The Victorious Christian Life

A Lesson Series for the Earnest Christian

© 2002 by Thomas W. Finley, 2013 Revised Edition

Lesson Eight: Freedom from the Law

The overcoming Christian life involves not only deliverance from sin, but also deliverance from God’s law. In fact, to be freed from sin, we must also be freed from law. Consider this verse: “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).

To be victorious in our Christian life, we must learn to abandon the principle of law and live by the principle of grace. What do I mean by the “principle of law” and the “principle of grace”? This is a very important question, and we will answer it in due course. Let us first consider some Scriptures about the law so that we can put it in perspective for the New Testament believer.

The law was God’s economy until Christ came.

“For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).

“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since then the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one is forcing his way into it” (Lk. 16:16).

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4).

“For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand, there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God” (Heb. 7:18-19).

The work of the law

“because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” (Rom. 3:20). The work of the law is to reveal man’s sinfulness to him.

The problem of the law

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law” (1 Cor. 15:56).

“But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died” (Rom. 7:8-9).

“Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been able to give life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law” (Gal. 3:21). The law could not give life. A certain life (Christ’s life) is needed to live out a righteous living acceptable to God.

“So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Therefore, did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” (Rom. 7:12-14)

The Law in itself is not a problem; it is righteous and good. However, when it is paired with the fallen flesh, it simply brings out man’s sinfulness. Therefore, for man to utilize the law as a way to live is a problem.

How to properly use the law today

“But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching“(1 Tim. 1:8-10). Today, the law is to be used for sinners, not the righteous (Christians), in order to show them their sinfulness.

The purpose of the law

“Therefore, the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). The law puts sinners under condemnation, thus making them realize their need of a Savior.

The law was only a shadow; it’s reality is with Christ in the New Testament.

“For the law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things.” (Heb. 10:1)

“Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17)

The things of the law, including all of its regulations and commandments, were only a shadow of what is realized in Christ. For instance, dietary regulations were required by the law in Leviticus 11 in order “to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean” (Lev. 11:47). When Christ came, however, he explained that what defiles a man is not what enters into him as food, but what is within man’s evil heart and proceeds out of him (things like evil thoughts, coveting and slander – see Mk. 7:14-23). Therefore, in the New Testament era, eating or not eating certain foods does not commend us to God (1 Cor. 8:8).

The Old Testament dietary laws were designed to be in force only until the new covenant was enacted (Heb. 9:10). All foods are now considered as clean with regard to our holiness before God (Rom. 14:14, 20; 1 Tim. 4:3-5). The New Testament reality of what makes a distinction between what is clean and unclean is the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts judging what is unclean within (Rom. 8:13-15; Gal. 5:17-18; Col. 3:5-9; Heb. 4:12-13).

Another example of the regulations of the law being fulfilled in Christ would be the requirement for circumcision. The reality of circumcision (a cutting off of the flesh) is the work of Christ on the cross in cutting off the entire sinful flesh of man (Col. 2:11). This reality is to be applied daily and inwardly to our lives (Rom. 2:29).

Also, there are no longer any special days (such as the Sabbaths or feasts) for observance, as required of the Jews in the Old Testament (Lev. 23). These things comprise a shadow of which Christ Himself is the reality (1 Cor. 5:7-8; Col. 2:16-17). When Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, his entire burden was to release them from the bondage of the way of the law into the freedom of grace. Concerning the keeping of days, he wrote:

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and year. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain. (Gal. 4:9-11)

The believer’s relationship to the law

“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God.” (Rom. 7:4)

“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.” (Rom. 7:6)

“For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God.” (Gal. 2:19)

Before regeneration, while living in the old “I,” we were bound to the law. As sinners, that law condemned us to death. When we accepted Christ and were identified with Him in death, then we were released from the law. We were raised up with Him to serve God, not according to law with the effort of the flesh, but according to a new life in our spirit, where we are joined to Christ (1 Cor. 6:17). As believers, our relationship to the law is totally over; we have died to the law and we have been released from it!

Think about those believers in the early days of the church. They did not have an entire Bible as we do now. The Scriptures then consisted of the Old Testament. That is what they looked to as God’s word. Of course, as different assemblies received letters from the apostles they also rightly regarded them as God’s inspired instructions. Yet, the application of the Old Testament commandments to gentile believers became a matter of debate within the church and a matter of learning from God (the council in Acts 15 is a good example).

Eventually, this matter of the law became clear through God’s revelation in the Epistles, especially the letters of Paul and the Epistle to the Hebrews. As we can see from the many clear statements of Scripture categorized above, the New Testament believer is not under the law and it is not intended for him.

There is more than one aspect of this matter of not being under the law. Firstly, it should be understood from the passages noted above, that the regulations and commandments of the Old Testament do not directly apply to believers today. Even those believers who uphold the “Ten Commandments” as rules for their living are in error. These rules were for the Jews of the Old Testament era, not for the New Testament believer. This does not mean that God does not use the Old Testament to speak to Christians concerning our living, or concerning lessons for the Christian life. He most certainly does use them (Matt. 4:4; Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 4:12). However, the Old Testament is not a rule book to be meticulously obeyed.

A second and more fundamental aspect of being “under law” concerns the efforts and ability of the believer to carry out righteous requirements that do apply to him. This aspect is what is really critical in experiencing freedom from the law. This is seen in Paul’s struggle with obedience in Romans chapter seven, a struggle which took place after he became a Christian.

The issue in Romans seven concerns our ability to obey God’s requirements of us. Paul used his struggle with covetousness as an example of this problem. Paul understood that the Old Testament prohibition against covetousness still applied to him morally as a New Testament believer (Mk. 7:22; Lk. 12:15; Col. 3:5). The problem was that he tried to carry out a commandment by the power of his natural ability, the strength of the old “I.” His inner consciousness agreed with the moral precept and felt it should be followed. However, he discovered that as he set out to obey God, a problem arose. That problem was the ”law of sin” in the members of his body (Rom. 7:23).

Whenever Paul set out to obey God, according to a righteous commandment, sin became alive within him (Rom. 7:9), and he found himself unable to counteract the force of sin within him. This sinful force eventually drove him to do the very thing he did not want to do (Rom. 7:14-15, 19). Please read Romans 7:7-25 to get a clear view of Paul’s struggle. This aspect of being “under law”, namely our inability to obey God’s demands of us, is the crux of the problem in this matter of being “freed from the law.”

In order to live the overcoming life, the believer must be freed from the law. But, the principle of being “under law” involves much more than just not applying the Old Testament rules to us today. To be “under law” means that our relationship with God is focused upon our responsibility to obey a set of commandments in order to be acceptable to Him. Such a focus sets into motion a self-effort to obey the commandments. This self-effort in turn leads to failure, because the power of indwelling sin is triggered by such self-effort. This is exactly the experience of which Paul wrote in Romans seven.

This same theme of being freed from the law is very evident in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (note Gal. 5:1, where the “yoke of slavery” denotes the covenant of Law – see Gal. 4:24). In Galatians we again see that the “flesh”, man’s fallen self, is paired with the “works of the Law” (Gal. 2:16; 3:2-5). Thus, the Scripture always links man’s self-effort with law.

The principle of law involves man living to a set of rules to be obeyed. Romans 7:1-6 tells us that our old man, the flesh, was strongly bound under the law. This means that the natural, unregenerated life lives to commandments in order to be righteous before God. The natural man serves God according to “the letter.” Paul states the matter plainly in Romans 7:6: “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.”

Our freedom from law means that we are not under obligation to keep a set of commandments. Our relationship with God is not characterized by a set of rules. Instead, we are under grace.

We will explore the principle of grace in detail in the next lesson. As an introduction, let me say that living under grace means living out our new life in Christ by the supply, power and direction of the Holy Spirit. Such a living, which is according to the law (or principle) of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, fulfills all of the righteousness of God’s Law (Rom. 8:2, 4). We are no longer under the demand of the law, requiring us to keep it, but we are under the rule and supply of the Spirit, whose life lives righteously. Grace is not a way of rules; it is the way of God’s life.

Does this mean that there are no “commandments” for the New Testament believer? Does this mean we are “antinomian” – against all laws and commandments, perhaps even allowing for unrestrained, sinful living? No. However, Christians must understand that the demands and commandments of God are realized by us and carried out in our lives in a different way than the way of law, a legal principle. One verse that shows this well is 1 Corinthians 9:21, where Paul was speaking of his way of dealing with unbelievers in order to win them to Christ: “to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law” (1 Cor. 9:21). We have been released from a set of rules that we must keep, but we are living by the law of Christ, the life principle of the person of God’s Son.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)