Who is under the Law?
The Law given to Moses was meant to be binding for those early peoples of Israel as well as for all mankind. These people were under the Commandments and remained undeniably so until the coming of the Messiah.
But when Christ came, died, and was resurrected, the terms of the law changes slightly. The result was that those who were much like Christ were no longer quite under the Law. Although some people remained so. This discrepancy gives rise to the question of who is under the Law.
The people who are under the Law are those who need to be. The Law was given to prepare man to become like Christ. Some people have come so closely to Him that they are no longer under the law. Those who have not yet achieved this state must still be beneath the Law. This is a mercy on wicked men.
In the following sections, we’ll address how the Church Father, St. Augustine, addressed this question in his On Nature and Grace. This answer possesses the authority to allow it to be a definitive word on the topic.
On Nature and Grace (St. Augustine)
St. Augustine is a saint within the Catholic and Orthodox churches. He, along with Thomas Aquinas, Ambrose of Milan, and Tertullian, is one of the fathers of Catholic theology. His contributions Orthodoxy are of a lesser scope. In his work, On Nature and Grace, St.Augustine discusses the points which a Christian must believe in hos confrontation of Pelagianism.
Chapter 67 [LVII.]— Who May Be Said to Be Under the Law
The point of the Law given to Moses was to move ancient men closer to God. Now, some people after the time of Christ may come to God more closely. They do this by emulating the God-Man Jesus. And those people who are enough like Him are no longer subject to the Law, for they have achieved its goal.
The Battle of the Flesh and Spirit
But even our author should observe that it is to persons who have been already baptized that it was said: The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, so that you cannot do the things that you would. (Galatians 5:17)
Christ has given the clear statement to those who have been baptized into his church that the flesh and soul war against one another.
This is because the flesh is tied to this world and suffers all those things which an earthly existence entails. So the body is naturally drawn to those things which it requires for its survival and procreation.
Yet the things which the body is drawn toward may be used in bad ways for worse aims. And the misuse of these earthly things toward which the body is drawn goes against the aims of the soul.
This is because the soul is not meant to be bound to this world. It is instead meant to join God in Heaven. God, being the creator of earthly matter, is Himself immaterial and does not need as a body. So He does not pursue matter.
Yet God is merciful and knows that man must depend upon earthen things which cannot bring him closer to God. So the Lord forgives this dependency as long as man’s reliance on matter is not brought to excess or misuse.
The Freedom of the Christians
And lest he should make them slothful for the actual conflict, and should seem by this statement to have given them laxity in sinning, he goes on to tell them: If you be led of the Spirit, you are no longer under the law. (Galatians 5:18)
Man has been separate from God for a long time. This is true now, and it was true during the time of Christ as well as during the time of Moses.
Now, man is not meant to be separated from God. Yet he will not come closer to the Lord of his own acts. So it was necessary that the Lord revealed His desires for man in the form of the Law of Moses.
the purpose of these laws was to move man in the right direction; and the purpose of this movement was to prepare man to one day receive the Son.
Now, in the time of Christ, the purpose of Judaism, the Law of Moses, and the acts of the prophets was achieved by the resurrection of Christ.
And people bore witness to this fact and were faced with the choice to accept what had been shown to them.
Now, some people denied what Christ had done, and others merely pretended they had. These people were not freed from the Law because they had failed to grasp and live it.
Yer a small subset of people accepted Christ’s teachings and came to embody the example set for them by Him. These people were no longer under the Law. This is because they had become sufficiently Christlike and behaved as they were meant to of their own volition.
The Man beneath the Law
For that man is under the law, who, from fear of the punishment which the law threatens, and not from any love for righteousness, obliges himself to abstain from the work of sin, without being as yet free and removed from the desire of sinning.
Who is under the Law in the Bible?
A man is under the Law if:
- He avoids sin solely because he fears the punishment of it
- If he behaves well for reasons other than the love of goodness
- And if he avoids sin while secretly desiring it
- He is also under the law if he would do evil, if only he could
The Secret Atheism of the Wicked
For it is in his very will that he is guilty, whereby he would prefer, if it were possible, that what he dreads should not exist, in order that he might freely do what he secretly desires.
A person who does evil things is guilty of evil. A person who wants to do evil things and is restrained only by some barrier is just as guilty of that sin.
Now, this criteria applies to most people, it always has, and it always will. The reason why the common person behave decently is not because he has any sense of morality. Instead, he only behaves himself because he can’t get away with doing evil things.
This is the reason why people say that power corrupts and that money changes people. People who obtain these things tend to misbehave afterward. Then other people attribute the change in behavior to those things which have been gained. People who make this attribution also make a mistake in the process.
Neither power nor money have actually caused a change in their possessors. Instead, they enable the people who have them to behave as horribly as they like. Thereby do they seem more wicked than the common person, whose malice is restrained by his impotence.
The Law Inspires Fear and Not Love
Therefore he says, If you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law, — even the law which inspires fear, but gives not love. For this love is shed abroad in our hearts, not by the letter of the law, but by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:5)
The Pharisees followed the Law to its letter, but they ignored the spirit of the law which had been given to them. The effect of this attitude was to lead them to conclude that they should crucify Jesus, their God.
So to focus on the wording of the Law without attending to its point is an error which leads to an awful end. And one may recognize when that error is being committed when those who pretend to act on behalf of the Law inspire fear and terror.
The Law of Liberty
This is the law of liberty, not of bondage; being the law of love, not of fear; and concerning it the Apostle James says: Whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty. (James 1:25)
A lawless nation lives in anarchy, and its people endure constant fear and contempt of their neighbors, because none may know what sort of depraved act their fellow men may do to them.
Yet the laws given to Moses for the people of Israel will, if followed, permit that lawless people to function and allow its members to trust one another so that the men therein may not need to live in fear of what each other may do to him.
So by adherence to God’s laws, a people is freed from bondage to fear and other passions, and these are far more oppressive masters.
The Laws in the Flesh and in the Mind
Whence he, too, no longer indeed felt terrified by God’s law as a slave, but delighted in it in the inward man, although still seeing another law in his members warring against the law of his mind.
The Law of Moses may be known to a person, and that person may desire to follow it, yet they will still be drawn toward transgression. These people are drawn away from the Law by their earthly passions, and a conflict must reside within them on account of these two pulls. If these people were not under the Law, then they would be pulled into sin and do themselves harm. So it is in their best interests to be under the law.
The Spirit and the Law
Accordingly he here says: If you be led of the Spirit, you are not under the law. So far, indeed, as any man is led by the Spirit, he is not under the law.
A man led by the Holy Spirit is not under the Law. Now, it is difficult to know who is being led by the Spirit and who is not. So those people who desire to transgress God’s laws will pretend that they are led by the Spirit. It is for this reason that you can often predict a person’s malevolent behavior by observing how strongly they pretend to desire good things.
The Law Is Not a Tool of Torment
Because, so far as he rejoices in the law of God, he lives not in fear of the law, since fear has torment, (1 John 4:18) not joy and delight.
The man who is led by the Spirit will be following the laws of God by his own nature. He will show his fidelity to the law by his happy being.