In my early Christian walk, reconciling the Christian call to live in obedience with salvation by grace alone was a big challenge. I’ve lost count of how many debates we had at high school, trying to make sense of the apparent tension between law and grace. A favourite passage used to defend the view that Christians are no longer required to obey the law was Romans 6:14. For Paul says, “We are not under law but under grace.” Some of my classmates used this verse to justify their claim that Christians needn’t worry about obedience. Their position was that Christians can live in sin because God is gracious and salvation is by his mercy.
Can Christians go on living in sin because God is gracious?
This might not be how you think, at least not explicitly. But many Christians unwittingly affirm this view in the way they live. We tend to downplay obedience, emphasising that salvation is “by grace alone.” When confronted with correction or rebuke, we reply: “You shall not judge.” Is this what Paul means when he says Christians aren’t under law but grace? Are Christians free to go on sinning and living however they choose? Isn’t opposing sin merely judgmental and self-righteous? Fortunately for us, Paul tackles these questions in Romans 6.
“We Aren’t Under Law But Under Grace”
Paul himself tells us what he didn’t mean when writing these freeing words. In the very next verse he writes, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15). Whatever Paul meant by Christians no longer under law, he wasn’t issuing a license to sin freely. Yes the gospel achieves and secures freedom for believers, but probably not the kind that my classmates advocated.
Being ‘under grace’ isn’t freedom to sin. It doesn’t mean that obedience is unimportant.
Even though it’s true that we’re not under law but under grace, obedience matters and sin is prohibited. In fact, according to Paul, if we continue to live in sin because we’re under grace, the result is death (Romans 6:16). Being “under grace” isn’t freedom to sin. It doesn’t mean that obedience is unimportant.
The Law As Teacher, Enabling Obedience
Admittedly the thought that we are to obey the law, even though we are no longer under it, isn’t easy to understand. But God’s prohibition of sin and his exhortation for us to obey the law are greatly intertwined. The two cannot be separated. It is impossible for us to call believers to avoid sin without speaking about the law and obedience. For the law is necessary for us to identify sin. As Paul writes, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7).
Even though are under grace, we should not alienate ourselves from God’s law.
The law is good. It reveals and defines sin. Without the law we can’t know the very sin that could kill us (Romans 6:16).
Thus even though we are under grace, we should not alienate ourselves from God’s law. Rather we should read it and teach about it in church. The law should be part of discipleship. And it can be effective in evangelism, for it compliments the grace that saves us. It shows us why we need God’s grace for salvation. Simultaneously it shows us how we should live, if we are to continue in the life of faith (Ephesians 3:8; 4:24).
Grace Frees Us From Slavery To Sin
Finally, when it comes to the law the danger of legalism is never far away. Thus we must balance talk of the law with Paul’s primary motivation for obedience, which may come as a surprise for many. Paul actually says that we should pursue obedience because we aren’t under the law. Look at Romans 6:14 again, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” A mark of being under grace is that we are no longer ruled by sin. In other words, obedience is indicative of grace rather than sinning freely.
A mark of being under grace is that we are no longer ruled by sin.
God’s grace does result in freedom for believers. It grants us the ability to put sin to death. Crucially, we can’t do this through our own might or resolve. We must depend on the Holy Spirit. As Paul writes, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). God’s grace is the beginning of freedom, as the Spirit empowers us to choose obedience over sin. Grace leads to ruling over our former slave master: sin.
Christian, you are no longer under law but grace. Therefore embrace the freedom that grace achieves and put sin to death. Pursue obedience as you depend on the Holy Spirit.