That was then… this is Now:
A young seminary student was shown a passage in the Old Testament that depicted an characteristic of God that he could not reconcile with his preconceived, man-centered notions of how God relates to men. He explained the passage away by saying that the passage was written under law, while we (meaning every human being) are now under grace. His point was that God acted one way towards men in the Old Testament, but now is different. He doesn’t hate workers of iniquity as He use to. God’s has somehow changed from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Yet if God is immutable (as this young man would attest) then He must be the same yesterday, today, and forever – so what He hates in the OT (Old Testament), He also hates in the NT (New Testament).
A young, aspiring college student is confronted by a brother in Christ concerning some activity that he should not be involved in. His concerned brother shows him some passages from the OT where caution should be taken when being around the opposite sex, and there are certain boundaries we are not to cross. The bible college student looks his friend in the eye and says, “They were under law, we are under grace. Those rules don’t apply to me.”
A layman was questioned concerning the way of salvation of those in the OT and those in the NT. His response was that those in the OT were saved by keeping the law and those in the NT are saved by grace. His reasoning was “we are no longer under the law, but under grace”.
The main characters in each of these examples are all guilty of the same error – misunderstanding law and grace. They have an extreme “That was then…this is now” mentality. If their interpretation were to be biblical, then we have a God who changes His moral standards, Christians who can live however they want and God doesn’t care, and some men who are saved by their own works which means Jesus wasn’t really needed. Due to their inconsistency, most of those who ascribe to this view would deny that they believe the things I just mentioned. But a Christian should strive to be biblically consistent. Paul uses biblically consistent argumentation all through his epistles to show the church where they are in danger of embracing erroneous beliefs.
So what exactly does Paul mean when he says in Romans 6:14 “you are not under law but under grace”?
Whatever he is saying by not being under law but under grace, he directly relates it to the reason he emphatically knows that sin will no longer have the dominion over them. So when sin did have dominion over them, they were under law, not grace. He is not contrasting the Mosaic Law with grace as he is not speaking to only Jews (those who were raised under the mosaic covenant). The Roman believers were primarily Gentiles and were never under the Mosaic Law to begin with. So to attempt to tell them that they are not under the Mosaic Law anymore as to the reason for their being freed from the dominion of sin makes no sense at all. Paul is not contrasting a supposed way of salvation in the OT with that of the NT. He is telling these gentile believers that at one point in their life they were under the law, and thus sin reigned; but now they are under grace and sins dominion is no more over them. So what law is it if not the Mosaic Law? It is the law that is written in every man’s heart, the law every man is under. Paul made the case earlier that death reined from Adam to Moses (before the Mosaic Law). Men were still guilty of sin as they had the work of the law written in their hearts (Romans 2:14-16). The freedom from the law Paul is speaking about is that they are no longer under law in order to earn their salvation by perfection (no one could ever do that as the law only serves to make the transgression abound). They are now freed by grace to keep the law unto God – not in order to earn any merit at all, but out of a repentant heart. Those who are not in Christ are still under law. Paul does not make the statement that since Jesus has died every single human being is no longer under law but grace. Jesus Christ has perfectly kept the law for transgressors. It is by God’s grace through faith that we are in Jesus and no longer under the law; but until we are brought to faith in Christ we are under the law and sin does have dominion over us.
A good article on the topic at hand: