Because I follow the Scriptures and believe that it is a sin to add or take from the Bible, there are some who mistakenly characterize my strict stands on Scripture as being legalism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Freedom from the Law is not freedom from doing the will of God. Jesus said, “he that does the will of My Father” is the one that will enter the Kingdom (Mt. 7:21-23).
In Romans 7, Paul reveals a flaw in the thinking of some Christians who continue to demand adherence to the Law of Moses – the Law that said, “thou shall not covet” (Romans 7:7). Underlying their error, is another error of trusting in one’s personal merit/works. This is an error that anyone could fall into, even the one who doesn’t, “know the Law” (v.1). Each time these Jewish Christians attempted to bind on others the various components of the old Law, like circumcision, keeping sabbaths, etc, they communicated something from inside themselves that faith (even an active faith) in Christ’s sacrifice was not sufficient. Paul lets these Christians know that their error is the error of setting their minds on fleshly things, of trusting in the flesh that will always fall short. This is why they must understand they are freed or released from the Law. A system of Law cannot justify and their focus on works has taken them away from Christ.
“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:4,5).
Why are we freed from the Law? The religious person today who has been brought up on the Ten Commandments (nine of the ten, anyway) doesn’t understand and usually defensively asks if this means we CAN commit adultery, lie, or kill? The answer is no. Christians are under a new law, the law of the Spirit (Romans 8:2), which Jesus previewed in the Sermon on the Mount, which says you may not do these in your heart.
So why does Paul say we are released from the Law? First, we are released from the Law that we might be joined to Christ (Romans 7:4). Without being released, and without accepting this release, we are in an impossible situation of trying to live under to systems – the Old and New laws. Unless adultery is permitted, being joined to Christ and the Law, is not permitted. Second, we are released from the Law that we might bear fruit unto God (7:4b). This is better than bearing “fruit unto death” (7:5b), which is what Paul’s Jewish brethren are doing when they insist on keeping the Law and by demanding that the Gentile brethren do too. “Bearing fruit unto death” is fruit that comes from trusting in your own works to justify. “Since by works of the flesh shall no one be justified.” “Bearing fruit unto God” is fruit that is born from having an obedient faith in Jesus Christ, and in the power of His sacrifice. And third, Paul says we are released from the Law that we might serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. This is related to the second and it calls attention to what was said that there is a right and a wrong mindset. The one who is following the Law is serving in oldness of the letter. This person is like the Pharisee and Sadducee who places all of his focus on the outer, external facets of the religion, while neglecting the “weightier things” like justice and mercy. The misled Christian who is reading this might be offended at being lumped in with the Legalists, because he doesn’t really want to be legalistic. However, by demanding adherence to the Law, such a person has been snared by that underlying error of communicating a trust in his works as much as he trust in Christ’s work on the cross. He is serving in “oldness of the letter.”
Christians who are freed from the Law are not freed from serving in newness of the spirit. The important thing is to serve God with an obedient faith, which is a faith that doesn’t put an ounce or millimeter of faith in one’s own merit.
Salvation is God’s gift. No one is worthy of it, and no one will ever be worthy of it. “We all fall short.” The Christian knows this and gives thanks to God for his being saved by God’s grace. The Christian believes in God and immediately lays down his net, so to speak, obediently following Christ. But at this point, there are some Christians and many religious people outside of Christ who, when recognizing their unworthiness, listen to the voice of Satan that says “you must do your part to atone for yours sins.” So they work and work and they measure themselves against themselves and they forget the cross. They do not know the power of the cross is to make complete those who are unworthy.
Released from the Law does not mean avoiding the consequences of disobeying Christ. Some today think they can do whatever they want to in sexuality, marriage, worship, etc, because they say “Christians are not under Law.” This is very similar to the error that Paul dealt with in Rome where some who were perverting the truth about grace. They were saying, “let us sin that grace might increase” (Rom. 3:8; 6:1). It’s hard to believe that people actually believed that Jesus died so that people could intentionally sin more and still be covered by God’s grace. Paul says of those who advanced the idea: “their condemnation is just.” In our day a form of this error persists. Some churches talk about grace and faith in glowing, feel good, terms. They praise God and they confess Jesus. But when it comes to actually taking a stand against sins related to sexual promiscuity, perversion, divorce and remarriage, and etc, they suddenly stop all demands for repentance and declare that grace covers it all. Those who do this might object to the comparison, but it is actually quite similar. Even if they could say that the adulterer didn’t intend to sin, which is perhaps true, they by their acceptance of the adulterer, promising him or her salvation without repentance (i.e. putting away the adulterous relationship), communicate to the rest of the congregants and to the world that the same grace is waiting for them. This is not what Paul meant when he said we are released from the Law. Jesus taught the sanctity of marriage. Paul did not release us from that (1 Cor. 7:10,11). It is to be a lifetime covenant that only a spouse’s marital unfaithfulness or death can annul. God’s grace is available, but only if the person repents and puts away the sin. Freed from the Law does not mean that we can do whatever we want. Paul said to the Galatians, who were exposed to similar doctrinal errors as the Romans, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal. 5:13). Being relased from the Law doesn’t mean you can marry as often as you like. It doesn’t mean you can worship God however you please. Released from the law doesn’t mean you may ignore the New Testament pattern in these areas. Being released from the Law doesn’t mean you can continue in sin and expect grace to increase.
The bottom line of being released from the Law is that we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Obey and serve Him in newness of the spirit. Do not listen to others who bind their traditions and demand that you do more than Christ demands. And do not listen to that faithless voice of doubt in your head, that says, “I am unworthy”, because that is not the point. You are “unworthy”, so put your faith in Jesus Christ.
Moses in the Promised Land