Are We Still Under the Law in Spite of Grace?
Have you ever felt that after accepting Christ's sacrifice, the Law is still in effect in your life, or that you must make sure you are striving to keep every part of it, including the Sabbath day?
You may be thinking of the Scripture which Herbert Armstrong often quoted:
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17).
Yet notice that Christ said he came to "fulfil" the law and the prophets. He was born under the Law (Galatians 4:4) and fulfilled all of its demands, including a sacrifice for sins (something none of us could ever do) and He fulfilled all that the prophets prophesied about Him as the Messiah.
The Greek word for "fulfill" is pleroo (determined by the context). Here it means "to complete fully."
Jesus fulfilled the Law in three major ways:
- He lived a life of complete obedience to the Law.
- He died on our behalf for our sins.
- He was the prophetic fulfillment of what the Law foreshadowed.
The next verse continues:
"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18).
The Greek word for "fulfilled" is gionomai which means "be brought to pass"; "come to pass"; "be finished."
Christ's words from the cross were:
"It is finished" (John 19:30).
When He said it is "finished" that means our redemption was finished. It is not still being fulfilled.
"I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4).
The definition of biblical grace is "unearned, unmerited favor from God." Works of the Law play no part in qualifying for, maintaining, or receiving our salvation. The works that will follow one's acceptance of Christ as their personal Savior are works of faith that He works in us and through us. To believe there is anything we must do to gain salvation is to confuse the old covenant with the New Covenant and ancient Israel with the New Testament Church.
"Not only are we saved by faith rather than by law but law is not to be the rule of life for the believer. We are not to live by law at all. ...Grace supplies the indwelling and filling of the Spirit to enable us to live on a higher plan than law demanded. This all is our portion when we trust Christ as Savior. It is in Christ that we receive everything--salvation and sanctification. ...Let's stop trying some legal system or rote of rules. We have a liberty in Christ." ~J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible With J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 5, Galatians 5:1
After Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples he said:
"And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:44).
Notice the words: "all things must be fulfilled."
The Mosaic Law and all its rituals, days and commandments pointed to Christ who was to come to this earth, be born of a virgin, and die for the sins of the whole world. Those rituals, ordinances and laws from the Old Testament were shadows of Him. If we have a picture of a loved one, do we continue to hold onto the picture after the person arrives? No, we no longer need the picture, but embrace the reality, which, in this case, is Christ. (Colossians 2:17) We no longer need days, laws, rituals, and works of the flesh (those listed in the preceding verse) as the reality is already here. (Also see Q&A: Could you explain Colossians 2:16-17?) We are now accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6) and all spiritual blessings have been given to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 1:3) God's love in us will produce the fruit of the Spirit. This has nothing to do with trying to maintain or qualify for our salvation. To try to apply works of the Law with faith is adding works to grace, which is impossible. It is an attempt to "earn" grace. Some have called it a "second work of grace." Our love for Him after placing our faith in Him as our Savior has nothing to do with focusing on any part of the Mosaic Law. Mixing faith and works is incompatible when it comes to receiving salvation:
"Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works" (Romans 4:4-6).
We are freed from sin and the Law:
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2)
The book of Acts is often used to try and prove one must keep the Sabbath day. But a search of church history will reveal that the early church met on both days--Saturday and Sunday. The Apostles preached in the synagogues on the Sabbath because that is when the Jews met and it was how the Gospel was able to be preached to them. As time went on the church began meeting on Sunday. Some of this is explained in the article: Sabbath and Sunday (Common Arguments & Misunderstandings. The book of Acts is simply what it says--the acts of the Apostles (or the acts of God through the apostles). It is not a book for finding doctrine. Doctrine is found in the Epistles of Paul. Paul's Epistles to the church make no mention of the need for Christians to keep Sabbath days, or any of the works of the Law, in order to maintain or gain salvation. (Colossians 2:17 is covered above and any good commentary will discuss that verse further.)
Law-keepers desire to bring others under the bondage of the Law:
"...false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage" (Galatians 2:4).
Those who believe on Christ and have received Him--by faith--are the sons of God. They do not need to try to qualify for it.
"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12).
"He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life" (1 John 5:12,13).
Notice the above words: "He that hath the son hath life" and "that ye may know that ye have eternal life." Those who believe on the Son (turn to Him and place their faith in Him) hath eternal life. These are the true words of Scripture written after Christ Jesus was raised from the dead.
Striving to obey the Law stirs up sin and leads to fear, frustration, contention, discouragement, discord and a condemning attitude toward others that are perceived as not keeping the Law. This is a negative goodness. The Law could only bring death (not life) because it demanded absolute perfection. No one is able to live up to that. Christ desires for you to cease from your struggles under the Law and come to understand that there is nothing you can do to receive salvation. We cannot make ourselves holy or acceptable to God by laws, rules or regulations.
"For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:" (Roman 8:15-16).
Multitudes have been saved down through the centuries by believing in this simple gospel of grace:
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:9-10).
When our minds turn to the Lord Jesus for salvation, we have freedom from the bondage of the Law. The Spirit of God brings us to Christ, the place of liberty. This brings peace and rest.
"Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (II Corinthians 3:17)
Christ fulfilled the following at His first coming:
"The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound" (Isaiah 61:1).
After placing our faith and trust in Christ as our Savior and having all our sins washed away, we are now positioned in Him, accepted by God, and all because of what He has already done for us. There is nothing else you can do to earn your salvation. The work of salvation was finished on the cross.
Any intermixture of human merit violates grace. ... The problem of a holy life is met in the gospel of grace by the fact that the saved one has entirely a new position "in grace" instead of "in Adam" (Rom. 5:12-20). ... Knowledge of and faith in this glorious "in-Christ" position (Rom. 6:11) is the key that makes it actual in the believer's everyday experience. ~Merrill F. Unger
Aren't works necessary for salvation?
We can never be saved by doing any kind of works. We are saved by faith in Christ Jesus. However, this does not mean we now use our liberty in Christ to live in sin and go around stealing, lying, living in immorality, etc. God's love in us will produce the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit mentioned in Gal. 5:22-23--and which says nothing about keeping the Sabbath or feast days--is what the Holy Spirit produces through faith.
Romans 4:3 states that Abraham was justified by faith and Genesis 15:6; 22:1-14 tells us that he was justified by faith. Paul says that Abraham was justified by faith, evidenced by what he did.
Hebrews 11:6 does not say "without works" it is impossible to please God, but "without faith" it is impossible to please Him.
At the end of John's gospel he wrote,
"These things are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God; and that by believing you might have life through his name."
To feel we must do certain works in order to maintain our salvation takes away from the Gospel and from what Christ did for us at Calvary. The righteousness that we have is because of Him.
"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (II Corinthians 5:21).
Salvation and righteousness comes by faith in Jesus as the Son of God, and our walk is by faith. It is a result of what He has already done for us. God will reward us for our service to Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but works do not earn us our salvation.
"By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God" (Romans 5:2).
Those that believe we must keep the Law (which, by the way, encompassed the entire Mosaic Law, including 613 points of law) fail to understand that the more one focuses on keeping it, the more hard-pressed they will be to keep from breaking it. In other words, when one continually focuses on keeping the Law, with its observances of days, meats, times, and regulations, their eyes are not on Christ. Their life centers around law-keeping, instead of around a Person--the Lord Jesus Christ and having an intimate fellowship with Him and being able to embrace His love and acceptance. Those who believe they must do the works of the Law to gain (or maintain) their salvation can easily become judgmental, argumentative, and self-righteous, as they focus on what they have done and what they feel others have not done. This is a negative goodness.
"And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Philippians 3:9).
To preach any other gospel besides being saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus is preaching a false gospel and brings a curse:
"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9).
When we try and mix works with grace, we no longer have grace.
"And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work" (Romans 11:6).
To mix law with grace as the means of either justification or sanctification is to preach "another gospel."
"For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him" (II Corinthians 11:4).
All Scriptures that deal with grace and Law can be correlated and unified. Redemption is always connected with the grace of God (Ephesians 1:7) and the definition of grace is unmerited favor from God. Grace is because of what God has done--sending his Son to die for all our sins--not because of any works we might do to maintain that salvation.
By D. M. Williams
Exit & Support Network™
April 13, 2004
Last updated December 31, 2015
"This is faith: a renouncing of everything we are apt to call our own and relying wholly upon the blood, righteousness and intercession of Jesus." ~John Newton
For further study:
A Critique of "You Are Saved by Grace!" (ESN critique of Stephen Flurry's booklet; also covers what it means "Christians are not under the Law")
Antinomianism (explains the purpose the Law and how God no longer holds our sins against us)
How Will the Grace of God Guide Us? (MP3 message by Aaron Budjen; free download) [offsite link]