Spirit of Prophecy – “Under the Law”?


Under the law

Under the Condemnation of the Law

Opponents of the Seventh-day Sabbath often point to verses on the law which talk about it as a schoolmaster that was to “bring us to Christ”, and many teach that the law was a “yoke of bondage” and that this “system of law” ceased or was abolished at the coming of Christ.  They believe that those who think that the law is still in effect today “desire to be under the law” and are putting themselves in “bondage”.

Many early Seventh-day Adventists referred to the law in Galatians as the ceremonial law, and many Adventists today still do.  This particular study is an examination of the writings of Ellen White concerning what she understood the schoolmaster to be as well as what it meant to her to be “under the law”.

Galatians 3:23-25  But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.  (24)  Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  (25)  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

Before faith we were under the law.  After faith we are no longer under the law.  What does it mean?

What Law is the Schoolmaster? The Ceremonial?  The Moral?  Or Both?

“The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). In this scripture, the Holy Spirit through the apostle is speaking especially of the moral law. The law reveals sin to us, and causes us to feel our need of Christ and to flee unto Him for pardon and peace by exercising repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”(Ellen White 1Selected Messages Page 234)

She says above “The law reveals sin to us” and that this verse in Galatians 3:23-25 is speaking “especially of the moral law”.  This agrees with what Paul says in Romans 7:7.  Paul tells us that he had not known sin, but by the moral law.

Rom 7:7  What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

Paul knew sin, because the law told him not to covet. Paul is quoting the tenth commandment.  So it is definitely the moral law that is pointing out Paul’s sin.   The ceremonial law pointed out the sacrifice and the need for a saviour but did not show us what sin was.

What does it mean to be Under the Law?

Many believe that to be “under the law” means that we are under a “system of law” and that this “system of law” ceased at the cross, and we therefore were under obligation to keep the law up until the cross.  Then the law was abolished.  They tell us that Paul is teaching us that we are no longer under the obligation to keep the law, and anyone teaching this is teaching “another gospel” or that they are “legalists” and in “bondage to the law”.

Another interpretation of this passage by many Seventh-day Adventists that have misunderstood this verse in the same manner is that it means that we are no longer under the obligation to keep the ceremonial law.   But this is not what was taught by Ellen White.   She said that it meant that we are no longer under the condemnation of the law.   There is a very big difference between “under obligation” and “under condemnation”.  You cannot believe that “under the law” means both “under obligation” and “under condemnation”.

“There is full assurance of hope in believing every word of Christ, believing in Him, being united to Him by living faith. When this is his experience, the human being is no longer under the law, for the law no longer condemns his course of action.”  (Ellen White 21MR 23)

The law that condemns us is the moral law.  When the law no longer condemns our course of action, we are no longer under it.  In other words we are no longer “under the condemnation of the law”, but yet, we are still “under obligation” to keep it as we shall see.  To be no longer be under the law is to walk in harmony with it.

“The law of God, spoken in awful grandeur from Sinai, is the utterance of condemnation to the sinner. It is the province of the law to condemn, but there is in it no power to pardon or to redeem. It is ordained to life; those who walk in harmony with its precepts will receive the reward of obedience. But it brings bondage and death to those who remain under its condemnation. {1SM 236.3}

“Desire to be Under the Law”= Under Condemnation.

Gal 4:21  Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law?

Some will say that the desire to be “under the law” spoken of in Galatians 4:21 was a desire to keep the law.  Many Adventists teach that it was a desire to do the ceremonial law.    They say “it cannot mean “under the condemnation of the law” because no one desires to be under the condemnation of the law.”   The condemnation of the law is death.  ”No one wants to die” they say.   But the bible teaches that “all they that hate me love death.”(Pro 8:36), so therefore they do “DESIRE to be under the condemnation of the law”.

“They do not desire to submit themselves to the control of the Spirit of God… The Spirit of God alone can make and keep men pure. Its work upon the soul is represented as bringing life to the dead, and freeing the soul from the slavery of sin, which has brought it under the condemnation of the law, where wrath and tribulation fall upon every evil doer. It is the grace of Christ which brings salvation to everyone who receives it. Those who are converted, experience peace and assurance forever. In place of being slaves, they are made free through Jesus Christ. Brought into the liberty of obedient children, they can say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” {ST November 5, 1894, par. 8}

Those who “do not DESIRE to submit themselves” are DESIRING to be under the condemnation of the law, slaves, free from the liberty that God has promised, free from under the bondage and slavery of sin, they love death.  Those who accept the Spirit and are born of Spirit are no longer under its condemnation.   They have been redeemed from the bondage of sin and slavery and adopted into the family of God receiving that Spirit of adoption.

We are told in that passage that those who have been freed from under the condemnation of the law are obedient and “delight in the law of God”. Jesus freed us from the bondage and condemnation of the law, by taking that condemnation upon himself.

Galatians 4:4-7  But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,  (5)  To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.  (6)  And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.  (7)  Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Should those who are not under the law be particular to understand the law? 

“But how particular we should be to understand the law of God, so that we may not be under condemnation as law-breakers.  It is the willing and obedient that God will bless. If we are desirous of understanding the law of earthly Governments, how much more should we desire to know what God requires of us. If we are anxious to understand our duty, he will not leave us to be enshrouded in darkness, but will enlighten our understanding so that we shall know for ourselves what is truth.” { Ellen White ST April 22, 1889, par. 5}

God only gives understanding to those who will be desirous to understand their duty.  Law-breakers are under the condemnation of the law.   Note the following quote carefully.  Those who walk after the Spirit are not under the condemnation of the law.

“Here is held out the very thing for which we are to labor: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love.” If we have the love of Christ in our souls, it will be a natural consequence for us to have all the other graces,—joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance;” and “against such there is no law.” The law of God does not condemn and hold in bondage those who have these graces; because they are obeying the requirements of the law of God. They are law-keepers, and therefore they are not under the bondage of the law.

Some time ago, when we were passing through Oswego, N. Y., we saw two stern officers, and with them two men were coupled, carrying in their hands large leaden balls. We did not come to the conclusion that they had been keeping the law of the State of New York, but that they had been breaking it, and that they could not walk at liberty because they were transgressors of the law. We were trying to live in harmony with all the laws of the State of New York, and with the law of God; and we were walking at liberty,—we were not under the bondage of the law. If we live in harmony with the life of Christ, with the law of God, that law does not condemn us—we are not under the bondage of the law.” {Ellen White RH January 4, 1887, par. 3 and 4}

It is only when you do not walk in harmony with the law of God that you are brought in bondage to it and under it.  When you are walking contrary to the Spirit.  She is quoting Galatians 5 here in this passage.   Which we read the following from:

Gal 5:18  But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.

This verse clearly is not referring to any particular time period after the cross alone, but to all time, and since the beginning of time, even back to the time of Cain and Abel.   If you are not led of the Spirit, you are under the law.   Before faith came you were under the law, before grace came you were under the law, but after faith is come, you are not under the schoolmaster.  Many before the cross were under grace and not under the law.   Paul is speaking to Galatians here, several years after the cross.   Those that have not received the Spirit of adoption still need redemption from under the bondage and condemnation of the law.  Therefore to be under the law was not referring to a system that ceased at the cross.(Gal 4:4-6)  But something that ceases when faith is come.(Gal 3:23-25, Heb 11).

The Moral Law Governs the Everyday Life as Long as Time Should Last

Some are proposing that the law given at Sinai was only to govern until the cross and now “we are no longer under the government of the law”, but at the time of the cross the law was abolished or would pass away.   What does Ellen White say about this?

“In consequence of continual transgression, the moral law was repeated in awful grandeur from Sinai. Christ gave to Moses religious precepts which were to ***govern*** the everyday life. These statutes were explicitly given to guard the ten commandments. They were not shadowy types to pass away with the ***death of Christ***. They were to be binding upon man in every age as long as time should last***. These commands were enforced by the power of the moral law, and they clearly and definitely explained that law.” {RH, May 6, 1875 par. 10} –E. G. White –The Review and Herald May 6, 1875 –The Law of God.(***Emphasis added)

The passage above tells us that the law was repeated at Sinai. Those who teach it was nailed to the cross normally believe it wasn’t even given until Mount Sinai, let alone repeated.  This passage also tells us that the law will govern as long as time should last.   And that it did not pass away at the death of Christ.  Neither did the statutes that explain the moral law.   Though our penalty and our condemnation for breaking the law was nailed to the cross.  None of the moral law, or statutes were nailed to the cross.

“When the mind is drawn to the cross of Calvary, Christ by imperfect sight is discerned on the shameful cross. Why did He die? In consequence of sin. What is sin? The transgression of the law. Then the eyes are open to see the character of sin. The law is broken but cannot pardon the transgressor. It is our schoolmaster, condemning to punishment. Where is the remedy? The law drives us to Christ, who was hanged upon the cross that He might be able to impart His righteousness to fallen, sinful man and thus present men to His Father in His righteous character.” {Ellen White 1SM 341.2}

In Conclusion:

We have learned that to be under the law does not refer to being under obligation to keep the law.  This is a doctrine that the carnal mind loves “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.”(Romans 8:7)

There are many today teaching this doctrine, and they will hold to it no matter how clear the biblical evidence is, nor even how clear the Spirit of Prophecy is.

We’ve also learned that to be under the law is not referring to being under obligation to keep the Ceremonial law.  This is a common interpretation that many have accepted because it seemed to harmonize with other texts which show that we do have an obligation to keep the moral law.

This is an incorrect understanding as well and is often associated with a misunderstanding of the covenants, which also is associated with a great misunderstanding of the character of God in believing that God changes his dealings with people from one dispensation of time to the next.   The correct understanding is that we are not under the condemnation of the law after accepting the grace of God and the promise of the Spirit.  This promise was given to Abraham and his seed well before the cross.(Gal 3).

Romans 6:14-15  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.  (15)  What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

In other words, we are no longer under the condemnation of the law, but under grace.  You cannot be under grace and under the law at the same time. The covenant of grace was given to Adam and Eve to redeem them from under the condemnation of the law.   Though Christ was not crucified until 31AD, they were fully forgiven back then.  We are told that Christ is the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8)

Do we then sin or break the law?  ”God forbid” Paul says.   And the law that told him what sin is was clearly the moral law which was our schoolmaster, this law condemned us, but it also brought us to Christ who took upon himself our condemnation so that we are now able to stand in liberty, free from the bondage of sin and law breaking all by the power of the promise of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Those who walk after the Spirit are no longer under the condemnation of the law.  And they have received that Spirit of adoption.  They walk after the Spirit.(Gal 4:4-7).  They have been “born of spirit”, or in other words “born again”.

Romans 8:14-17 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (15) For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (16) The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (17) And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

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