God purchased for His people: “…righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 5.21). The supernatural effect of “God’s love [having] been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5.5b). This has taken place in the life of the believer because they have been freed from the bondage of sin.
When Paul speaks of Adam’s offspring being made sinners, what he is disclosing is that we are slaves of sin. We were never free we were in bondage, similar to the physical bondage that Israel experienced at the hands of Egypt. Sinners are slaves to sin. This speaks more about identity than it does action; although, it may be sufficiently argued that the identity of sinner equates the continual practice of sinning.
Paul explains that we, who are saved, are saved because of the transaction that took place on our behalf. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin—death—and so, through Him we die to sin and are raised as new creatures. In other words, our identity has been changed.
- “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6.3-4).
The conclusion we are supposed to draw is that since our identity has been changed, we no longer “live in sin” (Rom 6.2). Or as Paul says in 6:14 we are no longer under sin’s rule, dominance, lordship or mastery. We have “…been set free from sin” (Rom 6.7) since “…our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom 6.6). Therefore, just as “[Christ] lives to God. So [we] also must consider [ourselves] dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” refusing to “let…sin…reign in [our] mortal body…[obeying] its passions” (Rom 6.10b-11, 12). Rather, as new creatures in Christ we “present [ourselves] to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Rom 6.13).
Why Reference to the Law?
“If what you are saying is true,” Kris, “then why does Paul reference the law in Rom 6:14?” The word “law” has many meanings and the context helps limit the sense in which the word is used (e.g. Psa 119). Law can mean an overarching principle (a demonstrable force of will) being enacted upon someone. Paul uses it this way in Romans 7:21-23. He also uses it in reference to the general equity of God’s Word, as instruction (Rom 2.12-16). The use that Paul binds to the reader’s heart in Romans 6:14, is that in regards to curse.
In Romans 5:20 we learn that “the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” Paul will develop this thought more throughout the course of his letter, but the point we need to focus on is why he says God gave the law “…to increase the trespass.” The answer will elude you if your anthropology is not biblically rooted.
Because of man’s natural state upon entering this world (direct consequence of Adam’s rebellion) the introduction of God’s standard (His Word) will increase sin. No, Paul’s point is Romans 5:20 is that not all hope is lost because where the sin increasing God increasing the grace. This is not a license to sin (see Rom 6.1-2), but a reference of hope. All is not lost, because salvation is no dependent upon man.
If we look back to Romans 3:19-20 we find another important admission by Paul: “Now we know that whatever the law says
it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” What’s he saying? First, the law offers condemnation to those who are under it. That is to say it shows that all men are guilty before God. Since all men are God’s creation, all men know that they will be held accountable before Him for their sin. Both Jew and Greek know this to be true, which is just another way of saying “all people are without excuse because all know the truth of their misdeeds.” Second, this use of the law3 sheds further light on our predicament as sinners (again identity). Oddly, enough this is what makes the gospel meaningful. The contrast of the good-news with the bad-news is what highlights the beauty of Christ.
Why is this necessary? Because “most men will proclaim everyone his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (Prov 20.6; KJV). In other words, this use of the Law prevents us from proclaiming our goodness, for when we are confronted with it there is no denying that we are wickedly deceitful creatures who rightly stand condemned under the wrath of God.
The meaning of 6:14
Finally, we have come full circle for this is Paul’s point in Romans 6:14. The bondage of sin has been broken; therefore, we are no longer under the curse of the law, but are found under the blessings of grace. This is not a freeing of the believer’s responsibility before God and man to uphold His Law-Word. Christ purchased our freedom from sin. He gave us new life, new faith, new hope and new love. This transaction freed us from condemnation, put us beneath the fountains of grace and gave us the strength and willingness we formerly did not possess…a desire to “uphold the law” (Rom 3.31).
1 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).
2 This chapter looks back to the statement made in Rom 3:30; as well as other comparisons made between those who are and who are not God’s. A distinction made not in the flesh, but in the work of the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
3 There are actually three uses of the Law of God. 1) Identifies sinners by pointing out their sin, 2) Curbs the evil of fallen people in the civil arena, 3) Identifies that which is pleasing to God for the saved to follow after—i.e. what the Holy Spirit uses to sanctify us. NOTE: We do not sanctify ourselves. Only God can sanctify us, and it is through the right use of His Law-Word that He continually changes and shapes the attitude of our hearts—i.e. How the Potter molds His vessels of honor.