Romans 6:14 – Under Law as Power Not Domain

Romans 6:14 (ESV) — 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.


We saw last week that he situated the answer to his sin/grace question within two contexts:

  • A dominion context.
  • A spiritual warfare context.


Douglas Moo sums up last week’s text beautifully:

“To put a stop to the reign of sin—to stop engaging in those sins that have too often become so habitual that we cannot imagine not doing them—is a daunting responsibility. We feel that we must fail. But Paul then reminds us of just what we have become in Jesus Christ: ‘dead to sin, alive to God.’ There has already taken place in the life of the believer a ‘change of lordship’, and it is in the assurance of the continuance of this new state that the believer can go forth boldly and confidently to wage war against sin” – Douglas Moo.


Something we didn’t discuss last week was how Paul came back to the law in his Romans 6 sin/grace dominion discussion.

  • You are not under law but under grace” (vs. 14).
  • Today we are going to unpack this a bit.


Why would Paul do this?

  • Is “under law” a domain?
  • Is “under law” to be understood as a synonym for “under sin”?
  • If it is none of these things, why did he bring it up?
  • And wouldn’t any discussion about “under law” be irrelevant to the Gentiles in his audience?
    • We will deal with this in Romans 7



Under Law:

(1) The first thing we need to know is what Paul means by the law.

  • Most scholars think Paul is referring to the Mosaic Law (Moo, Schreiner).
  • This would be the whole of the Sinai covenant, not just the 10 commandments.


What this means of course, is that Paul is now adding in a new wrinkle into his domain discussion…

  • The wrinkle is the how the Sinai Covenant fits into the domain discussion.


Specifically, Douglas Moo says Paul is…

  • Contrasting “salvational-historical” powers in God’s redemptive history.
  • The law is one “salvational-historical power” contrasted with another “salvational-historical power” – grace.


We need to keep in mind here that there are other “powers” relevant to God’s redemptive history.

  • Paul has mentioned a few – sin, death and the flesh (mortal members).
  • And now, along with these three, and grace, he has brought in the law.
  • Not all powers are domains – some only operate within domains.


So the law is the Mosaic covenant and it is a power operating in God’s redemptive history.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:56 (ESV) — 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.



(2) The second thing we need to know is what Paul has said of the law thus far.

  • Primarily he has pointed out “the negative effects of the law in salvation history” – Douglas Moo.
  • “Negative” being the law’s inability to bring domain change.


We can see this in a few examples.

  • Romans 3:20 (ESV) — 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
  • Romans 3:28 (ESV) — 28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
  • Romans 4:13–15 (ESV) — 13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
  • Romans 5:20 (ESV) — 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more


A quick glance at these verses bears out that Paul didn’t see the law as a reign changing power.

  • Works of the law” don’t justify (3:20).
  • The “law” brings knowledge of sin (3:20).
  • Justification comes “apart from works” (3:28).
  • The “promise to Abraham…did not come through the law” (4:13).
  • The law brings wrath” (4:15).
  • The law came in to increase trespass” (5:20).


So to sum up thus far:

  • Under law” is a power that Paul contrasted with the domain of “under grace”.
  • It is a power that doesn’t bring domain change.
  • More specifically, it is a power operating negatively as “the power of sin”.


As we will see in Romans 7, none of this means that Paul is throwing the law under the bus.


But, then, is “under law” the same as “under sin”?

  • In other words, when Paul contrasts law and grace, is he equating “under law” with “under sin”?



Under Law Does Not Equal Under Sin:

The answer to this question is, “no”.

  • “Under law” is not the same as being “under sin” – Moo.
  • As we have seen, the law, unlike grace, is not a domain.
  • It operates within domains.
  • The question is how do we know this?


We need to understand how sin and the law relate to each other.

  • As we have seen, to be “under sin” is to be in Garden Exile and all that entails.
  • It is the domain that contrasts directly with the domain of grace.
  • It is the domain give to us by Adam – unlike the law given to us by God.
  • And sin as a power and domain offers nothing positive.


But, as we will sin in Romans 7, the law as a power does make a positive contribution in redemptive history.

  • Romans 7:7 (ESV) — 7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”


So this plays out as follows:

  • When we are “under sin” and in Garden Exile the law is a death sentence.
  • We saw earlier that Paul made this clear.
  • The law brings the wrath of God (4:15).
  • The law does not save.


But the law is not really the problem:

  • We just saw that Paul said that without it he would not have known sin (7:7).
  • Galatians 3:24 (ESV) — 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
  • Romans 7:12 (ESV) — 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.


The real problem is the domain in which the law operates.

  • “The defect lies in sin, which uses the law for its own ends (7:7–13) and produces more sin under the law” – Tom Schreiner.
  • In other words, in the domain of sin – Garden Exile – the law produces more sin.
  • This is what Paul said in Romans 5:20 – “the law came to increase trespass”.
  • All this law bringing more sin, under the domain of sin, brings God’s judging righteousness.



Grace and Law:

But, here is some more great news of domain change – sin to grace.

  • It changes our relationship to the law.


Under grace, we are released from the penalty that the law heaps upon us as a power of sin.

  • Under grace, the domain of sin has lost its power to use the law for its own ends.
  • This is because we are united to the Christ who fulfilled it!
  • Romans 8:3–4 (ESV) — 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.


So for Paul, “liberation from sin” is liberation from being under the penalty and negatives of the law – Tom Schreiner.

  • To be freed from Garden Exile is to be freed from the negatives of the law.


As a result, we actually are in a position to reap the benefits of the law that come with being in Christ.

  • “Now that believers are under the power of grace they are enabled to keep the moral norms of the law by the power of the Holy Spirit” – Tom Schreiner.



But Its Complicated:

But it is more complicated than this…

  • Something we will dig into more in the weeks and months to come.


As Tom Schreiner puts it:

  • Paul’s teaching about liberation from the negatives of the law through Christ…
  • “…does not mean that there was no grace in the Mosaic era, nor does it imply that all Israelites lived under the power of sin. Paul was well aware of the OT remnant that included prophets and godly people such as Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, and Daniel” – Tom Schreiner.
  • As Paul said himself in Romans 4:16 about being an heir to Abraham’s promise, “it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring”.


This means, as Douglas Moo points out, that…

  • “People before the coming of Christ, while still ‘bound’ to the law, could nevertheless escape its condemning power (e.g., Abraham, David—chap. 4)” – Douglas Moo.
  • They could experience reign change.


Likewise, “people after the coming of Christ can still be subject to [law’s] rule” – Douglas Moo.

  • So “a neat transfer into straightforward temporal categories is impossible” with Paul’s domain talk – Douglas Moo.