What Does “I’m Not Under the Law” Really Mean? by Tony Cooke

What Does “I’m Not Under the Law” Really Mean?
Tony Cooke

Under the LawWhen a believer says, “I’m not under the law,” we usually assume that the person is really saying, “I’m not under the law of Moses.” This reflects an accurate understanding of Scripture. Even a casual study of Romans and Galatians will support this. For example, Paul was clearly speaking about the law of Moses when he wrote:

Romans 3:19-20
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Galatians 2:16
16 knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

Galatians 3:10-11
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”

But here are some important questions:

1. Does not being “under the law” mean that Christians are lawless?

2. Does it mean that there is no governing influence or authority in their lives?

3. Does not being “under the law” mean that believers have no moral restraints or ethical guidelines whatsoever?

If these are examples of what a Christian means in his not being “under the law” statement, then we have a real problem relative to the rest of God’s Word. Paul said, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18). Our purpose in life is not simply to be out from under the bondage of rules and regulations relative to the Old Testament; rather, God’s goal is that our lives be fully governed by the Holy Spirit, His Word, and His love.

It is essential that we understand that the word “law” in Scripture does not always refer to the law of Moses. Even in the Old Testament, Proverbs 31:26 refers to “the law of kindness.” When we move into the New Testament, we discover that the usage of the word law – referring to a guiding and governing principle – has a much broader range of meaning than simply “the law of Moses.”

1. Romans 3:27 refers to “the law of faith.”

2. Romans 8:2 mentions “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.”

3. Galatians 6:2 tells us to, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

4. James 1:25 refers to “the perfect law of liberty.” (also mentioned in James 2:12)

5. James 2:8 refers to love (loving your neighbor as yourself) as “the royal law.”

As powerful as all of these references are, perhaps the most penetrating insight that delineates “the law of Moses” from other aspects of God’s principles of governance and influence toward our lives is found in Paul’s statement…

1 Corinthians 9:21 (NLT)
21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.

Notice that Paul differentiates “the Jewish law” from “the law of God” and the “law of Christ.” If I say, “I’m not under the law” and I’m referring to the law of Moses (or as Paul calls it here, “the Jewish law”), that’s perfectly appropriate. But if I mean that I’m free to do whatever I want and I can live however I want, without any consideration for the influence of God’s Word and Spirit in my life, then I have grossly and terribly misunderstood the teaching of the New Testament.

Romans 13:8-10
8 …he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

It should be clearly understood that the word “law” is not a bad word in the Bible. The law of Moses could not justify us; it was never intended to. Even so, the problem was not the law itself. The problem was US!  Paul said that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:21). He said, “…the law is spiritual…” (Romans 7:14), and again, “..the law is good if one uses it lawfully…” (1 Timothy 1:8). The law set a righteous standard to which we could not measure up. Therefore, it is our trusting in the law to save us that is futile. When we trust in our performance (which can never measure up to absolute perfection), we are trusting in ourselves and not the redemptive work of Christ. So the law of Moses, in and of itself, is good; it simply revealed that we were not.

What is used 100% negatively in Scripture is not the concept of law, but rather the concept of lawlessness. If you get a concordance and look up lawless and lawlessness in Scripture, the references are absolutely negative. John said, “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4).

As Christians, we are not under the law of Moses, but we are certainly not lawless. Even the New Testament doctrine of grace, often set in contradistinction to law (see John 1:17), in no way leads a believer toward lawlessness. Paul said, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:14-15).

Why should a believer focus more on the negative than on the positive? Instead of simply saying, “I’m not under the law [of Moses],” perhaps we should consider focusing more on what actually does govern and influence our lives. Why don’t we confess this:

  1. The royal law governs me.
  2. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus governs me.
  3. I am under the influence of God’s love, His Spirit, His Word, and His Grace.
  4. The law of Christ enables me to become everything God wants me to be, and empowers me to effectively carry out God’s will for my life!” 

Like Paul, we can say, “not that I am without the law of God and lawless toward Him, but that I am [especially keeping] within and committed to the law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21, AMP).