Dead to the Law

[This article was revised in January 2019: Further information.]

The distinction between law and grace is a Bible teaching that, if misunderstood, can put you in real danger of spiritual bondage. The apostle Paul gives us a very solemn warning that we should take very seriously: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1).

Are you in danger of falling from the freedom you have in Jesus Christ? Are you being brought under a yoke of slavery? You may be in more danger of this than you realize. There are preachers, churches, and entire denominations that will bring you into bondage if you are not careful. But what is the yoke of bondage? and how can we make sure we are standing fast in freedom?

A Yoke of Bondage

In Galatians 5:1, Paul writes, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” What is the yoke of bondage that Paul has in mind? If we look at the surrounding verses and chapters in Galatians, we very quickly see that Paul is writing about the law. The law is the yoke of bondage. For example, in Galatians 5:4, we read, “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” That is, Paul was saying that we cannot depend on both the law and grace to justify us. It is either one or the other. And the choice of which one it should be is made clear in Galatians 2:16: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”

Paul contrasts law and grace. If we are under the law, we are in bondage. If we are under grace, we are free. But how do we become free from the law? Paul shows us in two very interesting illustrations.

Dead to the Law

One of the great tragedies in the church today is its not fully comprehending the implications of Romans 7:1-4. This is the first illustration I mentioned. In verses 1-3, Paul says, “Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man” (Romans 7:1-3).

Paul is speaking in terms we can easily understand. A law binds us only as long as we live. The law of our marriage vows is only “until death do us part.” But Paul’s focus is not marriage. He uses this only as an illustration. The apostle is trying to teach us something about our relationship to the law. Notice verse 4: “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God” (Romans 7:4).

As shocking as it may sound, Paul is saying that by the dead body of Christ, we have become dead to the law, and we are now married to the living, resurrected Christ. How can this be? Many Scriptures tell us that we who are in Christ died with Him in his death and now live a new life with Him in His resurrection.

One such passage is found in Romans 6. Notice verses 5 and 6: “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.” So, what Paul is saying is that, when our old sinful self died with Christ, we were released from the law that bound us. Can this possibly mean that the Old Covenant law, with its Ten Commandments, is not binding on us? Yes.

Notice what the Baptist preacher, Gilbert Beebe, wrote in 1869: “There are but few lessons in the gospel, which the saints have been more slow to learn and fully comprehend, than that of our release from the law, and marriage to Christ” (“Loosed From the Law“).

Beebe’s claim that this is a lesson that the saints are slow to learn can be seen in the battle Christian conservatives have fought to allow the Ten Commandments to be posted in public places. I understand the issues of religious freedoms and free speech involved, but why the Ten Commandments? Why not the Sermon on the Mount? Or the Golden Rule, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (Luke 6:31). Another example can be heard in many churches every Sunday morning. If you attend one of these churches, you will likely see the pastor stand at the pulpit and read the Ten Commandments every Sunday morning. But this is an error. The Ten Commandments, as God gave them to Moses and the children of Israel at Sinai, are not binding on Christians. We are dead to the law. Frankly, most Christians today are not Jews, so God never gave the Ten Commandments to them anyway. But I don’t want to get off on too much of a tangent. I’ll just say that Jesus freed us from all sorts of law, and Paul, writing in Galatians 4, lumps both Old Covenant law and the laws of the heathens together under the terms “elements of the world” and “beggarly elements,” and he says we should not turn back to them.

Copyright © 2005-2019 Peter Ditzel