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Question: “Doesn’t the Bible teach that ‘we’re not under the law’?”

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This question is derived from a verse in Romans 6.  Before answering the question, let’s look at the full verse:

For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.    (Romans 6:14)

My Short Answer

This verse is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied verses in the entire New Testament (Heb. B’rit Chadasha).  Why?  Because people regularly take it out of context and apply it in a way which Paul never intended.  For centuries, including today, many people will read this verse and automatically jump to the conclusion that the law being referred to here is the “Law of God;” however, when the verse is put back into context, and re-examined within that context, then it’s much easier to see that the “law” that we are not under is not the “law of God,” but “the law of sin.”  In fact, the first part of the verse, even says that what shall not have “dominion over you” is “sin.”

My Longer Explanation

But just to prove my point, let’s examine the verse within the immediate context of the chapter.   But before we do, it’s important to remember when interpreting any text, including the Bible, that we need to put the text back into its original context, understand it within that context, and then bring that meaning forward to our day and time, and then see how that understanding or meaning can be applied to our lives today.  It’s also important to remember that a text cannot mean anything differently today than it did when it was originally written.

And as we examine the context of the chapter, we’ll discover that Paul is arguing in this chapter, as well as chapters 7-8, that Jesus (Heb. Yeshua) died to set us free from the “law of sin,” not the “law of God.”    The reason people get confused about which law is being discussed is that Paul is trying to explain how Christ (Messiah) set us free from the “law of sin” by using “the law of God,” and people just get the two “laws” confused.

In order to demonstrate the truth of what I just said, let’s look at Romans 6 as a whole, and then when we get to verses 14-15, we’ll examine them within the context of their surrounding passages, and then I’ll finish the chapter to demonstrate how well that understanding fits in the overall message of the chapter.

Romans 6

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?

Paul begins this chapter with a question, “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?”  Why does he begin with this question?  Paul begins this section of his epistle to the church in Rome because he knows his audience; he understands how their non-Jewish mind works.  At the end of the previous chapter, Paul makes the following statement:

And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. (Romans 5:20)

After saying this, Paul anticipates his audience’s response to be, “Well, if ‘where sin increases, grace abounds all the more,’ then why not sin more, so we can experience more grace!”  Understanding how his audience thinks, Paul, therefore, begins with this question.

May it never be!  How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

The expression “May it never be!” is the English translation of the Greek idiom me genoito,  which was the strongest, most decisive and emphatic negative expression that existed in the Greek language.  I can almost imagine Paul having a look of horror and dismay on his face as he penned those words, wondering how anyone could even conceive of this question, much less have the audacity to ask it.

Paul asks this question to rhetorically set the stage for his discussion of the significance of water baptism (Heb. mikvah).  In Judaism then and now, immersion in water (mikvah) is the final step to conversion.   This is relevant because at this time of what we now call “Christianity” was still an intricate part of 2nd Temple Judaism, although it was beginning to be seen as a “sect” (see Acts 24:10).  Therefore, the view of conversion as a process, which is how it is viewed in Judaism (even to this day) is still very much in the mind of Paul and the Apostles.

At this time, the difference between mainstream Judaism and Early Christianity centered around the person of Yeshua/Jesus as the Promised Messiah.  So for Christ (Messiah), the Apostles, and including Paul, conversion began with the person’s complete and total surrender to the Lordship of Christ (Messiah) and culminated with water baptism (i.e., “undergoing the mikvah“).

Conversion and Water Immersion

Conversion culminated with immersion in water (mikvah) because that is where the person made their public confession of faith (see Romans 10:10); however, since the early 1950s in America, that function of water baptism (the mikvah) was replaced by people coming up to the altar that began with the revival tent meetings.

Interestingly, if you study the book of Acts, you cannot find a single example of
someone accepting Jesus (Yeshua) as their Lord and Savior, and not getting baptized (or immersed) immediately after.  In fact, the only person in the entire New Testament who gives his life to Christ (Messiah) and is not baptized (immersed) afterward is the thief on the cross.  But, in this instance, the thief should be seen as an exception, not the rule, because in his case, water baptism (the mikvah) was not possible.

When formulating a definition, we note the exceptions, but we don’t use them as the basis for our definition.  Instead, when defining terms or ideas, we define based on what’s typical (what we find in the majority of cases), not on what’s an exception.

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus [Messiah Yeshua] have been baptized into His death.

Paul explains here that as believers in Christ (Messiah) we are to identify with Christ (Messiah) in all things.  The first thing we identify with is His death in the act of baptism.

Therefore we have buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ [Messiah] was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

  • When we are baptized in water, we are identifying with Christ in His death.  We are not only putting to death our own “old man” (or old life of sin), but we are also through this ritual, identifying ourselves with Christ (Messiah) in His death and burial.
  • We cannot be raised to life, if we have not died.  But once we have died and been buried with Christ (Messiah) through the ritual of water immersion, then when we are brought up out of the water, we identify with Christ (Messiah) in His resurrection, and as a result, we can then “walk in newness of life.”  This corresponds to Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man [or woman] be in Christ [Messiah], he [or she] is a new creature;  old things are passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection,

Paul says that if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, which occurs when we put to death and bury our old life when we are baptized in water, then “certainly,” Paul argues here, we shall also identify with Him in the likeness of His resurrection.

knowing this, that our old self (or man) was crucified with Him that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin;

Paul explains clearly here that the reason Christ died on the cross was so that our old life of sin could be put to death with Him, so that with that “body of sin” dead, Paul writes, “we should no longer be slaves to sin.”  By implication, then, before we came to Christ and surrendered our lives to Him, we were slaves to sin, but then when we surrendered our lives to Him and was baptized, our “old man” was buried with Christ, and therefore, now we are freed from being “slaves to sin.”

for he who has died is freed from sin.

If we have died with Christ (Messiah), then obviously, Paul argues, we have been freed from whatever hold sin had on our lives.  This contradicts the confession I have heard from many Christian college students at the Bible studies on campus.  I hear many say,

We are really no different than the other [unsaved] people around us, we’re still sinners, except that we are now forgiven.

Their confession of how they view themselves contradicts the teachings of Scripture here.  Paul writes that through Christ’s (Messiah’s) death, we have been set free from sin, not just forgiven.  A slave can be forgiven, and still remain a slave.  But once a slave has been set free, he is no longer a slave.  If we have surrendered our lives to Christ (Messiah), we are no longer slaves to sin.  Consequently, sin cannot tell us what to do.  Sin is no longer a “have to.”  So if I sin now, as a free man, then I sin because I choose to – not because I have to.   Only slaves have no choice, someone who has been set free now has the ability to choose.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,

If we have identified with Christ (Messiah) in our death (the death of our old selfish life), then Paul argues, we believe that either at His return or when we die, “we shall also live with Him.”

knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death is no longer is master over Him.

Christ (Messiah) will never die again.  He died once for sin, He’s been raised bodily from the dead, and shall never die again; as a result, death has no power over Him, or as Paul writes here, it is no longer “master over Him.”  Christ (Messiah) has conquered death and the grave.  Praise God!

For the death that He died, He died to sin, once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.

Jesus (Yeshua) died once to sin, once and for all; but now that He has been resurrected, Jesus (Yeshua) now lives His life in faithful service and devotion to God.  Why is this important for us?  Because as Christ’s disciples, we are to do likewise.  We have died with Him; we have been buried with Him; and we are to live in newness of life with Him, faithfully serving and being devoted to God.

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Again, Paul states, we are to consider ourselves “dead to sin.”  Obviously, one cannot be “dead to sin” and be living a lifestyle of sin at the same time.  The two cannot co-exist.  John, in his epistle, writes,

Whosoever abides in Him (Christ) sins not: whosoever [continues to] sin has not seen Him, neither known Him…Whosoever is born of God does not [continue to] commit sin; for His seed remains in him: and he cannot [continue to] sin, because he is born of God. (I John 3:6,9)

In looking at these passages, it is clear that the expectation of the Apostles was that although a person might sin, it was definitely not expected to be a regular part of that person’s life.  Consequently, we cannot serve God and sin; each day that we wake up, we must make a choice in whom we shall serve: God or sin?

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts,

We are not to let (or allow) sin to reign in our “mortal body.”  Obviously, if it is something that we can allow or permit, we can also not allow or permit.  In other words, sin does not have control or power in our lives.  If we sin, it’s because we choose to do so, not because “I can’t help it.”  And this is a command that we not allow (or let) “sin to reign in our mortal body.” Why?  Because if we do, Paul says, we will “obey its lusts.”  Therefore, the reason many Christians end up sinning time and time again is because they are violating this command and allowing “sin to reign in their mortal body.”

and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments to God.

  • Paul here is continuing his line of thought from the previous verse.  Not only are we not to allow “sin to reign in our mortal body,” but we are also “not to go on presenting the members (or parts) of our body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness.”  Again, Paul is reinforcing the idea again that sin is a choice.  It is something we choose to do, and if we do not permit ourselves to engage in sinful behavior, or allow sin to reign within us, then we won’t be going around sinning.
  • Anyone who has ever tried to stop a bad habit, like smoking, knows you cannot just stop something and not substitute it with something.  If you don’t substitute it with something else, you will fail in your attempt.  Paul here gives us something to put in the place of sin; that is, to present ourselves “to God as those alive from the dead, and your members (all the parts of who you are) as instruments to God.”

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.

Looking back at what’s been discussed in this chapter.  Paul has discussed how baptism is  an image of us identifying with Christ (Messiah) in His death, burial, and resurrection, and that when we come up out of the water, we arise in newness of life.  And in this new life, we have been freed from being slaves of sin, and we are no longer to allow sin to be a part of our lives.  Paul gives a series of commands regarding our refusal to allow sin to be a part of our new existence as members of God’s kingdom: we are to “consider ourselves dead to sin,” “not to let sin reign in our mortal body,” and “not to go on presenting the members of our body to sin.”

Then we come to this verse.  Why does Paul say we are not to give any place for sin in our lives? Because (or For), he says, “sin shall not be master over you.”  As Christians, there should only be one Master in our lives, and that is Christ (Messiah).  We cannot have two masters.  This idea is even taught by Christ (Messiah) in His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7).  In His sermon, He teaches:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and material wealth. (Matthew 6:24)

Although the two masters Jesus was discussing was God and material wealth, Paul uses the same general concept in his discussion here in Romans 6, but the opposing master to God in Paul’s discussion here is “sin.”  We cannot serve them both, God and sin.

Now the second part of this verse says, “for you are not under law, but under grace.”  This is the part of the verse that messes people up.  Just because the word “law” is used, the automatic assumption by most Christians is that Paul here is talking about “the law of God,” but there’s no textual evidence to support such a conclusion.  In fact, from the beginning of this chapter up until this point, there’s been no discussion or allusion to the Law of God anywhere.

So why would Paul suddenly throw in a topic out of nowhere that doesn’t fit within the context of the surrounding discussion that he’s been having for the past thirteen verses?  What does fit the context of the passage that Paul has been discussing up to this point is the idea that “we are not under the law/domination/control [of sin], but under grace.”  In fact, notice how well that understanding fits when we continue the discussion and look at the next five verses.

What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law [the law of sin] but under grace?   May it never be!

As believers, just because we are no longer “under the domination, control, or law of sin,” doesn’t mean that we can go out and sin as much as we want.  Paul says as strongly and emphatically as possible, “May it never be!”

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?

We are going to serve someone in our lives, either sin or God. We must make that choice.  And whoever we choose to obey, we become their slaves.  For example, Paul says, if we obey sin, then our reward for our obedience to sin will be “death,” but if we obey God, then our obedience will result in “righteousness.”  Righteousness then comes  not only from our faith or believing in God, but it also comes from the obedience that flows out from our faith and love for God.  This view of righteousness fits in with what John says in his epistle: “Little children, let no man deceive you,  he that [continues to] do [or practice] righteousness is righteous, even as He [Christ/Messiah] is righteous” (I John 3:7)

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed,…

In this verse, Paul is praising God that although there was a point in their lives when they were slaves of sin, that they “became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”

…and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

Notice in this verse, that Paul says that we have “been freed from sin,” he did not say that we have been freed from the Law of God.  And if you think about it, that idea of being freed from the Law of God doesn’t even make sense.  I mean, that’s saying that we’ve been freed from the Word of God.  Why would Jesus die to “free us” from His own Word?  Also note, we not only been freed from sin, but we’ve become “slaves of righteousness.”

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.  For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

Now Paul is going to explain this again in relation to our previous lives before we came to faith in Christ (Messiah).  Before we were saved, we would present the members (parts) of our bodies as slaves to whatever impurity or lawlessness that we craved or lusted after at that particular moment, or whatever we thought we could get away with at that moment.  This resulted, Paul says, in further “lawlessness.”

The word translated as “lawlessness” (or “iniquity” in the KJV) is the Greek word anomia (Strong’s #458), which is comprised of two parts: a + nomos (lit. “no law” or “without law”).  According to the “Lexical Aids to the New Testament,” anomia means “lawless, not having, knowing, or acknowledging the law” (1689).  In other words, when we live our life as if the law did not exist, not acknowledging its teachings to tell us what is right or wrong, then that is anomia.   Another place we find the word anomia is in Johns general epistle,

Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (King James Version, I John 3:4)

The phrase “the transgression of the law” is the translation of the Greek word anomia.  So putting this understanding of anomia back into verse 19 then, Paul is saying when we present our members (parts of ourselves, whether our physical body, mind, tongue, eyes, hands, etc.) as “slaves to impurity and to lawlessness (or to transgressing the law),” then this results “in further lawlessness (transgressions of the law).”  Anyone who has ever done something wrong, and then lied about it when they got caught, for example, knows this to be true.

Now if we are going to give up “lawlessness” or “transgressing the law,” then we need to replace it with something.  Anyone who has ever tried giving up smoking knows that if we just give something up and not replace it with something else, our attempt to stop usually fails.  Paul here says that instead of sinning, or of “presenting our members to sin and lawlessness,” we should “present our members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.”

In this section of verses, Paul sets up the term “lawlessness” (Gk. anomia) as a direct
opposite of the term “righteousness,” or the Greek word dikaiosune (Strong’s #1343),
which, according to the “Lexical Aids to the New Testament,” “Dikaiosune, righteousness, is thus conformity wth the claims of higher authority [i.e., God],” and just as we noted in the text, the Greek word dikaiosune does, in fact, “stand as an opposite to anomia (458), lawlessness” (1706).  Therefore, if “righteousness” (Gk. dikaiosune) is the opposite of “lawlessness” (Gk. anomia), and “lawlessness” is “transgression of the law,” then logically, “righteousness” should be understood to mean “obedience to the law” as God intended it to be kept (“the claims of the higher authority”).

When we put this understanding of the Greek dikaiosune, “righteousness,” back into the text, then we can see that Paul is saying in this last line that we are to submit our members (the various aspects of ourselves) as “slaves to righteousness (or obedience to the Law of God, as He intended us to keep it),” which will result “in sanctification.”

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

Again, Paul here is reiterating what our relationship was to sin before we surrendered our lives to Christ (Messiah) and accepted Him as our Lord and Savior.  We were “slaves of sin,” and as such we were “not slaves to righteousness” (i.e., we were not living our lives in obedience to the commandments of God) or as translated here, “free (or not in submission) in regard to righteousness.”

Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed?  For the outcome of those things is death.

Paul, here, is asking a seemingly logical question.  If we have come to Christ (Messiah) in order that our sins may be forgiven, then why in the world would we want to go back and do those sins again, to do those things “which [we] are now ashamed?”  “For,” as Paul notes here, “the outcomes of those things is death.”

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.

Notice again, we have “been freed from sin” and not from the law of God.  Consequently, the interpretation that we have been “freed from the law of God” just does not fit the content of Paul’s discussion here in chapter 6.  It is not the “law of God” that Christ (Messiah) died to set us free from, but the “law of sin.”  And this should seem abundantly clear from our verse-by-verse discussion of this entire chapter.

In addition to being “freed from the law of sin,” we have been “enslaved to God,” but
what I found interesting was in comparing the last line of this verse from the New American Standard Bible with the translation found the King James Version, which says,

ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. (Romans 6:22b)

This is almost exactly what I found when I compared this same last line in my Interlinear Greek-English New Testament,

ye have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end life eternal.

In comparing all three translations, what we discover in this text is that the word “holiness” in the King James is equated with the term “sanctification” in both the Interlinear and the New American Standard, but the rest of the line is the same in both the King James and the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament.

What I did find interesting is the difference between the image of a “benefit” and a “fruit.” A “benefit” is something that is just handed to us; we don’t have to do anything to it, it’s just ours.  On the other hand, “fruit” is something that must be nourished to help it grow and develop.

Consequently, when we surrender our lives to Christ (Messiah) and we are “freed from sin” and “enslaved to God,” this fruit seed of “sanctification” or “holiness” is implanted in our lives, and as we nourish and develop it through our study and obedience to the Scriptures, then it develops into us becoming more and more holy or “sanctified,” with the end result being “life eternal” or “everlasting life.”

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul here sums up this part of the discussion (this discussion continues through chapters 7 and 8) with the summary that “the wages of sin” or what we receive as the result of our sins against God “is death,” but the “free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus [Messiah Yeshua] our Lord.”  It is a “free gift” not because it did not cost anything, but because Jesus (Yeshua) has already paid the full price; He gave His life for ours.  Therefore, it is now offered freely to those who are willing to accept it, and that “free gift” is “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So from our verse-by-verse explication (or explanation) of this chapter, including the verse that has been so often taken out of context and misapplied, Romans 6:14.  We can see now that “the law” that Jesus (Yeshua) died to set us free from was not “the law of God” but “the law of sin.”  Because since the very beginning, sin has been what has caused bondage and enslavement to men, not the law of God.  And so going back to the original question, “Doesn’t the Bible teach ‘we’re not under the law'”?  If you mean the “law of sin,” yes, but if you mean “the law of God,” no.


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