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What does it mean to be "Under the Law"?

An idiom is a figure of speech that is designed to express a literal concept through an abstract picture. “Kicking the bucket” is an idiom depicting death, yet at death one doesn’t literally kick a bucket. There are literally thousands of idioms in the English language, but nobody knows the actual number. Many idioms are regional, and some are even personal. When I was growing up, my friends and I used the term “booking” when speaking about running fast. Idioms exist in all languages, including of course, in Greek and Hebrew.

The Scriptures are full of idioms. The idiomatic phrase “poor in spirit” found in Matthew 5:3 is an abbreviated idiom that refers to the “poor and of a contrite spirit” from Isaiah 66:2. It means those that have come to the end of their own strength and cry out in desperation to God, acknowledging they have no righteousness of their own. There are so many Hebrew idioms found in scripture that I’m sure we don’t always recognize them all. One of them is the phrase “under the law.”

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

But what does “under the law” mean? The Torah (or the “Law”) of God is not tangible, meaning it isn’t like we can literally cozy up under it like a blanket. Therefore, this phrase needs to be considered in more abstract terms.

“Under the Law” is one of those idioms that has really caused much confusion in the church over the years. When someone misunderstands this idiom, and a few others like it, it can cause them to recoil against a brother or sister who takes part in something they deem “done away with” – like the Sabbath or Feast days for example. In their recoiling, they will generally malign their brother taking part in the Feast as being lost, or in a cult, or accuse them of trying to “work his way to salvation.” This simply isn’t the case. But how do you get that point across to somebody who was born into a culture that has misrepresented and/or misunderstood Torah (God’s instructions, directions, laws) for hundreds of years?

I had an epiphany regarding this idiom in the weirdest of places – a Western Maryland highway. About 7 or 8 years ago, I was traveling with my wife and children from Kentucky back to NJ to spend Thanksgiving with family. I was not too far into Western Maryland when I was pulled over for speeding.


I was heading east and coming off a fairly steep mountain and had gained a little too much speed in the process. I was pulled over doing 79 in a 65 and I was guilty. The officer came to my window and asked for my credentials, which he received along with a lame excuse as to why I was driving as quickly as I was. He left my car, ran my information through his computer, and came back 5 minutes later with what I surely thought was a ticket worth a couple of points and at least a $100 fine. Instead, to my surprise, he gave me a written warning – no ticket, no points, no fine!

I was guilty under (or according to) the Maryland State traffic laws and deserved the points, the fine, and the ticket! However, what the officer extended to me was grace; he showed me unmerited (un-earned) favor. I was no longer guilty under the law. However, the grace he extended to me did not abrogate (revoke) the Maryland State traffic laws. Even though I was given a pass, and shown grace (forgiveness), and avoided punishment (a ticket), it was still against the law to speed.

The parallel here with Romans 6:14 should be obvious. We are born into sin, to the degree that it is our nature to sin. We often miss the mark we are aiming at, but we have been shown grace by a God who through the 2nd Adam, reversed the curse incurred through the sin of the 1st Adam. We have been declared “not guilty,” and thus we are no longer under the punishment/condemnation that our sin deserves, but are under grace (forgiveness) – which is what the idiom “under the law” is dealing with. We are no longer guilty, thus sin and death no longer reign over us. We have escaped with a written warning.

However, since we are no longer guilty under the law, because we have had un-merited favor extended to us, that does not abrogate the commandments of God – commandments that He said were everlasting (Exodus 31:16-17, Matt. 5:17-19). It is still sin to steal, to serve another god, to make idols. It is still sin to murder, to commit adultery, and yes, forsake the Sabbath. These are everlasting commands given by God to His people. When we come to the God of Israel through the Messiah of Israel, we become a part of the family of God (Ephesians 2). And the commandments were given to the family of God as part of an everlasting covenant that is being renewed through the blood of Messiah. We are not under the law, we are no longer guilty, but we also do not have license to walk in Lawlessness (Torahlessness).

Matthew 7:23 – “…and then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”

[Torahlessness/Lawlessness is the Greek word ἀνομία (anomia), meaning “without law”]

Romans 3:31 – “Do we then overthrow the Law(Torah) by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the Torah.”

By Ken Rank © Messianic Publications Website: http://MessianicPublications.com Link: http://messianicpublications.com/ken-rank/what-does-it-mean-to-be-under-the-law

#lawlessness #law #underthelaw

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