The Bible teaches that Christians are not under the law as a way of salvation. Christ has set us free from the guilt and condemnation of sin by His bloody death and resurrection. But that does not mean believers are free to live licentious lives. In fact, the grace of God in the gospel enables us to keep His good law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, as an expression of love to God and others. Reformed confessions of faith teach that the law and the gospel “do sweetly comply” (WCF 19.7, SD 19.7, 2LCF 19.7).
The Bible is full of positive statements about the role of the law in the life of the believer. David says “Oh how I love your law” (Ps 119:97). The preacher of Ecclesiastes sums up the believing life and says, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl 12:13). Jesus Himself says, “Not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18). Paul says, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom 3:31). Paul the faithful Apostle of grace said, “I delight in the law of God in my inner being” (Rom 7:22) and “I myself serve the law of God” (Rom 7:25). Paul also explains that Christ died for us “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:4). And in another place, Paul says that Christ “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness” (Titus 2:14). Revelation sums up the duty of all believers when it says, “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” (Rev 14:12; cf. 12:17).
Romans 6:14 is especially important in this regard. It says, “For sin will have no dominion over you since you are not under law, but under grace.” But what is sin? Paul says, “Through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:20). John says, “Sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn 3:4). So, Paul’s meaning in Rom 6:14 is “Lawlessness will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law, but under grace.” In other words, grace overcomes the dominion, or rule of lawlessness in our lives. This post is about how grace overcomes our lawlessness. But to understand how grace overcomes our lawlessness, we first need to understand the reason we sin.
1. The Reason We Sin
Desire. The root of all sin is desiring something in this world more than Christ, which is idolatry. You may want inward peace, or you may want honor, or security, or justice. Often what you want isn’t wrong in itself. But inordinate desire for things other than God, for things of the world, or concupiscence, is wrong. The highest desire of every human being is to have a satisfying life. The problem arises when you think the created world can give you the life you want.
Promises of Sin. Sin promises you that you can have what you want the most. Sin tells you that you can attain justice through murder, life through adultery, reputation through lying, security through stealing, freedom by rebellion against authorities, etc. Of course all of these are false promises. Sin never gives the life it promises. It only delivers partial, piecemeal results, but then it ends in greater sorrow and finally death.
False Belief. In the end, we sin because we believe the false promise of sin. At the moment we sin, it’s because we believe that by sinning, we will obtain the life we’re seeking from this world.
2. The Promises of the Gospel
The gospel makes the same promise of life that sin makes, except the gospel isn’t lying. There is one significant difference between the promises of sin and the promises of the gospel. Sin promises you life in this world, while the gospel promises you much more. The gospel promises abundant and eternal life in Christ.
- In Christ, the gospel promises you freedom from guilt, as well as honor and status in your justification.
- It promises you freedom from shame and gives you the fullness of God’s Fatherly favor in your adoption.
- It promises you abundant life and satisfaction through the indwelling of the Spirit in your regeneration and sanctification and as you learn more and more to commune with Christ in His Word and through prayer.
- It promises you that Jesus will never leave you or forsake you, that you have perfect security in Him.
- It promises that one day, God will visit justice on all His enemies and your enemies, and as the children’s book says, “Every sad thing will come untrue.”
- Ultimately, the gospel promises you God Himself, the first and best of all beings, and eternal life with Him forever.
All of these promises come absolutely free of cost to you. They cost Christ His life, but He invites you to buy them without money and without price. All of these gospel promises are the fruit of Christ’s death, hanging from the tree of His resurrection life.
3. The Reason to Keep God’s Law
If the promises of the gospel are yours in Christ, then you no longer have any reason to break God’s law. Christians certainly do sin by breaking God’s law, but the reason they do it is that in the moment they sin, they don’t believe what is true. They don’t believe the very sure promises of the gospel.
Everything God promises you in the gospel is certainly yours in Christ, which means there is no reason to want, or love, the things of this world more than Christ and His benefits. And in the gospel, there is great reason to love God and love others. Love is the heart of the law, according to both the Old Testament and New. Christ summed up the meaning of love by citing the two greatest commandments, the two tables of the Ten Commandments, when He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … and … You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:36-40).
- Do you want freedom? Freedom doesn’t come from rebelling against external authorities and by becoming a law unto yourself. Freedom comes in Christ, who frees you from your sin, and who frees you to love, even while honoring God’s established human authorities, which is what the fifth commandment teaches (honor your father and mother).
- Do you want justice? You don’t have to murderously exact it from others. God promises that He will visit justice upon all. That frees you to forgive and love and to seek justice without murdering.
- Do you want satisfaction and life? You don’t have to seek these things through sensual pleasures like adultery or drunkenness. The gospel freely gives the Holy Spirit who gives you inward life and satisfaction as you learn more and more to commune with Christ, to see Him in His Word and to pray faithfully.
- Do you want security? You don’t have to obtain it by hoarding possessions (stealing). There is no greater security than the security of eternal life in Christ, who sovereignly keeps and cares for all of His own. You can give freely without fear.
- Do you want a good reputation? You don’t have to lie about yourself to prop up your reputation. God has declared you righteous in Christ in your justification. He has seated you in the heavenlies with Christ! God honors you. Let others say what they wish. You only need to hold on to Christ.
And as you believe the promises of the gospel, you will learn not only to avoid sin, but to put on faithful loving obedience to Christ, knowing that the more you’re conformed to His image, the more you honor Him and please the One who bought you. The gospel frees us from the dominion of sin and makes us willing to obey God’s good law from our hearts for His glory. And it frees us to obey, not to earn God’s favor, not to avoid condemnation, but from love to Christ and joy in Him.
For Further Reading:
The Law and The Gospel by Ernie Reisinger
The Marrow of Modern Divinity by Edward Fisher
The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson
The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Walter Marshall
A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel by John Colquhoun