What Does ‘We Are Not Under the Law, but Under Grace’ Really Mean?
Many professing and church-going Christians fail to realize what “we are not under the law but under grace” means. Most agree that it’s God’s grace and not anything we can do that will make us right with God. Most realize and accept that Christians don’t follow the rites and rituals of the Old Testament but they are often confused about the Ten Commandments. They believe that the Ten Commandments (except seventh-day Sabbath-keeping) are valid and required norms of behavior.
Here’s the Christ-centered perspective we need. When Jesus died on his cross, he completed all the terms of the old covenant. He had kept its terms perfectly, and on his cross he cancelled the “written code, with its regulations” that was against us (Colossians 2:14). He fulfilled and completed all of the old covenant—no part of the old covenant (notwithstanding many different ideas that have been preached over the last almost 2,000 years) remained necessary and required for a Christian.
There is much confusion about the Ten Commandments—with many saying that they are a moral code that has somehow survived the cross of Christ. But the problem is that this is “pick-and-choose” reasoning. The seventh-day Sabbath would remain in effect if that is the case. How do we propose to “keep” nine of the ten? Some say the Sabbath day has been changed to Sunday. But God has not authorized the changing of the Sabbath. The Saturday Sabbath remains. The Sabbath is part of the old covenant—no human can “change” it to Sunday.
The new covenant given to us by the blood of Christ contains many ethical teachings, many illustrations about the behavior of a person in whom Christ lives. We are told, in the pages of the New Testament, many things about what Christ in us produces—nowhere are the Ten Commandments mentioned.
It is true that some of the Ten Commandments are reiterated in the new covenant, some enlarged upon, some further explained and some shown to be irrelevant, at least in terms of their physical aspects (the Sabbath commandment being primary, for in this commandment we see that the Lord has become our rest, that he, the eternal Lord, by God’s grace gives us a rest that transcends a 24-hour period of time).
Most important is the change of emphasis between the old and new covenants.
The old covenant was a “do this” and “live and prosper” covenant— the new covenant is all about what Jesus has done, is doing and will do.
The old covenant is about our need to keep, obey and observe. The new covenant is all about our need to accept Jesus as being everything that we cannot do.
The old covenant is all about externals (laws and covenants and ordinances and sacrifices)—things to do. The new covenant is about the internal life of the Spirit—in whom Jesus lives his resurrected life in us and in whom we become his workmanship, his tools and his new creation.