Jason Stellman on Romans 6:14–Was Christ Born Under the Condemnation of the Law?
Romans 6:14–”for sin shall not have the dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace.” I read that as saying that sin shall not reign over a justified person, because that person is justified.
Jason Stellman (Dual Citizens, Reformation Trust, 2009, 143) suggests that such a reading is a non-answer. I quote from p 143: “According to this view, under law means under the condemnation of God’s moral law, and under grace speaks of the deliverance from this condition. Some problems arise from this view…. When Paul spoke to those saints in the churches of Galatia who desired to be under the law, was he talking to people who longed to be under the condemnation of the law? When Paul wrote that Jesus was born under the law, did he mean that Christ was born under the condemnation of the law? ”
Stellman continues: “Furthermore, if under law and under grace are existential categories describing an individual’s condemnation or justification, then Paul’s argument is a non-sequiter. It is not justification but sanctification that frees us from the dominion of the sin.”
Stellman’s reading of Romans 6 is common to many Reformed people today. They tell us that “freed from sin” in Romans 6:7 cannot mean “justified from sin” because this chapter is about sanctification and not about justification.
It seems to me that this is simply begging the question, and without some attention to Romans chapter six, I will be guilty of simply begging the question the other way.
I want to attend to Stellman’s two questions about Romans 6:14. You can read them in context above, but the first asks: “When Paul was warning the Galatians, were the false teachers wanting to be under condemnation?”
My answer: Paul’s answer was that the false teachers were under the condemnation. If you go their way, Christ will be of no profit to you. The gospel does not tell people that they WANT TO be damned. The gospel says that THEY WILL be damned if their trust in anything else but Christ’s death (and resurrection) for the elect. That death (and resurrection) alone, apart from our works enabled by the Spirit (be those works of Torah or works of new covenant) is the gospel.
Stellman’s second question—-“When Paul wrote that Jesus was born under the law, did he mean that Christ was born under the
condemnation of the law? My answer is yes. Gal 4:4: born of the law to redeem those under the law cannot mean only that Christ was born under the jurisdiction of Moses to get Jews free from that jurisdiction. Of course jewish bondage under the law is in view, but it’s part of the more basic pattern of all humans being condemned by the “curse of the law”.(Gal 3:13) .
Yes, Christ was born under the condemnation of God and God’s law. To see this, we need to attend to the first part of Romans 6 before we rush to the second part and conclude that it has to be about a sanctification that makes it just for God to justify the ungodly. Romans 6:10 says that “the death He died to sin”.
Before we jump to the redemptive historical complexity of union and identification with the death (when? Before the ages? Two thousand years ago? At imputation? Before or after faith?), we need to focus on Christ’s death to sin. Does Christ’s death to sin mean that Christ was unregenerate and then positionally cleansed by the Holy Spirit? God forbid.
Does Christ’s death to sin mean that Christ became corrupt fallen flesh but then later was “infused” with the divine nature? Again, God forbid.
Does Christ’s death to sin mean that Christ by being in the environment of the world and of the old covenant age needed a deliverance from “the flesh” and from the physical body? Once more, God forbid.
What does it mean that Christ died to sin? It means that the law of God demanded death for the sins of the elect imputed to Christ. As long as those sins were imputed to Christ, He was under sin, he was under law, He was under death.
Now death has no more power over Him? Why? Because the sins are no longer imputed to Him, but have been paid for and satisfied. The gospel is not only about God justifying, but also about God being
justified when God justifies.
Much is written about imputation these days, a lot of it loose language about an exchange brought about by the sinner’s faith. Less is written about the imputation of Adam’s sin. (Blocher, for example, in his Original Sin book, concludes that Adam’s sin only moved the redemptive historical clock forward (bringing in death) so that individual sins could then be imputed.)
But even LESS is written about the imputation of sins to Christ. I think at least part of the reason for the silence is that preachers
don’t want to talk about either whose sins are imputed or when they are imputed.
This is not the time to think through the timing. (I myself agree with John Owen’s distinction between accomplished and applied, where sins which have been imputed to Christ are still imputed to the elect until their justification.) If we only say that the sins of BELIEVERS are imputed to Christ, we not only avoid the good news of election but also (by lack of antithesis) contribute to the evangelical consensus that the efficacy of Christ’s death depends on believing. The true gospel tells how the effectual call (hearing and believing the gospel) is the effect of Christ’s work.
David Van Drunnen writes about Romans 6:14 in his WTJ essay “Israel’s Recapitulation of Adam’s Probation” (p322) “How could not being under the Mosaic law have anything to do with one’s justification? …Justification is indeed ultimately not about whether a person is under the Mosaic law as a member of corporate Israel, but about whether a person is under the federal headship of the first Adam or the last Adam. But insofar as one of the chief divine purposes for the Mosaic law was to cause OT Israel to recapitulate Adam’s probation and fall, being under the Mosaic law was a profound illustration of the plight of humanity under the first Adam.”