“We’re not under the law but under grace!” – a verse I’ve heard taken out of context hundreds of times; used as a “get out of jail free card” and license to ignore practical commands given by God for a reason.
It’s been used as a cherry picking method – each time they run into a principle in the Old Testament they don’t like, they pull out Paul’s words with great vigor, “Ha! I’m not under the law, I’m under grace!”
But is this what Paul really meant? Did Paul mean that by being set free from the law, we are actually not obligated to keep the law?
Not when you look at the context of what Paul was teaching.
When you look at what the law was meant for in the Old Testament in context with what Paul was teaching, you see that Paul was not freeing us from keeping Old Testament law, he was freeing us from the original usage of the law.
The Israelites were in the desert, and God was preparing to reveal to them His great plan. It was a plan based on relationship. It was a plan that would set them so far apart from every other nation that their very existence would testify to His Almighty power.
His plan was to make them a nation of priests.
Not a nation of people with some who were priests. No, a whole nation of priests who ministered before the Lord and served Him.
Unique? Yes. But that was God’s plan – a unique people.
But on the day of His visitation, they were terrified by the great noise and shaking and thunder – and their response destroyed God’s plan.
They actually told Moses, “You speak to God and relay His words to us. We don’t want God to speak to us.”
They rejected His relationship.
From there, the law was instituted, the priesthood was limited to one tribe, and there was a great distance between God and His chosen people.
The law was instituted for two reasons:
1. To cover sin and allow God to be able to look upon His people without seeing their sin
2. To dictate interpersonal relationships
You can even sum up the 10 commandments in these two categories. When we read beyond Exodus 20, we see all of the wider aspects of the law summed up in these two categories as well.
So what did Paul mean when he said we’re not under the law but under grace?
First, we have to look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.”
The fact is, Jesus went on to make even harder to keep the law, not easier! He took the law from mere actions (do not commit adultery) to the state of the heart (those who look on a person with lustful thoughts have committed adultery).
Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection did not do away with the law, He fulfilled it. No longer would sin be covered, it would be cleansed. He became the sacrifice and cleansing so that our actions were not required to be accepted by God. HIS final action made us accepted by God.
In other words, He took the law from being about our requirement for acceptance to our expression of love.
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The law that once served as a gavel of judgment that pronounced condemnation and led to excommunication, stoning and death, has now become the friend who takes us by the hand to lead us to the Savior who forgives and says, “Go and sin no more!”
When we read Old Testament law, we should never skim over it, but instead use it as a mirror to reveal the reflection of our heart. And then let it lead us to the throne of grace where we find mercy and forgiveness.
Because God’s original plan has been extended to us:
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” – 1 Peter2:9