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.”

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7 Comments on “Jason Stellman on Romans 6:14–Was Christ Born Under the Condemnation of the Law?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Stellman quotes Vos, “eschatology precedes soteriology” Interesting! I read that as saying: there is a covenant of works before there is sin. And that would fit the Meredith Kline model. Stellman narrates the drama this way— the desire for eternal life is before the desire to be saved from God’s wrath for our sins. Adam on probation still needed (and wanted) eternal life. And I have no big problem with saying it that way. My problem is when eschatology not only precedes soteriology but becomes the soteriology.

    My problem is when we read Romans 6:14 as saying ONLY that nobody is now under the Mosaic law. I agree that nobody is now under the Mosaic law. 1. I don’t think Romans 6:14 is teaching ONLY that. And 2.more importantly, I don’t think that is the gospel.

  2. johnyeazel Says:

    Stellman gave hints of this problem in his book DUAL CITIZENS. I brought this up to Zrim at his Outhouse about 2 or 3 years ago after I read the book and he never answered me or gave me an evasive answer (I can’t remember which-I should go back to his site and try to find it that post). He started off the chapter, “Bridging the Gap, The Cross, the Spirit and the Glory to Come,” with a critique of Luther’s theology of the cross. Stellman states this about Luther’s antithesis between the theology of the the cross and the theology of glory: “While I certainly do not call into question what Luther intended by his cross/glory antithesis (ie., that the cross is the lens through which the Chritian life must always be examined), I have reservations about his choice of categories (and his limiting of our options to only two). To insist that the cross and glory are antithetical is, from the perspective of the New Testament, difficult to maintain……In fact, the cross and glory are not enemies at all, but friends; the latter is the natural outgrowth of the former.” He concludes after trying to prove this with, “the cross is good only when it leads to glory, and conversely, glory is bad only when it circumvents the cross and shirks the suffering that the cross represents….for Peter insists, that ‘the sufferings of Christ,’ being followed by the resurrection, inaugurated, ‘the subsequent glories’ (1Peter 1:11).”

    Stellman then goes into the subjective cleansing of the Spirit that was prophesied in the books of Ezekial and Joel. Stellman concludes: “the experience of the saints who worship God according to the “new and living way” that Christ has instituted by His death and resurrection is characterized by a lot more “already” and a lot less “not yet” than that of his old covenant counterparts (Heb. 10:19-25).”

    He goes subjective here and insists that we should be experiencing much more glory in our personal lives, which I interpret as victory over our sin. It seems that everyone who wants to go subjective runs into problems when you just observe the lack of victory over sin in your own lives and those who surround you. He tempers the latent triumphalism with talk of a “semi-realized eschatology.” He then goes into his interpretation of Romans 6:14 which you covered in this post.

    I really then had problem with his interpretation of Romans chapter 7 and his drawing from Doug Moo’s commentary on Romans. You should do another post on that. The problems all stemmed from his problems with imputation and Romans chapter 5.

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Thanks, John, for the spelling check. And I find his comments on the cross vs glory antithesis interesting, as you did. I am not sure that this is Stellman’s being “subjective” so much as a result of a focus on redemptive history (Vos, biblical theology not systematic theology). And I think paying attention to the change of ages (and covenants!) is a good thing, but not if attention to the history of salvation becomes the only thing we talk about and we stop focusing on the one gospel about how Christ satisfied the law for the elect. In other words, the law was our schoolmaster to Christ is talking about the Mosaic law in history, but that doesn’t mean that Christ was not under the curse of the law for the elect. The gospel is not that we are in a new dispensation!

    Likewise, Romans 6:14 (not under law but under grace) Is about not being under the Mosaic law, but it’s not ONLY about that. The gospel is not that nobody is under Mosaic law, though it’s true that nobody is now under Mosaic law. We are still under the Adamic curse, unless we have been justified and become dead to the law by imputation of Christ’s death to law. This is the thing that folks like NT Wright and “the new perspective” fail to see, or don’t want to see.

    Romans 6:14 is about both. Not under the Mosaic law is only one example of the freedom of not being under the condemnation of any of God’s law.

    Thanks again, John. I gotta go back and read again that part of Stellman. I would be interested if you could find Zrim’s defenses of Stellman on that score.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    T.L Donaldson, Israel serves as a representative sample for the whole of humankind. within Israel’s experience, the nature of the universal human plight–bondage to sin and to the powers of this age– is thrown into sharp relief through the functioning of the law. The law, therefore, cannot accomplish the promise, but by creating a representative sample in which the human plight is clarified and concentrated, it sets the stage for redemption. Christ identifies not only with the human situation in general, but also with Israel in particular….

    “The Curse of the Law and the Inclusion of the Gentiles”, NT Studies 1986, p105

    cited in S.M. Baugh in Galatians 5:1-6 and Personal Obligation, p268, in The Law Is Not Of Faith, P and R, 2009

    Matt, you might want to check out this Baugh essay on the “fallen from grace” section of Galatians. He discusses some of the same distinctions with which you are working–ie, under “the covenant of works” vs “for justification” vs the “works principle of all law”.

  5. markmcculley Says:

    toward the end, Walter Marshall has some Marrow kind of language, ie, Christ is dead for you, but I mainly like Gospel Mystery of Sanctification

    what’s interesting to me is that the book is mainly about justification

    the reason people don’t understand “sanctification” is mostly because they don’t really understand “justification”

    is Galatians about justification or about sanctification? I would say it’s about both, which is to say it’s first of all about justification

    one big reason that people don’t understand Romans 6 is that they think Paul has moved on to another topic, and is no longer talking about justification or the federal headships of Adam and Christ, thus they say that 6:7 can’t be about “justified from sin”, because they say that’s not the topic or the question anymore. But the reign of sin by guilt is and remains the problem, not only in Romans 5 but also in chapter 6, with the righteousness of Christ our federal head (not that in us by the Spirit) being the solution. I Cor 15:56–the strength of sin is the law, and the only solution to the problem is Romans 6:14–not being under the law.

    Lee Irons: I now think that telos should be taken in a teleological sense, meaning “goal” or “aim.” I would now translate the verse as follows: “The object of the Law is realized in Christ, so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” My main reason for changing views is that my old view did not provide a reasonable explanation of the second half of the verse. How does Christ’s being the termination or abrogation of the Mosaic Law result in righteousness being (available to everyone who believes?) It doesn’t.

    mark…..being already earned for the elect alone, so that Christ is entitled now to these elect being justified…..


    Sin shall not have dominion over you because the Spirit in you causes you not to love sin, NOT what Romans 6 teaches. Because you are not guilty and condemned anymore.

    Which takes us back to what Lee Irons is saying about Romans 10:4, it’s not only or mainly about being in a different redemptive time now, ie, now in the new covenant we are able by the Spirit to do it, NO, it’s that Christ has done it, Christ has brought in righteousness by satisfying the law. In context, Romans 10 has two kind of righteousness, the one kind by works, Christ got his that way, but we will never get righteousness except by the imputation of Christ’s to us

    Romans 10: 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.[ 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim)

  6. markmcculley Says:

    David Van Drunnen: “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.” “Israel’s Recapitulation of Adam’s Probation”

  7. markmcculley Says:


    In Gal 3:10 Paul says that those who are of the “works of the law”32 are under a curse, and proves it by quoting Deut 27:26: “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Paul follows the LXX in adding the word “all” to the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy, hence emphasizing the entirety of the obedience that the Mosaic law demands. For this verse to prove his point (that all people who are under the law are also under a curse), Paul must be working with an implied premise: no one actually keeps the law perfectly.33 In light of Paul’s view of human depravity outside of Christ, presented explicitly in later epistles (e.g., Rom 3:9-21; 8:7-8), this implied premise is eminently Pauline. The apostle expands his point in the following verses. In 3:11 he quotes Hab 2:4 (“the righteous shall live by faith”) to show that no one can be justified by the law. The law, he adds in 3:12, “is not of faith.” He proves this claim by quoting again from the law, this time Lev 18:5: “The one who does them shall live by them.” While faith promises life by believing, the law promises life by doing.34 Paul’s larger point in Gal 3:10-12, therefore, is that the Mosaic law demands perfect obedience, promising life, but that it inevitably brings a curse because sinful human beings disobey it. Paul echoes these sentiments in Gal 5:2-4, where he says that those seeking to be justified by the law are “obligated to keep the whole law”—a strong demand for perfect obedience35—and find no benefit from Christ. In context, Paul obviously does not consider this a viable option, but one that ends inevitably in failure.

    Footnote 32 – I take “works of the law” as a reference to the Mosaic law as a whole. For defense of this position, see… [lists many reference sources]

    In the previous paragraph I have used footnotes to acknowledge interpreters (many of them commonly associated with the so-called New Perspective on Paul) who take a different view of Gal 3:10-12 and 5:3 and deny that Paul is really setting up a contrast between faith and obedience to the law and teaching that
    the law requires perfect obedience. At this point I note briefly that a number of recent Reformed commentators acknowledge that Paul is sharply contrasting faith and works of the law in these and parallel passages, yet deny that the Mosaic law itself can be contrasted with faith (in this sense adopting a similar conclusion to many New Perspective advocates). Instead, these Reformed commentators believe that when Paul quotes Lev 18:5 or refers otherwise to the law so as to contrast it with faith he thinks not of the Mosaic law itself but of the law as misinterpreted
    in a legalistic way by his Jewish contemporaries.36 In my judgment this line of interpretation should also be rejected.37 That Paul dealt with people whom he judged to have misinterpreted the purposes of the Mosaic law is unquestionable, but that the law itself stood in contrast to faith, at least in certain respects, was Paul’s own view. That Paul would concede the interpretation of Lev 18:5 to legalistic Judaizers both in Gal 3:12 and Rom 10:5 (where he introduces his quote by saying, “Moses writes” about the righteousness of the law) is farfetched.
    Furthermore, in Gal 3:19 Paul asks a rhetorical question, understandable in light of the contrast of law and faith in previous verses: “Why then the law?” His explanation in 3:19-4:7 is that God’s own purpose in giving the Mosaic law was to keep his people imprisoned under sin for a time, a condition from which Christ released those who believe in him. In this same section of Galatians Paul speaks of Christ himself being “born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law” (4:4-5), which must be speaking of the Mosaic law in the light of preceding verses. As Israel was under the Mosaic law so Christ came under the Mosaic law. Yet Paul could hardly have been asserting that Christ, whom he says elsewhere “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21), lived under a subjective misinterpretation of the law. Both Christ and the Israelites came “under the law” in an objective sense that reflected God’s own purposes in giving it—but where the Israelites failed Christ prevailed.
    (pp 316-18)

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