What is "Under the Law?"
We were continuing our study of being under the law. This is an important subject to me. I believe that it is a foundational phrase used by modern Christian teaching that has ultimately led to the current moral collapse of our culture. As I have stated, there are ten occurrences of this phrase in the New Testament. We have covered three, (Romans 3:19, 6:14-15) and now we will go to a slightly different context in 1 Corinthians 9:20. First, keep in mind that Romans 3 and 6 showed us two clear insights. We are ALL under the law until we are under grace, and to be under the law is to be under the dominion of sin.
In 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, we have the popular Sha'uline (or Pauline ha ha) discourse concerning his desire to be all things to all men that he might by all means save some. This alone has been used erroneously to justify immoral behavior by some, but that is not really our purpose here. We need to go back to verses 19-21 for our study. Here is how the narration goes:
"For though I am free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
To them that are without law, as without law (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain them that are without law."
Sha’ul begins by stating that he is not controlled or led by any man, but rather he is a servant to all men that he might gain them. His purpose is to win their trust. He will do this by empathizing with them. He will approach them from their perspective and from their point of view and needs. This in no way teaches that he will take on their behavior or even mystically become them. This is verified by his first statement: "to the Jews I became as a Jew". Sha’ul states emphatically many times that he is a Jew, or that he has remained a Jew. So he certainly did not become a Jew to win the Jews. He also does not equate the Jew as being the one under the law. This statement is listed separately. These statements cover various situations that Sha’ul, in his ministry, confronts. Sha’ul obviously does not run away or shy away from anybody. He strives to understand a persons circumstances. He is not teaching that he becomes a drunk with the drunks in order to save the drunks, but rather he will not turn away from the drunk because he is a drunk. So Sha’ul will minister to the drunk from the drunk's world. He will minister to the Jew from his world. He will confront those under the law from their mind set, considering their way of thinking and their kinds of problems. Remember that those who are under the law can be Jew or Gentile and have chosen to reject God's gift of grace, and chose rather to remain under the dominion of sin because they cannot keep the law. Sha’ul is not under the law because he has confronted the Messiah and has seen his condition and has received His grace. He is unabashed in his zeal to win those who are without the law, who do not know the law for whatever reason. Then he says, "being not without law to God, but under the law to Messiah." This is somewhat difficult to understand for Sha’ul has used a double negative here. Sha’ul is simply stating that he is not outside the true Torah of God, which is under the law of the Messiah. Perhaps better stated is that he is not subject to the letter of the law but the spirit of the law. The letter and spirit of the law is a very Hebrew concept that I will explain later. Sha’ul then becomes as weak to those who are weak. This, I believe, is a reference to those addressed in Romans chapter 14:1-12. All Sha’ul is saying here is that he is a witness of the Messiah to all, no matter what there condition. These passages do not teach that Jews are the ones under the law, or that being under the law means obeying Torah.
It is now time to address a few of the tough ones. The majority of the occurrences of this phrase are in the book of Galatians. I want to set a basic foundation for the phrase before we get to these very misunderstood verses. First we must keep in mind to whom Sha’ul is addressing his concerns. He is writing to Gentile believers who have been deceived by some Jewish believers into believing that works of Torah are required to enter the kingdom of God or to stay in the kingdom of God. Sha’ul reminds them in the beginning of Galatians chapter three that they did not receive the Spirit of God by works of Torah and they will not keep the Spirit by works of Torah. Torah is not and has never been designed to justify man before God, but rather, faith justifies man before God. Sha’ul goes on to say that if man were justified by Torah then he would have to continue in all things which are written in Torah which man cannot do (Galatians 3:10-12). Remember that if you reject God's grace then you are under the law and subject to the law. Sha’ul explains that the law then becomes a curse rather than it's intended blessing. Devariym (Deuteronomy) chapter 11 tells us that if you obey the law then you are blessed and if you disobey you are cursed. So the law is a curse only when it is disobeyed. If entrance into the kingdom of God is dependent upon our obedience to the law, which none of us keep, then we are all cursed and doomed. This we have seen in Romans chapter three and will see again in the latter part of this discourse. Sha’ul is re-teaching, if you will, these Galatian believers what God has done for them, and not only them but Sha’ul himself. In verse 13 Sha’ul tells us that we are all redeemed from the curse of the law, remembering that the results of our inability to keep the law is the curse of the law. In verse 14 he tells us that what happened to Abraham has now come upon the Gentiles, that the promise of the Spirit is by faith. He then reminds us that this promise was made to Abraham and his seed, and that there is only one seed. Sha’ul then expounds on the fact that the inheritance of this seed comes, not by the law, but by faith, and that the law was given because we sin. The seed is received by faith. For Abraham, it was through the promise of the Messiah. For all Old Testament believers, it was through the promise of the Messiah. For Sha’ul and us it is through the same seed fully manifested, i.e. Yeshua‘ the Messiah. To only those of the seed were the promises made, and there is only one seed. There cannot be one way of salvation for the Jew and another way for the Gentile, for there is only one seed and one way, by faith in the Messiah. For the Old Testament saint it is through the promise and for us it is the fulfillment of that promise. We are all kept under the law until faith comes. Verse 22 concludes that all are under sin and that the promise by faith of Yeshua‘ the Messiah would be given to those who trust. Sha’ul then states that before faith came, we were kept under the law, until faith is revealed. Sha’ul is not teaching that all Jews were kept under the law until Jesus came, but rather we are all under the law until faith comes, and that the law is our schoolmaster that points us all to that faith or the promise of that faith. Torah teaches us all what is right and what is wrong. It shows us our sinful nature and our need for the deliverer. Sha’ul is saying here precisely what he was teaching in Romans chapter 6. If you have not received God's grace then you are under the law. If you are striving to keep the law then the law will teach you that you need the Messiah. It will point you to Him and show you your desperate need for Him and your complete inability to do it yourself. Nowhere in these passages does Sha’ul teach that Torah has been cancelled or even temporarily suspended. He teaches its purpose only. If I am relying on obedience to Torah to receive the inheritance then faith has not come to me.
This is not hard to understand if we keep in mind that being under the law is being under the dominion of sin, and being without His grace. Sha’ul takes up a lot of scripture time discussing this subject, yet it is the most taken for granted doctrine in all of the New Testament. There is a very fine line between being under the law and obeying the law. Sometimes it seems like an oxymoron. In 1 Corinthians 9:19, Sha’ul makes a casual statement relating to this very thing. He says, " For though I am free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all ..." He is free from them yet he is a servant to them, as well. Remember that Sha’ul taught us in Romans 6 that we have been set free from the body of sin so that we can be servants of righteousness. Only Torah determines what is righteous.
Next time we will spend a considerable amount of space discussing Galatians 4:1-7. These verses will make a lot more sense when seen from Sha'uls culture and not a Greek one.