Is God under the law?
May 29, 2015
To be “under the law” means that the law is holding someone accountable as a debtor. Such accountability can be caused by a sin committed against one’s neighbor or by accidental destruction of a neighbor’s property.
A third way to become under the law is to make some kind of vow or commitment, such as drawing up a contract, which binds a person to do something. In such cases, the law holds the contractor to his word, and if he refuses to perform what he has promised, the law has the duty to impose appropriate penalties.
This is the basis of the world coming “under the law” in Romans 3:19, as Paul tells us,
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God.
In other words, because “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), everyone in the world has come “under the law” and is “accountable to God.” It was not only Israel that received the law, but rather that Israel received the law on behalf of the whole world. Because Israel was “chosen,” they were given the Dominion Mandate over the whole earth, and hence they were to administer the Law to the world.
For this reason, the vow that Israel made in Exodus 19:8 applied not only to them, but also to those not yet born, and it extended beyond their borders as well.
When Israel vowed obedience to God in what we call the Old Covenant, they came “under the law” as soon as they sinned. Sin is transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). Sin puts people under the law in that sense, but in a broader sense, their vow itself put them all under the law, because it obligated them legally to do something. The law never takes kindly to those who do not fulfill their word.
Hence, the people did not even have to sin to come under the law. Their vow itself put them under the law, because it obligated them to do righteous acts (tsedeqah). Unfortunately, although “the law is holy, and the commandment is holly, and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12), the law could not make anyone a righteous (tsedeq) person. It made demands on men that they could not fulfill. True tsedeqah can come only through a tsedeq person, such as Jesus.
In other words, demanding righteous acts and threatening men with judgment if they fail to perform those things is not sufficient to overcome the iniquity that lies within the human heart. Threats of judgment will never produce a righteous man, because fear lacks the power of love.
This is why the Old Covenant was doomed to failure from its inception.
The Old Covenant put men under the law. The New Covenant put God under the law. When God vowed to do something, His law put an obligation upon Him to perform what He had promised to do. This happens every time God makes a promise, because the law demands that vows should be kept (Nahum 1:15).
God has made many promises throughout history, as seen in Scripture. Whether these are called vows, promises, or covenants, or simply His word, they all place God under a holy obligation to fulfill what He has spoken. In legal terms, this means that the New Covenant placed God under the law, even as the Old Covenant placed men under the law.
Therefore, God has obligated Himself to do many things. Some of these obligations remained obscure until the prophets gave further explanation. For instance, when God gave Adam dominion over the earth in Genesis 1:28, it was explained further by David in Psalm 8:6-8, but applied to the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, in Hebrews 2:6-8.
Paul then treats this not only as a divine wish, but as a prophetic statement (1 Corinthians 15:27, 28). While the first Adam (and his begotten ones) failed to subdue the earth and make God “all in all,” the last Adam (and His begotten ones) will not fail. God’s very integrity is at stake, because He vowed to make us His people (Deuteronomy 29:12, 13). If He should fail to perform His vow, then God would be a sinner in violation of His own character—as expressed in the law.
The point is that God is under the law until the last obligation has been performed and completed. That will occur at the Creation Jubilee, when all of creation—which has been groaning in travail since the first sin—is “set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
The path toward God’s success is long and arduous, but He created Time for this very purpose. No one has the right to accuse God of failure before the fulness of time. Most of God’s vows have no stated date, but every contract must carry a date to be valid. The implied date of God’s New Covenant vow is the Creation Jubilee. That is, the New Covenant has been vowed on many occasions and to many different people throughout biblical history. However, what is most important is the date, which gives God a deadline to pay His vow and come out from under the law.
Most Christians have not understood this over the centuries, and so they have talked only about man’s supposed deadline—either his death or the coming of Christ. Yet any deadline that men may set applies only to the Old Covenant, where men were put under the law and given time to fulfill that vow. The more important deadline is God’s deadline to fulfill His New Covenant vow. God’s deadline does not arrive at the point of man’s death, nor even with Christ’s second coming. God’s deadline is at the end of time itself, which comes after the age of judgment.
The Jubilee is that deadline, because it is the time when every man returns to his inheritance (Leviticus 25:10). The Jubilee comes at the end of the time of redemption, that is, the time when men must work to pay off their debts and obligations imposed upon all those who are “under the law.” The age of judgment (“lake of fire”) is the era where God’s “fiery law” (Deuteronomy 33:2 KJV) forces all who are yet under the law to work off their debt. Their debt load is too great for any man to pay during the time of redemption, so they will not be set free until the Jubilee at the end of time.
The Jubilee will mark the moment when God’s obligation will be met, because when He sets all of creation free from corruption, then He will indeed fulfill His covenant to save the whole earth (Genesis 9:16, 17). Likewise, He will fulfill His oath to make all men His people (Deuteronomy 29:12, 13), including those present with Moses and those not present (Deuteronomy 29:14, 15). Only then can God truly be “all in all,” as Paul prophesies in 1 Corinthians 15:28.
My conclusion is that God is indeed under the law until He saves all mankind as He promised.
Dr. Stephen Jones