When the Bible speaks of being "under the law", is it just speaking of being under the levitical laws?
My understanding surrounding this question stems from looking at the context of the areas where Paul talks about "works" and discusses the Laws which were brought by Moses.
So, which Law or Laws was he thinking of when he wrote about "works" and being "under the law"?
If we look in Rom 7:7 for instance we see this..
Rom 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known lust unless the law had said, "You shall not covet".
So the law involved is the one that contains the clause -
Paul's discussion covers a number of chapters and if we go back
towards the start to see what other laws may have been mentioned
and look in Rom 2:21-22 we see that it's the laws that say -
The body of Law that contains these commandments is the Ten Commandments, not the laws of Leviticus, and so it's easy to see why being "under the law" refers to living by and putting faith for salvation into keeping the ten commandments.
So, being 'under the law' is not referring to the laws of Leviticus only. It's the Ten Commandments and then as added on, all the 603 other laws that were given to Israel!
The big problem with being under these laws as a means of receiving eternal life through obedience to them, is that no-one (except Jesus) has ever kept them! And the penalty for not keeping them is death. Not only that, it matters not which one(s) you break. In fact to break one is to break them all!Jam 2:10-11 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
Now James has picked two of the biggies to illustrate his point but small or big they all have the same penalty - Death.
To my mind Paul gives a very good answer to this question in the book of Romans.
The basic underlying question is I think, 'Are we to keep the
law'? And indeed, 'Can we keep the law?
Mat 19:16-19 And behold, a man came up to Him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And He (Jesus) said to him, “Why do you ask Me about what is good? There is only One who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”
So here we have one method for gaining eternal life. On the other hand in Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 8-9 we learn this...
Eph 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
So we see that there are two possible ways of salvation, but the question now
becomes, "Which one can we achieve?"
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
In Romans, chapter 7, verses 1-4 God also tells us through Paul that we have been freed from living by the law in order that we should live by (through) Jesus. That is "Jesus in us, the hope of glory!".
Rom 7:1-4 .... are you ignorant, brothers; for I speak to those who know the Law; that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the married woman was bound by law to the living husband. But if the husband is dead, she is set free from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she is married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress. But if the husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress by becoming another man's wife. So, my brothers, you also have become dead to the law by the body of Christ so that you should be married to Another, even to Him raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit to God.
The Old Covenant was made between Israel and God (Jesus). He was the husband to Israel. When He died (and when we were baptised we died to the law with Him) the law became of none effect and we were set free from it!
If we go back to Romans chapter 2, verses 21 and 22 we'll confirm that the law Paul is referring to is the one that includes "Do not steal" and "Do not commit adultery". The Ten Commandments in other words. So we see that as far as this law is concerned we are dead. If the law pokes you in the ribs you should not react, because you are dead! You are alive to Christ and in terms of Paul's example above are married to Jesus now, so should be living to please him and by his grace.
That passage in Rom 7, also shows that to attempt to live under both law and Grace (Moses and Christ), is to commit (spiritual) adultery.Some people having been forgiven by Christ and saved by grace then run after Moses and the law. When, as is inevitable, the law condemns them for a transgression they run back to Jesus for forgiveness. Then as soon as they are forgiven they abandon Jesus and run back to Moses again! Their lives are spent shuttling between two suitors.
That's (spiritual) adultery Paul says under inspiration of God! It certainly seems to me that he wants us to choose. 'Law and death' or 'Grace and Life'.
Paul even says to the Galations in chapter 3, verses 3-7..
Gal 3:3-7 How can you be so foolish! You began by God's Spirit; do you now want to finish by your own power? Did all your experience mean nothing at all? Surely it meant something! Does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you because you do what the Law requires or because you hear the gospel and believe it? Consider the experience of Abraham; as the scripture says, "He believed God, and because of his faith God accepted him as righteous." You should realize, then, that the real descendants of Abraham are the people who have faith.
This all tells us that living under law is not the answer to living a righteous life, but that living by the spirit and grace is the real answer. My understanding is that there are two important things to know about you and your conduct when you are truly living under grace.
1. Rom 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you
are not under Law, but under grace.
This is not so for those who live according to Moses and under the Law. Sin has power over those who live under Law, because the Law gives power to sin. The Law condemns those who live under it as soon as they transgress.
It's because no-one could escape this end, that Jesus came to
live a perfect life and die in our place. Now through God's
grace (Jesus) we have a way out by believing on Him and accepting
His sacrifice as payment for our sins.
And Grace does not condemn! Grace provides the power for you to will and to do what pleases God.
We can thus get out from being under the Law and live eternally
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus, the Christ.