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It is clear the statement in Romans 6:14, “You are not under law, but under grace,” does not indicate Christians are no longer required to abide by God’s law, when the following two verses (verses 15 and 16) are also read.
In Romans 6:15-16 the Apostle Paul ridicules the idea we are not required to abide by the law of God: “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
The epistle to the Romans—the letter some theologians often cite when arguing Paul dismissed the Old Testament as being valid for Christians—actually contains the largest number of Old Testament quotes, which Paul uses to support his teachings. Paul quotes or paraphrases the Old Testament 84 times in this letter. He would not quote from a source supporting his teachings while simultaneously arguing this source is no longer valid or authoritative. (This is addressed in detail in our free study guide The New Covenant: Does It Abolish God’s Law?)
Romans 6:1-2 tells us the subject Paul is actually addressing: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” The question Paul is addressing is: Can a Christian who has “died to sin”—by recognizing his or her sin deserves the death penalty, and has sincerely repented, been baptized and symbolically raised to a new life now led by God’s Spirit—continue in a life of sin? Paul’s answer is blunt and simple: “Certainly not!”
Grace does not negate God’s law. God’s law is actually another gift of God’s grace for mankind—it reveals the thinking, character and mind of God and shows us the way God wants us to live. Grace and law don’t contradict one another, they complement each other.
After the first few verses of Romans 6, Paul goes into a detailed discussion of two ways of life. One leads to slavery to sin, suffering and death (sin being the breaking of God’s law, 1 John 3:4). The other way of life is to accept Christ’s sacrifice to pay the death penalty we deserve, symbolically dying and being buried with Him in baptism, then rising from that watery grave “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Now “alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:11) and living a new life led by God’s Holy Spirit, we are to “not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts” (Romans 6:12). Then we come to Paul’s pivotal statement in Romans 6:14: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
“Under law,” in this context, is referring to being under the penalty of the law. The law required death as punishment for sin. That never changed. What changed is that through God’s grace, Jesus Christ came to earth as a physical human being to take that awful penalty on Himself in our place (Philippians 2:5-8; 1 Peter 1:18-19). Because of that supreme sacrifice and Christ’s resurrection from the dead, we are no longer under the penalty of death, but “under grace.”
Paul goes on to explain the only logical response in the lives of those who experience and recognize this great gift of God’s grace: “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).
Being “under grace” does not mean being exempted from the obligation to obey God’s law, but that we no longer bear the penalty for breaking God’s law.