Under the Law


John G. Reisinger



Some time ago I wrote the following to our Sound of Grace subscription list:

"A Christian is under clear moral principles or laws. He is under laws but he in not under the law. Law is used in many different ways. Romans 6:14 does not say, "We are not under laws or principles that teach us how to live" (we surely are) but it says, "We are not under the law." Under the law and under grace are radically antithetical positions. Israel was under the law in a way that Gentiles never were and Christians are under grace (and not under the law) in a way that an Israelite never could have been."

Someone asked, "Would you, please, carefully describe the difference between these two ways? That is, exactly how does the way a Christian is under grace (and not under the law) differ from the way Israel was under the law?"

That is an excellent question. Let me try to answer it.

First of all, Israel—as a nation and therefore every individual in that nation—was under a covenant of law as a covenant of life and death. The church (some would say, "as the true nation of Israel") is under a covenant of grace.

Israel as a nation was treated as an immature child whose whole life was regulated by rules for clothes, food, etc in every aspect of life. The church has some absolute rules but most of its life is governed by principles.

Israel's conscience was under the threat of death as long as the Old Covenant stood in force, but a Christian's conscience must never be under the threat of condemnation.

It was impossible for Israel's conscience to be free from the law as long as the covenant of law was in force. This situation was true of the nation as well as the individual—including the true believer. A true believing Israelite was just as saved and justified as you and I are today. He was member of the one true family of God. However, his status within the family was that of an immature child under a Pedagogue as compared to the full son-ship status of a new covenant believer indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

The law (ten commandments and its attendants) was the pedagogue in the conscience that could not be satisfied. The old covenant demanded perfect obedience before there could be access within the veil. No sinner could give that obedience and the veil remained in place to close God in and close the sinner out. Once the covenant was broken the sinner needed a sacrifice that could pay for his sin. He could not supply one that could satisfy the holy character of God. The sacrificial system 'covered' his sin until the coming of Christ when the sin was actually paid in full. Our conscience is cleansed under the new covenant in a way the Israelite's conscience could never have been (Heb. 9:15; 10:1-4). The Holy Spirit replaces the law in the conscience as the Christian's pedagogue.

The Christian, because he is under grace (as a covenant of grace), has access into the presence of God (the most holy place) with a conscience void of offence (because cleansed) and that with boldness (Heb 4:14-16). The Israelite could not enter past the veil without meeting the terms of the old covenant (Ten Commandments) in the Ark. The old covenant said, "Stay away!" and the new covenant says, "Come and enter." The rending of the veil is the single most important object lesson in this subject.

When Paul said to the Galatians, "have you heard the law?" (Gal. 3:19) he meant hearing the law as the law covenant. If all we hear is "Thou shalt not steal," we have only heard a commandment. If we hear, "Thou shalt not steal, and if you do, I will kill you" then we have heard the law as law. A Christian must never hear the law as law. If we hear, "Remember the Sabbath Day" we have heard a commandment, but if we hear, "Remember the Sabbath, and if you so much as pick up a few sticks, you are a dead man," we have then heard the law as law. If a Christian ever hears the law as law he does not understand justification. Israel could not hear the law as anything but pure law simply because she was 'under' the law as a covenant.

The Christian is under the New covenant and it is a better covenant simply because it is based on better promises (Heb 8:6). The old covenant said, "Do and live and disobey and die." The new covenant says, "It is finished, believe." Quite a better promise!

Is the difference only in the consideration of justification, or does it proceed to sanctification as well?

Israel was never under the law as means of sanctification simply because most of them were lost rebels. The primary function of the law covenant to Israel was to magnify sin and reveal their guilt. It was unto justification and not sanctification. The whole system of Israel's worship was designed to remind them of their sin. Paul calls it "a ministration of death" in II Cor. 3. The new covenant reminds us of forgiveness. This is the emphasis in the new covenant remembrance service—The Lord's Table.

COPYRIGHT 2004 John G. Reisinger