Part 2: Question 3: Are Christians Still Under the Law?

Gary North and Gary Demar

Narrated By: Daniel Banuelos & Devan Lindsey
Book: Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn’t


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Chapter Text

Do Christian Reconstructionists Believe that Christians are Still Under the Law?

James tells us that “for whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” Games 2:10). One sin, one transgression of the law, is enough to condemn any person to eternal judgment. Only Jesus kept the law perfectly. God “made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus “redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). In this sense, we are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:14). In fact, the Bible teaches that the church since Adam has always been under grace and not law! The New Testament did not set forth any new way to be saved (Romans 4; Galatians 3:6).

But does salvation by grace through faith mean that Christians are free to live any way they please since they are “redeemed from the curse of the law”? Paul asks it this way: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law” (Romans 3:31). In another place Paul tells us that “the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully” (1 Timothy 1:8). So then, even our use of the law should be governed by the law.

Why, then, did the early church have so much trouble with the Judaizers if the Bible says that the law is “good”? J. Gresham Machen, a staunch early twentieth-century defender of the faith, explains what the issues were regarding the proper understanding and application of the law for believers.

Paul as well as the Judaizers believed that the keeping of the law of God, in its deepest import, is inseparably connected with faith. The difference concerned only the logical – not even, perhaps, the temporal – order of three steps. Paul said that a man (1) first believes on Christ, (2) then is justified before God, (3) then immediately proceeds to keep God’s law. The Judaizers said that a man (1) believes on Christ and (2) keeps the law of God the best he can, and then (3) is justified.[1]

A Pharisee believes that following a man-made tradition saves a person (Mark 7:9). A Judaizer is someone who believes that salvation is by grace through faith plus keeping the law, this included laws regulating diet, blood sacrifice, and circumcision. A Christian is someone who believes that a person is saved by grace through faith apart from the law or any supposed “good works.”

No one can be saved by keeping the law. This is the Bible’s point when Romans 6:14 says that the Christian is not under the law. This is far different from saying that the Christian is not obligated to obey the law as a standard of righteousness. Prior to regeneration, a person is unable to keep the law and is condemned for his “lawlessness.” After a person comes to Christ the curse of the law is lifted. Jesus became a curse for us and suffered the penalty for broken law (Isaiah 53). But now, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, the redeemed sinner is willing and enabled to keep the law, although not perfectly (Ezekiel 36:26-27). This imperfect law keeping, however, does not condemn the Christian as it did prior to being saved by grace, although there may be temporal ramifications for disobedience.

Christians are not left helpless when they do sin, however: “If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). But sin is still “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). Obviously some law is still in force or there would be no sin, and if there is no sin then we do not need an Advocate with the Father. In addition, “if we confess our sins [lawlessness], He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins [lawlessness] and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The real question is, What law are we bound to obey? Some objective biblical standard must be the sinner’s guide. Our inability to obey the law set forth in Scripture, the same law that works on our heart to convict us of sin, drives us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). But there are other uses of the law. We can gauge our love for our neighbor by how well we keep the law (Romans 13:8-10). Our love for Jesus is expressed in terms of law-keeping. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Are Jesus’ commandments different from those of His Father? No. He came to do the will of His Father and taught His disciples to do the same (Matthew 6:10; 7:21; Luke 22:42; John 4:34). Keeping God’s law is God’s will. 

[1] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1923] 1946), p. 24