Belgic Confession, Article 25: Not Under the Law
by Rev. Martyn McGeown, missionary-pastor laboring with the Limerick Reformed Fellowship (Republic of Ireland).
Romans 6:14 “…for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
Invariably, when someone raises the question of the law as a rule of gratitude for the Christian life, the objection is heard, “But we are not under the law, but under grace.” Therefore, it is vital that we understand the role of the law in the New Testament.
First, the law reveals our sin. “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). It is true that we all have a conscience and we all have some idea of right and wrong because God has written the work of the law—not the law itself—in the hearts of even the heathen. Nevertheless, the law increases our knowledge of sin. Paul experienced this himself when the law began to work upon him. “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7). Second, the law increases our sin. This does not mean that the law is sinful or that the law promotes sin. But the sinful flesh of man hates God’s law—and cannot be subject to it (Rom. 8:7). Therefore, when God reveals His law to us, we are incited to sin even more. “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence … when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died … sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me” (Rom. 7:8, 11). This is because the law is “weak through the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). Third, the law reveals to us our need for a Saviour, and in that way the law was “our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24). The law reveals to us what God’s requirements are, but the law does not give us any strength to obey the commandments of God. The only thing that the law can do is condemn and curse the transgressor of the law. Therefore, we need a Saviour who delivers us from the condemnation and curse of the law. That Saviour is Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:3). Fourth, the law is the guide of our thankfulness. We do not know—without the revelation of God’s law—how we ought to show our gratitude to God for the salvation He has given us. Sometimes we think that we know, but we discover that our “good work of thankfulness” has no warrant from the Word of God because God has not commanded it. Unbelievers might have a “zeal of God” but if it is “not according to knowledge,” what value is it (Rom. 10:2)? Indeed, some men have even committed great sins because they believed that in so doing they were serving God (John 16:2). Paul was an example of this when he was a persecutor of God’s people.
So, in what sense are we not under the law, but under grace? This phrase comes from Romans 6:14. Often it is quoted only in part without considering the context. Paul mentions our not being under the law as a reason for our not serving sin! We are not under the law, first, for condemnation. The law cannot curse or damn the Christian because Christ was cursed in our place. We are not under the law, second, in the sense that sin does not have dominion over us. We have been delivered from the power of sin, and therefore are free to serve God—by keeping His commandments with a new heart and a purified conscience.
The liberty of the Christian is not lawlessness, but freedom from condemnation (Rom. 8:1). Lawlessness is a spiritual bondage. “Ye were servants of sin” (Rom. 6:17); “Ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18).
What a privilege is ours—to serve the Lord Jesus Christ with the perfect law of liberty, the royal law of the King of kings (James 1:25, 2:8)!