The Law and the Believer

Walking in the Spirit: A Study in Galatians

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Walking in the Spirit graphic

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

Remember the illustration about the roads in Louisiana? Running off the road one way or the other would prove to be disastrous, so extreme caution is necessary. The same is true for us as believers. We must avoid the extremes of legalism and license. Essentially, the problem with these extremes is that they result in either completely leaning on the law or completely ignoring the law. And, sadly, too many believers are drifting one way or the other.

Legalism robs the believer of the freedom he has in Christ, and he begins to believe that his salvation actually depends on observing certain laws and regulations.

License, or antinomianism (anti: against; nomos: law; i.e., being against the law), sets aside the law and implies that freedom in Christ is a permit to do as one pleases. While the legalist believes the law is the answer, a licentious person believes the law is instead the problem. He seeks to get rid of any standards or guidelines for life.

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


If—assumes that the premise is true; since

Led—brought to a point of destination; guided or directed; moved or impelled; led, by laying hold of

Under—by; under the power of

Law—that which is assigned; usage or law

At this point, an obvious question needs to be addressed. Since believers are no longer under the law, what then is their relationship to the law? Is the law extinct? Does it have any relevance or bearing today? Does it serve any function at all? In order to understand what “not under the law” means, we must first understand what this phrase does not mean.

What “Not Under the Law” Does Not Mean

Insubordination to Authority

First, “not under the law” does not mean believers are free from submitting to civil and political authorities. Martin Luther, in his commentary on Galatians, stated that God’s law is actually what guides and governs civil and political ordinances.

This civil restraint by the law is intended by God for the preservation of all things, particularly for the good of the Gospel that it should not be hindered too much by the tumult of the wicked.

Insignificant as a Means of Conviction

Second, “not under the law” does not mean that the law of God is of no effect.

Romans 3:19–20
Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Romans 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.

Galatians 3:24
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Irrelevance to the Believer

Third, “not under the law” does not mean the believer is free from a standard for life. Contrary to popular opinion, the Ten Commandments have not become obsolete. God’s moral law always has been and always will be a reflection of His character. Therefore believers must live in light of God’s character and eternal Word. True Christianity is not freedom from the existence of law. There is always a standard, always a code of conduct to be observed. Believers must realize this.

James 1:25
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.

What “Not Under the Law” Does Mean

The Law Is Not a Means of Justification

In Galatians 5:18, when Paul contrasts being “led of the Spirit” with “being under the law,” he is simply saying that Christians are no longer required to live under the jurisdiction of the law, thereby facing the penalty of that law.

Galatians 3:11
But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.

Before salvation, the law condemns, with the reality being that human nature is so weak it cannot keep God’s law. Therefore, judgment under the law is inevitable for every human. But, in mercy, God sent His Son to keep the law and be executed under the penalty of the law in our place. By grace, through faith, Jesus’ life becomes our life and His death becomes ours. After salvation, believers are severed from the law’s righteous demands, and the relationship of the believer to the law is completely different. God’s Spirit is imparted to our hearts, and we experience a present, ongoing relationship with His Spirit, who enables us to walk in obedience to God’s law.

Notice how Spurgeon explains this concept:

What is God’s law now? It is not above a Christian—it is under a Christian. Some men hold God’s laws like a rod, [in terror,] over Christians, and say, “If you sin you will be punished with it.” It is not so. The law is under a Christian; it is for him to walk on, to be his guide, his rule, his pattern. “We are not under the law, but under grace.” . . . Law is the road which guides us, not the rod which drives us, nor the spirit which actuates us. The law is good and excellent, if it keeps its place.[1]

By grace through faith, we are no longer under the condemnation of the law. Now, through the indwelling Spirit we are enabled to do what we could not do in our fallen sinful state. This is good news! The law no longer holds us in condemnation. Sadly, however, many believers live with some feeling of condemnation, when in fact the believer is not under the law. Therefore, the law should no longer bring about dejection and fear of condemnation.

Take some time to read Romans 8:1–4 and rejoice in the good news of life in the Spirit.

The law does not provide power for sanctification. The Galatians, like all believers, began their Christian lives by receiving the Spirit, but then they resorted to the law to accomplish the life that only the Spirit was capable of producing. (See Gal. 3:1–4.)

Although we cannot gain acceptance by keeping the law, yet once we have been accepted we shall keep the law out of love for Him [for it reflects who He is], who has accepted us and has given us His Spirit to enable us to keep it.[2]

The Christian life is not about trying harder to obey the law; it is realizing that we are enabled to obey God by the power of the indwelling Spirit. If we strive to keep God’s law in our own flesh, we will find ourselves miserably failing and falling into sin. Again, the flesh can in no way obey the law; that’s the whole point of Galatians 5! The only way to deal with the flesh is through the indwelling Spirit, not by keeping the law.

Believers who are “led of the Spirit” realize the law’s standard of righteousness. And the fruits of the Spirit are of such a nature that, when they are present, the law is no longer necessary. That’s why Paul says, “If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” We must seek and surrender to the Spirit’s control in our lives and continually allow our minds and hearts to be dominated and directed by His Spirit. Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to control us at this very moment? We must, because walking in the Spirit is the only way to live the Christian life, and nothing else works.


[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “The Allegories of Sarah and Hagar,” The Spurgeon Archive, March 2, 1856,

[2] John Stott, The Message of Galatians (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1986), 143.

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Steve Pettit traveled for many years with the Steve Pettit Evangelistic Team before becoming president of Bob Jones University. His ultimate goal for BJU is to prepare students to serve and love others, no matter their vocation.