The Law in Paul’s Theology

The “Grace Revolution” must adequately deal with this topic, for a change.

All the appearances of the word law are listed here. And in most cases it refers to the Law of Moses. Also, different words like written code are referenced. Finally, when Paul explains a truth from the Law without using the word law, then it is listed.

Yes, these verses are quoted, and not in story form or a narrative. But I believe verses quotes thematically can reveal a pattern.

The NIV is used here. If you would like to see other translations, please go to Italics and bold fonts have been added.

1.. The law is holy, righteous, good, and spiritual and should be upheld in certain circumstances.

31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Rom. 3:31)

12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. (Rom. 7:12)

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin … I agree that the law is good.  (Rom. 7:14, 16)

4 … In order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:4)

8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. (1 Tim.1:8)

In those verses, the law is upheld in the right way: to reveal our sin and condemnation and our need from deliverance from them. We are no longer under the power of sin and condemnation.

2.. The Gentiles without the law of Moses have natural law written on their hearts.

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) (Rom. 2:12, 14-15)

3.. The law of Moses subjects Jews to strict requirements and judgment.

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Rom. 2:12-13)

See also:

Rom. 2:17-24

Rom. 9:31

4.. The law is purposed to restrain societal sin and crime

See 1 Tim. 1:9-10

5.. However, the law increases or heightens sin and brings wrath.

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Rom 3:19-20)

20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more. (Rom. 5:20)

5 For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. (Rom. 7:5)

See also:

Rom. 4:15

Rom. 5:13-14

Rom. 7:7-11

Rom. 7:21-25

Rom. 8:1-2

Rom. 8:7

1 Cor. 15:56

Gal. 3:19-22-25

6.. We are released from the law because we died to the law.

19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Gal. 2:19-21)

See also:

Rom. 7:1-6

7.. Circumcision, a ritual under the law, is useless without keeping the law.

25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. 28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. (Rom. 2:25-29)

See also:

Rom. 4:10-12

Gal. 5:1-6

Gal. 6:13-15

8.. Righteousness and justification come apart from the law, but by faith in Christ and by God’s grace, for Jew and Gentile.

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law. (Rom 3:20)

We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified. (Gal 2:16)

9 Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Php. 3:9)

See also:

Rom. 3:21-22

Rom. 4:13-16

Rom 3:27-29

Rom. 6:14-15

Gal. 2:14-16

Gal. 3:6-12

Gal. 3:15-18

Eph. 2:11-18

9.. The law of the Spirit and Christ is contrasted with the old law.

6 But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Rom. 7:6)

2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. 6 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! 12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:2-18)

See also:

Rom. 10:4-10

1 Cor. 9:21

Gal. 3:2-5

Gal. 3:13-14

Gal. 4:21-27

Gal. 5:16-18

Gal. 6:13-1

Gal. 6:2

Php. 3:5-8

10.. Christ redeemed us from the law and its curse.

13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Gal. 3:13-14)

4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons (Gal. 4:4-5).

11.. Christ is the end or culmination of the law for everyone who believes.

4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Rom. 10:4)

3 When we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. 4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? 10 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! 11 I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you. (Gal. 4:3-11)

See also:

Eph. 2:13-15

Col. 2:8-23

12.. Paul uses the law to win those under the law.

20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. (1 Cor. 9:20-21)

13.. Christian love fulfills the law.

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:8-10)

14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal. 5:14)

14.. Paul uses the law to clarify church issues and confusion.

8 Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the Law say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. (1 Cor. 9:8-10)

1 Cor. 10:1-11

1 Cor. 14:21-22

1 Cor. 14:33-35

1 Tim. 1:9, 11

15.. The law serves to teach the church who lives in the New Covenant.

4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom. 15:4, emphasis added)

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. (1 Cor. 10:11)

16.. The law refers to Scripture as such.

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  (Rom. 3:21)

21 In the Law it is written: “Through men of strange tongues and through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people, but even then they will not listen to me,” [Is. 128:11, 12] says the Lord. 22 Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers. (1 Cor. 14:21-22)


The Reformers, agreeing that the law is holy and good (no. 6) were correct about the three major purposes of the law:

1.. Show our sin and our need for Christ and for the gospel of grace (nos. 2, 4, 7, and 9);

2.. Restrain societal sin and crime (nos. 1 and 5);

3.. Clarify the will of God for Christians or church issues when confusion comes (nos. 13, 14, and 15).

But the law has other functions too, most major, one minor.

Circumcision is useless if one does not keep the whole law, which no one can do. It is not the sign of the New Covenant (no. 3).

We are released from the law as we follow the Spirit (no. 8).

Christ redeems us from the law and its curse (no. 10). He is the end or culmination of the law.

Paul uses the law to win those under the law, so this purpose is outreach, not church governance or policy (no. 12).

The minor use is that the law can refer to all of Scripture (no. 16).

Paul does not bring back the sacrificial system and other the ritual aspects. Christ fulfilled them by his death on the cross. And Paul does not re-institute the death penalty for sins like adultery and homosexuality. Christ took this penalty on himself while he was on the cross.

How does this post help me in my walk with God?

I believe the biggest contrast with the law is life in the Spirit. Walk in the Spirit, and the fruit will grow naturally without dead efforts or dead works from you; right living will happen without the law.

Closing verses:

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)


How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law: Matthew 5:17-19

How Christians Should Interpret the Old Testament

Law in the Epistle to the Romans

Law versus Grace

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s