Vol.XX No.VIII Pg.4
October 1983

No Works, No Law?

Robert F. Turner

I'm surprised that some brethren haven't started a "movement" in which they affirm their "freedom" from having to work; a "liberty" that allows them to do nothing. After all, didn't Christ himself say, "Work not for the food that perisheth..."? (Jo. 6:27).

And, how long will it be until we hear brethren questioning the need to be baptized and basing their contention upon 1 Cor. 1:17, "Christ sent me not to baptize..."?

Now most students would know how to answer anyone who seriously used these verses to teach such things. The emphasis in these texts isn't on the phrases after the word "not." Our Lord didn't teach "work not at all," but rather the need to be concerned about working for another type of "food" — "...but for the food which abideth unto eternal life." Nor did Paul say that baptism is unnecessary. He was emphasizing his work as an evangelist when he said, "...but to preach the gospel."

It is strange, therefore, to hear some brethren affirm their so-called "freedom" from law and works by citing "ye are not under law" (Rom. 6:14) and "not by works" (Tit. 3:5) in order to justify their claim. Why is it that some so easily see the misinterpretations of Jo. 6:27 and 1 Cor. 1:17 and then so badly misinterpret Paul's statements?

"Not under law" and "not by works" are not even the point of emphasis in these verses, much less a denial of law and works. The statements in both texts which follow the word "but" are what the writer is emphasizing: "...but under grace" and "...but according to his mercy." Just as working for food and being baptized were not being minimized, being "under law" and having "works" to do aren't being excluded either.

Under law? Certainly we are. But there is a difference between being under a system of law (and seeking justification by that law) and being "under law to Christ," (1 Cor. 9:21). It isn't law as such that Paul had in mind when he speaks of "the curse of the law," (Gal. 3:13), but a system requiring perfect obedience, (Gal. 3: 10-12). We are not under that kind of system but we are under law, for "...where there is no law, neither is there transgression" (Rom. 4:15).

Works to do? Yes. But there is a difference between works that are an attempt to earn salvation, and works that are an expression of faith and an attempt to do God's will. Rom. 4:45 illustrates this well. "Him that worketh" is not the man seeking to please God through obedience, but one seeking to work perfectly so that he can earn salvation, God owing it to him as a debt. "Him that worketh not" isn't one who does nothing, but one whose attempts at obeying God are imperfect.

Grace and mercy are needed as we submit ourselves to God's will or "law" for we imperfectly seek to do the "good works" we were "created in Christ Jesus" for (Eph. 2:10). It is this of which Paul speaks in Rom. 6:14 and Tit. 3:5.

David Smitherman