Question 15 : The Believer and the Law

(Gospel Dialogue, CFP, Watchman Nee)


How do we establish the law through faith (Rom. 3.31)? Why are believers not under law (Rom. 6.14)? What is meant by not being under the law? Why is Christ the end of the law (Rom. 10.4)?


“Do we then make the law of none effect through faith? God forbid: nay, we establish the law” (Rom. 3.31). This is a judgment made by Paul. Since he has maintained earlier that “we reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (v.28), he may legitimately be asked the question—“Do we then make the law of none effect through faith?” His answer is emphatically, No. Here he employs a Greek form of speech: God forbid! By which he means to say that even God forbid us to say that we make the law of none effect through faith.

In the first three chapters of Romans Paul shows us that even as the Gentiles whom God has not chosen are sinners, so the Jews whom God has chosen are sinners too—that even those who serve God and have the law of God are also sinners. Therefore, no one is justified by the works of the law, “because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through the law cometh the knowledge of sin” (3.20).

“But now apart from the law a righteousness of God hath been manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (3.21). Praise and thank God, there is a “but now”. Now is there a salvation.

“[Christ Jesus] whom God set forth to be a propitiation, through faith, in his blood, to show his righteousness because of the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God; for the showing, I say, of his righteousness at this present season: that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus” (3.25,26). In relation to the people in the Old Testament dispensation God forbears; in relation to the people in this present dispensation He justifies. During the old dispensation the Lord has yet to die and sin has not been taken away, so God forbears with men. Today God justifies us, not just forbears with us. To be justified means more than being forgiven or not reckoned as sinful; it means being counted as righteous. And God gives us this righteousness in Christ Jesus. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, we come into possession of this righteousness. For this reason, says Paul, “we reckon therefore that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (v.28). Still, being afraid that some people may assume from this that faith abrogates the law, Paul immediately adds, “God forbid”.

How, then, do we establish the law through faith? The law has made only two demands: (1) the law commands all to do good, and (2) the law penalizes those who do not do good. The law must be fulfilled in either of them. If you do not keep the law, you will suffer the penalty of the law. If you fail to establish the law by observing it, you will have to take its penalty to establish it. Apart from the Lord there is not a single person who can keep the law. Even Moses the lawgiver has not wholly kept it. The law demands for all who do not keep it to die. We confess that we have not kept the law and that we have sinned, but we declare that we have already died. Since in Christ we have already been judged and cursed by the law, we have not destroyed the law, but rather, that through faith we have established it. Although we are unable to establish the law by keeping it and therefore we must die, thank God, we have already died in Christ! “But of him [God] are ye in Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 1.30). It is God who puts us in Christ. When Christ died, we too have died in His death. Consequently, faith has not destroyed the law but instead has established it.

Why are believers not under law? Believers are not under law because (1) they have already died, and (2) they have also been resurrected. This is proven by Romans 7.1-6. Paul chooses the parable of a woman with her husband. At the outset, let us determine who is the “husband” in this passage. Some say the husband is the law, while others say the husband is our flesh. These two schools of opinion have their respective reasons. By reading the passage carefully we may see that actually both thoughts are included. In verse 2 we are shown first that the husband is the law, but then it also shows us that the husband is different from the law. So the husband in this passage means either the law or the flesh. Should the husband represent merely the law then the clause, “if the husband die”, will mean “if the law die”. But how can the law die? For this reason, we conclude that the husband here may point to either the flesh or the law.

Before one believes in the Lord he is bound by the law. How can he be delivered? Only through death. If he dies he is freed. Once he dies he is freed from the law. God has already condemned sin in the flesh of Christ. Since we have died in Christ we are freed from the law. You are like a woman, and your flesh is like the husband. As you die you are freed from the flesh. The most the law can demand is death. No matter how many sins a criminal has committed, the law can at the most condemn him to but one death. Once he dies the case is concluded. When we die we are freed from the law.

On the other hand, it is said that “if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband”. This terminates your relationship with the law. You are discharged from the law as though by death. The first half of the sentence emphasizes death, whereas the second half of the sentence stresses deliverance.

This same passage also shows us two pictures: one indicates that through the body of Christ I am dead to the law, being wholly freed from the law. On that day when Christ died, I too died. Thus I can say to the law: I am not under law. The other picture indicates that I now may be remarried. Formerly the flesh was my husband, but now I am remarried to the Christ who has been raised from the dead so that I may bring forth fruit to God. Hence no Christian is today under law.

Should anyone tell you: “You must keep the law, you must keep the Sabbath day”, you ought to realize that if you try to keep one single item in the book of law you unwittingly declare that Christ has not died for you, and therefore you cast away the work of Christ. Let us compare the words in Romans 6.14 with 3.19—“Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace.” This indicates that believers are not under law. But to whom do the things of the law speak? “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it speaketh to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God.” The things of the law speak to those who are under the law. Since we Christians are not under law, these things of the law do not speak to us.

Why does Paul write the Galatian letter after he has written his letter to the Romans? Romans informs us that no sinner can be justified by keeping the law; Galatians instructs us that no saint may be sanctified by works of the law. Not only a sinner cannot be saved by works, even a saint cannot be sanctified by works. Just as one begins in grace, so he shall be perfected through grace. How can he who is justified by faith ever imagine himself to be sanctified by keeping the law? If justification is by the Holy Spirit, sanctification must also be by the Holy Spirit. The way of completion is the way of entry, for God has only one working principle. Why is it forbidden to weave together wool and linen (Deut. 22.11)? Because wool is obtained through the shedding of blood, whereas linen comes from man’s planting. Whatever is done by God is God’s work; whatever is done by man is man’s work. God will not mix up His work with man’s work.

What is meant by not being under law? Not to be under law does not mean lawlessness. The Bible says: “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6.14). You are not under law, because you are under grace. Being under grace, you will not be ruled by sin. We need to pay special attention to this word. Not to be under law does not sanction licentiousness; it only means that sin shall not have dominion over you.

What is meant by being under grace? “If it is by grace, it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace” (Rom. 11.6). To be under grace simply means you need not have your own works. What then is meant by being under law? It means you yourself should do the works even though the more you work the worse you become. Being under grace means that the Lord Jesus is doing all; being under law is, you yourself doing all. In being under grace, God so works in you that sin shall have no more dominion over you; in being under law, you are under the dominion of sin because you cannot overcome it. If you are under grace, the grace of God will work in you. Is sin, then, any match for God’s grace? Certainly not.

As the Lord Jesus has died for you on the cross, even so today He lives in you. As He has borne your sins on the cross, so now He dwells in you to give you victory over sin. The law is only God’s commandment; but grace is the power of God. The law commands you to do, but grace gives you the power to do it. Not to be under law but to be under grace means the risen Christ lives in you and causes you to overcome.

Why is Christ the end of the law? This is because Christ has satisfied all the demands of the law laid upon men.

We must see first of all that Christ in His life sums up the law. Leaving totally aside the aspect of the Lord Jesus as God, let us dwell for a moment on the aspect of His being man. There is only one human being in the whole world who has kept the law completely—and that person is the Lord Jesus. There is none other before Him nor any other after Him. He alone possesses the qualification. He is therefore the sum of the law.

Secondly, the death of Christ concludes the law. The last and highest of its demands is death. Suppose, for example, that a person sinned against the law of a country and was then condemned to be shot. After he is shot, the law of the country can do no more to him. The law can only demand death, and in death everything is solved. The law says that whoever does not keep the law must die. But the Lord Jesus has died, and by that death He concludes the law.

“End” means that which is “final”. What can be added after the final thing has been reached? What more can be done afterward? Consequently, let every Christian give praise to God, knowing that Christ has already concluded the law.