10. The Danger of Putting Believers Under the Law

Reformed Theology attacks the very essence of the Christian life and the rule by which it should be lived. Reformed Theology errs in its teaching on sanctification by sending the believer back to Mount Sinai instead of sending him to Mount Calvary. Paul’s focus was ever upon the cross: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” (Gal. 3:1). “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).

Reformed men would never say that a person is justified by the works of the law. They rightly insist that justification is by faith and not by works. “Justification by faith” was the faithful cry of the Reformation. The problem does not relate to justification but to sanctification (the Christian life and how it is to be lived). Reformed theologians consistently teach that believers are under the law as a rule of life. Usually they say that the believer is not under the ceremonial law (the sacrificial system, etc.) but that he is under the moral law (the Ten Commandments, etc.). The overpowering characteristic of all Reformed theologians is their doctrine of the believer’s relationship to the law. They would say that the believer is “under the law” as a rule of life.

Miles Stanford, author of The Complete Green Letters (in the Clarion Classics series published by Zondervan), has given the following list of pro-law Calvinist or Reformed authors whose theology permeates the thinking of vast numbers of believers:

Adams, J.
Allis, O.
Bass, C.
Baxter, R.
Berkof, L.
Berkouwer, G.
Boettner, L.
Boice, J.
Bonar, A.
Boston, T.
Brown, D.
Conn, H.
Cox, Wm.
Edwards, J.
Fletcher, D.
Fuller, D.
Gerstner, J.
Gill, J.
Goodwin, T.
Haldane, R.
Hamilton, F.
Hodge, A.
Hodge, C.
Kromminga, D.
Kuiper, H.
Kuyper, A.
Lloyd-Jones, M.
Mauro, P.
Morris, L.
Murray, G.
Murray, J.
Nicole, R.
Owen, J.
Packer, J.
Payne, H.
Pink, A.
Romaine, Wm.
Ryle, J.
Schaeffer, F.
Shedd, Wm.
Smeaton, G.
Steele, D.
Stonehouse, N.
Stott, J.
Thomas, C.
Van Til, C.
Van Til, H.
Vos, G.
Warfield, B.
Watson, R.
Watson, T.

Many of these mentioned above could and should be considered as great and godly men. Their contribution to the cause of Christ ought not be minimized. However these men did err whenever they insisted that the believer is under the law as a rule of life. For sanctification the believer must be directed to Mt. Calvary, not to Mt. Sinai. It is at the cross that true freedom is found.

W. J. Berry, in his preface to William Huntington’s classic work on The Believer’s Rule of Life, summed up the problem well:

It is a divine fact that Christ has delivered absolutely, the “redeemed” from all bondage to, and consequences of, all coded law with penalty. This truth was at first denied by the Pharisees and by some believing Jews. This denial of the truth might have prevailed, had not the issue been immediately settled forever by the apostles. The essentials of this work is recorded of the conference in Jerusalem (Acts 15:1-35); in Paul’s correction of Peter; of the apostle’s rebuking the Gala­tian Judaizers (Galatians); his exposition in the Roman Epistle, and the final clarification in the letter to the Hebrews. But in spite of these clear declarations from heaven, certain men came into the churches and persisted in teaching the same coded law of Moses. At the Council of Nicea, called by the Roman Emperor Constan­tine, his bishops began the first “system” of Judao-Christian coded laws, to be expanded through the dark ages by Popes and their hierarchy of bishops; then modified and continued by the Protestant Reformers, –thence in all Christendom to the present day….The issue is not a question of right or wrong doing, but of the relationship under which we serve. All under every coded law serve sin to condemnation; all who are freed from the law now serve as free sons to righteousness and true holiness (Rom. 6:15-23).

The early dispensationalists also understood the issue well:

I learn in the law that God abhorred stealing, but it is not because I am under the law that I do not steal. All the Word of God is mine, and written for my instruction; yet for all that I am not under law, but a Christian who has died with Christ on the Cross, and am not in the flesh, to which the law applied. I have died to the law by the body of Christ (Rom. 7:4). –John Darby24

Some good men who in grievous error would impose the law as a rule of life for the Christian mean very well by it but the whole principle is false because the law, instead of being a rule of life, is necessarily a rule of death to one who has sin in his nature. Far from a delivering power, it can only condemn such; far from being a means of holiness, it is, in fact, the strength of sin (1 Cor. 15:56). –William Kelly25

We are fully convinced that a superstructure of true, practical holiness can never be erected on a legal basis; and hence it is that we press 1 Cor. 1:30 upon the attention of our readers. It is to be feared that many who have, in some measure, abandoned the legal ground, in the matter of “righteousness,” are yet lingering thereon for “sanctification.” We believe this to be the mistake of thousands, and we are most anxious to see it corrected….It is evident that a sinner cannot be justified by the works of the law; and it is equally evident that the law is not the rule of the believer’s life….As to the believer’s rule of life, the apostle does not say, To me to live is the law; but, “To me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). Christ is our rule, our model, our touchstone, our all….We receive the Ten Commandments as part of the canon of inspiration; and moreover, we believe that the law remains in full force to rule and curse a man as long as he liveth. Let a sinner only try to get life by it, and see where it will put him; and let a believer only shape his way according to it, and see what it will make of him. We are fully convinced that if a man is walking according to the spirit of the gospel, he will not commit murder nor steal; but we are also convinced that a man, confining himself to the standard of the law of Moses would fall very short of the spirit of the gospel. –C. H. Mackintosh26

Most of us have been reared and now live under the influence of Galatianism. Protestant theology is for the most part thoroughly Galatianized, in that neither the law or grace is given its distinct and separate place as in the counsels of God, but they are mingled together in one incoherent system. The law is no longer, as in the divine intent, a ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7), of cursing (Gal. 3:10), or conviction (Rom. 3:19), because we are taught that we must try to keep it, and that by divine help we may. Nor does grace, on the other hand, bring us blessed deliverance from the dominion of sin, for we are kept under the law as a rule of life despite the plain declaration of Rom. 6:14.
–C. I. Scofield27

When the sinner is justified by faith, does he need the law to please God? Can obedience to the law produce in him the fruit of holiness unto God? What is the relation of the justified believer to the law? Is he still under the dominion of the law or is he also delivered from the law and its bondage? These questions are answered in this chapter [Romans 7]. “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God….But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:4,6). –Arno C. Gaebelein28

Believers today are not under law, either as a means of justification or as a rule of law, but are justified by grace and are called upon to walk in grace….Primarily here [in Rom. 7:14-25] we have a believing Jew struggling to obtain holiness by using the law as a rule of life and resolutely attempting to compel his old nature to be subject to it. In Christendom now the average Gentile believer goes through the same experience; for legality is commonly taught almost everywhere. Therefore when one is converted it is but natural to reason that now [that] one has been born of God it is only a matter of determination and persistent endeavor to subject oneself to the law, and one will achieve a life of holiness. And God Himself permits the test to be made in order that His people may learn experimentally that the flesh in the believer is no better than the flesh in an unbeliever. When he ceases from self-effort he finds deliverance through the Spirit by occupation with the risen Christ. –H. A. Ironside29

The Word of God condemns unsparingly all attempts to put the Christian believer “under the law.” The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul gave to the church the book of Galatians for the very purpose of dealing with this heresy. Read this Epistle over and over, noting carefully the precise error with which the writer deals. It is not a total rejection of the gospel of God’s grace and a turning back to total legalism. It is rather the error of saying that the Christian life, having begun by simple faith in Christ, must thereafter continue under the law or some part of it (Gal. 3:2-3). Alva McClain30

The key to living the Christian life is not found at Mt. Sinai. It is found at Mt. Calvary. It is there that I learn that “I died, and my life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). The law came forth from Sinai, but GRACE flowed forth and gushed forth from Calvary, and it is the grace of God that teaches us “that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world [age]” (Titus 2:11-12). The foolish Galatians abandoned Mt. Calvary in favor of Mt. Sinai even though Jesus Christ had been evidently and openly set forth before their eyes crucified among them (Gal. 3:1). “But God forbid that I should glory, SAVE IN THE CROSS of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14).

Space does not allow us to consider these issues at length, but the reader is urged to consider our 32 page booklet, What is the Believer’s Rule of Life? (50¢) for a full discussion of these vital matters.

For additional literature items that might be helpful see New Testament Teaching on How to Live the Christian Life (25¢) and our notes on Romans ($4.00).

Recommended Books: Law and Grace (Alva McClain), The Complete Green Letters (Miles Stanford), Romans (William Newell, especially his discussion of Romans 6-7) and There Really Is A Difference (Renald Showers).

24Cited by Miles Stanford (840 Vindicator Dr., #111, Colorado Springs, CO 80919), in the paper entitled, “Arminius, To Calvin, To Paul­– Man, Law, or Christ-Centered?”

25Cited in The Complete Green Letters (Zondervan), by Miles Stanford (p. 265).

26The Mackintosh Treasury–Miscellaneous Writings by CHM, pages 628, 653-654.

27Cited in The Complete Green Letters (Zondervan) by Miles Stanford (p. 265).

28Gaebelein’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, p. 907.

29The Continual Burnt Offering, see under September 18; and Romans, p. 89.

30This last quote by Alva J. McClain is taken from his book Law and Grace, pp. 51-52. This book in its entirety is highly recommended. It is published by BMH Books, Winona Lake, IN 46590.