To attempt to evade Leviticus and the clear prohibitions of homosexuality by declaring, “We are not under law, but under grace,” is far too simplistic. 

As we have seen, this phrase is employed in the same-sex controversy in an attempt to reduce the Leviticus prohibitions of homosexuality to irrelevancy. We have also observed that any approach that attempts to dismiss the entirety of the book of Leviticus is without biblical warrant. 

The apostle Paul wrote, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). An obvious distinction—an antithesis—does exist between law and grace, but are they antithetical in such a way that they render the book of Leviticus irrelevant and without bearing in the life of the Christian? How are we to understand these words concerning law and grace? Does the Law have any place in the life of the Christian?

It is clear that Paul did not intend to teach that the Law has absolutely no relevance, bearing, or place in the life of the Christian. Paul taught in the same epistle to the Romans that the Law is not to be discarded, but that it is “established” (3:31). He also taught of the convicting work of the Law—that the Law exposed his sin and revealed his rebellion (7:7–9). 

Paul referred to the Law as “holy, righteous, and good” (7:12) and that which the spiritual (contrasted to the “fleshly”) mind is enabled to pursue and become desirous of pursuing (8:5–7). Most conclusive is that the apostle Paul, teaching about living in a loving way, quoted a portion of the Ten Commandments and then the book of Leviticus. Paul wrote,

  Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law. (13:8–10)

Paul is consistent with the teaching of the whole Bible: the one who loves his neighbor has “fulfilled the law.” If the Law is to have no bearing or relevance in the Christian life, Paul would not have referred to the Christian obligation of fulfilling the Law. In demonstrating what Christians owe to one another, Paul cites the Seventh, Sixth, Eighth, and Tenth Commandments and concludes that such conduct toward others can be summed up in the words of Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

In the same epistle in which the apostle Paul taught that “We are not under law, but under grace,” he also demonstratively teaches us that the Law is valid for the Christian. Paul must have meant something other than to say that the Law is irrelevant and not applicable when he wrote that we are not “under law, but under grace.”

We find the same in other writings of the apostle. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (7:19). While encouraging the Corinthian church to live in accordance with holiness, Paul again quoted from Leviticus: “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (2 Corinthians 6:16; Leviticus 26:12). 

Paul consistently quoted the Old Testament as authoritative for the New Testament era. He did this in matters of supporting the work of the ministry (1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18) as well as in matters of accepting accusations against others (2 Corinthians 13:1; 1 Timothy 5:20). Paul again quoted from Leviticus 19:18 in Galatians 5:14 and cited the Fifth Commandment in Ephesians 6:2. The Law of God was relevant and authoritative for the apostle Paul.

To clarify, however, some portions of the Old Testament law are, in fact, no longer binding, particularly the ceremonial law. Paul clearly refers to these aspects of the Law as no longer obligatory (1 Corinthians 7:19; Ephesians 2:11–22; Colossians 2:16–17). Furthermore, he is clear that the Law was never intended to justify sinful man: “For if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:21; see also Galatians 3:21; 5:4; Romans 3:28). Salvation has always been by grace and through faith, never due to the works of the Law (Romans 4:1–13; Galatians 3:6–9; Ephesians 2:8–9; Hebrews 11). Paul never presents the Law as something that justifies. Paul does, however, speak of obedience to the commands of God as evidence of already being justified.

The Lord Jesus Christ taught this truth as well. Obedience to the commands of God is evidence of Christian discipleship. Obedience to the commands of God does not make one a disciple, but obedience reveals the new heart, a heart that has been enabled to obey. John Murray explained this point and illustrated the confusion present in many churches. He wrote,

  It is symptomatic of a pattern of thought current in many evangelical circles that the idea of keeping the commandments of God is not consonant with the liberty and spontaneity of the Christian man, that keeping the law has its affinities with legalism and with the principle of works rather than with the principle of grace. 

It is strange indeed that this kind of antipathy to the notion of keeping commandments should be entertained by any believer who is a serious student of the New Testament. Did not our Lord say, “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments” (John 14:15)? And did he not say, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15:10)?

Murray continues this line of reasoning, this time calling upon John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.

  It was John who recorded these sayings of our Lord and it was he, of all the disciples, who was mindful of the Lord’s teaching and example regarding love, and reproduces that teaching so conspicuously in his first Epistle. We catch something of the tenderness of his entreaty when he writes, “Little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18). “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God” (1 John 4:7). But the message of John has escaped us if we have failed to note John’s emphasis upon the keeping of the commandments of God. “And by this we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 

He that says, I know him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keeps his word, in him verily the love of God is made perfect” (1 John 2:3–5). “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn, we have confidence toward God, and whatsoever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do those things that are pleasing in his sight … and he who keeps his commandments abides in him and he in him” (1 John 3:21, 22, 24). “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (1 John 5:3).2

Murray recognizes, from the biblical passages, that in order for one to be loving one must follow the commands of God. Love is clearly defined by God. Murray drew the following conclusion:

  To say the very least, the witness of our Lord and the testimony of John are to the effect that there is indispensable complementation; love will be operative in the keeping of God’s commandments. It is only myopia that prevents us from seeing this, and when there is a persistent animosity to the notion of keeping commandments, the only conclusion is that there is either gross ignorance or malignant opposition to the testimony of Jesus.

It is clear the apostle Paul did not mean that we are under no obligation to obey the commands of God when he wrote that we are not under law, but under grace. So, what do these words mean? In Romans 6, Paul is teaching about what it means to be united with Jesus Christ. Those who have been united with Christ, those who are in union with Christ, now live a new life—they walk “in newness of life” (6:4). 

Those who are in union with Jesus Christ do not “continue in sin so that grace may abound” (6:1), they should “no longer be slaves to sin” (6:6). This implies that previously, prior to being united with Christ, they had been slaves to sin but now they are under a new master: they are to be slaves of righteousness (6:19–20). Previously, they were under the dominion and the condemnation of the Law (they were guilty) because they were slaves of sin. The Law stood over them in condemnation; they were “under Law.” But now, they are given new life, they are “under grace,” they have a new master, they are “enslaved to God” (6:22).

A strong contrast, an antithesis, exists between enslavement to sin and enslavement to righteousness. Slaves have masters, and Romans 6:14 explains, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace.” Previously, before being enslaved to God and righteousness, those who are now believers lived in utter violation of the Law “just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness” (6:19). 

As transgressors, they were “under the law,” that is, they were under the judgment of the Law. But now, those who are under grace are no longer under the dominion of the Law. They are no longer under the judgment and condemnation of the Law; they are under grace and show themselves to be slaves of righteousness (6:19). To state the matter simply, those who are united to Christ are no longer under judgment, they are under justification.

Christians, those people united to Jesus Christ, are not under the Law, they are under grace. Those who are under grace no longer submit, in habitual fashion, their bodies to impurity and lawlessness. Those who are under grace submit themselves to lawfulness, to righteousness—they submit themselves to the clear teaching of God’s Word, even in Leviticus. Properly understood, Romans 6:14 offers no support for those who are trying to justify their homosexual desires and practice; therefore, we must conclude that the Law of God has bearing, relevance, and authority in the life of the New Testament saint.

White, J. R., & Niell, J. D. (2002). The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message about Homosexuality (pp. 211–218). Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.

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