What does it mean to be “Under the Law”? If we are not “Under the Law”, does it mean that we are “Above the Law”? What did the Apostle Paul mean by this “term” which I believe is possibly the most misunderstood “term” in the New Testament Writings.
What is the Law?
Without an understanding of what “The Law” means, it is impossible to understand what “Under the Law” means.
1. The Law Defines Sin – Rom 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. In other words, The Law let’s us know what “Sin” is – Rom 3:20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
2. Because the “Law” defines “Sin”, “breaking the Law” is “Committing Sin” – 1Jn 3:4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
Under the Law
What most people believe is that by saying we are not “Under the Law”, that Paul has told us that we have been released from the Law. All of us live in a country which has its own unique set of Laws. A person who is not under the jurisdiction of the Law is known as going “Above the Law”. A person who is usually convicted by the Law, is one who is “Under the Law”. The Law defines the parameters of right and wrong. A person who breaks the Law is “under the penalty of the Law” This is the most simple explanation for this term used by Paul. In fact, Paul tries to explain this very idea in Romans 6:14 and 15.
Let’s inspect all of the verses that contain the phrase “under the Law”…
Not “Under the Law”, but not “Above the Law” either
Rom 6:14,15 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
If we apply the definition of “Sin” as seen in 1Jn 3:4 into the above verse, it would read something like this. For “transgression of law” shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we “transgress the Law”, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Accordingly, being “Under the Law” is being “under dominion of Law” – in other words “a person who is condemned by the Law”.
The Law leads us to Christ – Once we are under the Dominion of Christ, we are no longer under the dominion of the Law
Gal 3:22-25 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
As per the above verse, the Scriptures have concluded “All Under Sin”, which means “all of us are transgressors of the Law” and are under the dominion of the law as transgressors. Since all are Justified by Faith just as Abraham (Gal 3:6), we were “kept” (guarded/protected) under the Dominion of the Law. The Law was our instructor that led us to Christ, so that we maybe justified by Faith. But once we are under the “dominion of Christ” we are no longer under the “dominion of the Law”. (But as Paul said in Romans 6:15, can we Sin (Transgress the Law) since we are not under the Law? God Forbid.)
Christ redeems those under the Law by being made under the Law
Gal 4:4,5 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
Christ came to be in the form of man who is “under the law” which means “under dominion of law” and takes on the “full penalty/condemnation of the Law” to redeem those who were in fact under the penalty/condemnation for breaking God’s Law ; which means “Sin”.
Galatians who desire to be justified by the Law would go back to being under the Law
Gal 4:21 Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?
In the Letter to the Galatians, we see a community of believers being led astray to believe that they are not saved if they do not get circumcised, as we see in Acts 15. Justification/Salvation is by Faith and Grace alone – we cannot add anything to this free gift. But the Galatians by believing that they needed to be circumcised to be considered the seed of Abraham, were being led back to being “under the dominion of the Law” as they were going back to a system of receiving Justification/Salvation by works – which no person would be able to do perfectly. Paul explains in Romans 3:20 that we cannot be justified by the Law – The Law is there to show us what “sin” is and is not.
Being led by the Spirit frees you from “being condemned by the Law”
Gal 5:18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
Reading Galatians 5:19-26, it is abundantly clear that being led by the Spirit is contrary to the lusts of the flesh. In other words, “Lusts of the flesh” are equated to “transgression of Law which is Sin” while “being led by the Spirit” is equated to “being obedient to God’s Law which is walking in Holiness”.
Paul tried to reach out to people who are “Under the Law” and “Above the Law”
1Co 9:20,21 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
While this particular verse is discussed in greater detail here, I would like to point out that there are two groups of people he is dealing with. One group is “Under the dominion of the Law” which does not bring justification/salvation, but condemnation. The other group is “Above the Law” as they are acting as if there is no Law that states what sin is. Both groups are under condemnation, while only Faith in Christ could lead us to a renewed life of Holiness in God.
Being “Under the Law” means to be “Under the dominion/penalty/condemnation/transgression of Law”. “Obeying the Law” means to “walk in holiness” as “Sin” is equated to “The Transgression of the Law”. Just because we have been released from being condemned as transgressors of Law, does not mean we have a license to Sin (Transgress the Law). Understanding what “Under the Law” means may thus affect how we see our renewed walk in Christ towards His coming Kingdom.