Was God's Law "nailed to the cross" - as many preachers proclaim? Does grace do away with that Law? What does it mean to be "free from the Law"?
Religious teachers cite certain Scripture texts to infer that the Law of God is irrelevant for the Christian. One verse says: "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:28). Another states: "You are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). On the surface, these texts certainly sound as though the law could have been "nailed to the cross". Is this the Bible teaching?
Many who believe the law was indeed nailed to the cross think of the law of God as harsh and cruel, bringing death to all those who lived by it. Could it be that they fail to understand the purpose which God's law serves?
In Paul's letter to the Galatians he writes: "The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ" (Gal. 3:24). Before a person knows any of God's truth, he lives without thinking of the laws of God. The carnal (unconverted) mind is at war with God (Rom. 8:7). In fact, the things concerning the Spirit of God seem foolish to him (I Cor. 2:14). No-one even realizes that he is committing sin against God until he or she becomes aware of the fact that there is an existing law that defines sin. Wrote Paul: "For by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20).
Once a person realizes that the law of God exists, he then knows that he has committed various sins against God, and that sin carries the death penalty (Rom 6:23). It is quite a shocking realization. This is why Paul writes: "We know that whatsoever the law says, it says to them who are under the law [i.e., to those who are under the penalty of death]: that every mouth may become guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19).
After a person receives this knowledge, he then has to understand that the only way the penalty of death can be removed is to repent of his sins, be baptized and receive the Spirit of God. He should then continue to observe the commandments of God the best he can. The apostle Paul poses the question: "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" (Romans 6:1). Clearly, he implies No! (v.2).
Since the death penalty may be removed only by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and because everyone has committed sins and is under a death sentence, it can easily be seen why Paul wrote "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus... Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No: by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom. 3:23-28).
Since we are justified - i.e., made right with God - without the law, does this mean that the law is done away, or become void? No, not really. The word translated without can mean separately or apart from. So this verse is better translated, "apart [or separate] from the law". Rather than without the law. This is clearly seen in Rom. 3:21 where we read, "But now the righteousness of God without [separate from] the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law..." It is also interesting to note that the word witnessed means to give evidence, bear record, have a good report.
The apostle Paul continues (v. 32), "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yes, we establish the law". Yes, we now establish the law because before we knew the truth, we did not keep the law. We did not even realize God's law existed.
Unfortunately, many are misled into thinking that once they receive God's sacrifice for the redemption of their sins that they then have the right to live any way they want to, since their past and future sins will be forgiven unconditionally. The error is made because of their assumption that the law was nailed to the cross and done away. Actually, "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law..." (Gal. 3:13). The curse of the law is death. Christ removed us from the death sentence, not from the law!
Even though we are redeemed from the curse of the law (death) and have the Spirit of God, the law still exists. "Know ye not, brethren, how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?" (Rom. 7:1) But thank God that grace also reigns as long as the man lives! For "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 5:20-21).
It is very important to notice that the apostle Paul states that grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life. Eternal life is a gift that we receive from God. It is conditional. Contrary to common teaching, we do not have eternal life inherent within ourselves. One of the last warnings given to us in the Scriptures is found in Rev. 22:14 which reads, "Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city".
Note that the original Greek word which was translated in the above verse as right is translated as such only twice in the New Testament. Elsewhere it is translated twenty-nine times as authority, and sixty-nine times as power. This means that this particular verse could just as well be translated, "Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have the authority [or power] to the tree of life".
Contrary to what many are taught in church, Jesus instructed us that he did not come to do away with the law, but rather to make it more complete (Mt. 5:17). This fulfilled a prophecy in Isaiah 42:21 concerning the coming messiah (Christ). It reads, "The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable".
When you magnify something, you bring it more into focus. Jesus gave us an example of this when he said, "You have heard that it was said by them of old time, you shall not commit adultery: but I say to you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Mt. 5:27-28).
Jesus also instructed his disciples that anyone who broke even the least of the commandments and taught people that they did not need to keep them would be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. However, those who kept the commandments and taught people to observe them, would be great in the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:19).
Saved By Grace
We must understand, though, that no one can keep the laws of God perfectly. This is why we are not saved by our own righteousness (nor can we be), but by the favor and righteousness of God. This is why it can be said that we are saved by grace and not by works. But this does not give us the right to continue to live in sin! Paul again: "God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin [i.e., repentant and baptized], live any longer therein" (Rom. 6:2)?
We are like a criminal who has been given a pardon. He is free to go into society again so long as he continues to obey the laws. But if he again breaks the law, he may find himself back in prison.
Once we have come to the knowledge of the truth and are led into repentance and baptism, we are then pardoned from the death penalty. We are then urged to "Go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works..." (Heb. 6:1). Paul further elaborates on this subJect in Rom. 6:18, 22 when he says, "Being then made free from sin, you became servants of righteousness ... and became servants of God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life".
Some say that the old covenant was abolished, and that the law which was a part of that covenant is also done away. But what does the Bible tell us? "For finding fault with them [the people], he says, Behold, the days come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant ... For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord, I will put in my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts..." (Heb. 8:8-10). Under the new covenant, God did not abolish His holy and righteous laws: He made a way for us to keep them.
What, then, can we conclude? God's law was not "nailed to the cross". Just because we are justified by faith, apart from the law. we cannot conclude that the law was done away. In fact, it was the death penalty, and not the law, that was nailed to the cross.
written by Bill Faith
To comment on this article or request more information, please contact James McBride by e-mail at the comment form below.
For PDF or mailed copy, see CGOM. Excerpt from New Horizons Issue 12, November/December 1998. Edited by James McBride of the Churches of God, United Kingdom.
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