Vol. 2 - No. 1

January, 1983

Romans 6:14 - Dominion Over Man

by Robert L. McDonald

I recently heard a preacher take the position that Christians were not under the dominion of law. To attempt to establish the concept that man is not under the rule of divine law, he cited Romans 6:14: "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace." (Romans 6:14). In questioning, we were informed that man is under law, but not under dominion of law. To me, this was a battle of words which would not do less that confuse the mind of the innocent. Such double-talk does not enlighten to a greater understanding of the Word of God, but rather a confusing, disconnected accumulation of thoughts which cannot be harmonized.

To have a proper concept of what the inspired apostle wrote in the text above is to look at the context preceding. A basic rule of hermeneutics is to always keep in mind the context where the passage under consideration is found. What we have before us is no different. To help with this passage, let us briefly review the preceding chapters.

The Jew would point to the Gentile and claim to be righteous rather than the Gentiles because they had been entrusted with the law of Moses. "Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, and knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excel lent, being instructed out of the law" (Romans 3:17-18). The Jew unquestionably had the revealed will of God communicated from heaven through Moses and the prophets, so that he relied upon it as the truth. He did not place his trust in dumb idols nor superstition surrounding dead men, but in the living God. In knowing God, he had the inspired oracles and teachers to expound it so that no Jew could claim ignorance of the law. The law of Moses was a good and holy law which did much for the people of Israel, but there was one flaw with it.

The Jew had much advantage over the Gen-tile, especially since he had been given the oracles, or law, of God. Throughout chapter three of the Roman letter, Paul's attention is directed to the fact the Jews had the law of Moses which did much for them as a people belonging to God. The Jews, who should have been much better than the Gentiles, were themselves transgressors of the law. "What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jew and Gentiles, that they are all under sin. As it is writ-ten, There is none righteous, no, no one...Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:9-10, 20). The law of Moses made no provision for forgiveness of sin and since the Jew had transgressed God's will, he was guilty before God as were the Gentiles. Even though the Jew boasted that he knew and kept the works of the law of Moses, there was no justification before God for he was guilty of sin. So, the only conclusion is that man is justified by faith in God without the deeds of the law. (Romans 3:28).

Paul then turned his thoughts to the father of the Jew. Abraham was not justified by the knowledge and works of the law of Moses, since he lived 400 years before the law was given, but by an unwavering trust in God. Through the fourth chapter the apostle speaks of this great man of the Old Testament to show his undivided faith which in turn accounted for his righteousness. It is true that sin was in the world before the law of Moses (for sin is not imputed when there is no law), concluding that man was guilty of violating the standards of morality as given by God to Adam in the beginning. Sin, then, had dominion over man until the grace of God was manifested through the offering of Jesus Christ our Lord. By this sacrifice a way of escape was made possible and man was given a hope of eternal life.

When the sinner obeys the gospel of our Lord, he is made free from all sin. Being made free from sin, he becomes a servant of righteousness, neither yielding his members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but unto God. With these thoughts in mind, Paul wrote, "For sin shall not have dominion over you." (Romans 6:14). God made provision for the destruction of the power of sin over His people. The word dominion is defined, "to be lord of, to rule over, have dominion over to exercise influence upon, to have power over .... Romans 6:14." (Thayer, pg. 365). The emphasis in this passage is whether or not sin has dominion over the person who becomes a servant of righteousness. The answer is an unquestioned, "No."

But when the apostle said, "for ye are not under law, but under grace," what did he mean? this has become the point of issue in the philosophy that Christians are and are not under law. William Newell expresses such an idea in this way:

"It is deeply significant here that even to us, new creatures in Christ, and recipients of the Holy Spirit, it is definitely announced to us that we are not under law -- else bondage and helplessness would still be our lot. Note, God does not say we are not under the Law -- the Mosaic Law: (Gentiles never were!) But, God says we are not under law -- under the legal principle. In the opening part of Chapter Seven, Paul will show the Jewish believers, (who had been under law), that only death could release them from the legal obligation; and that they had been made dead to the Law, through being identified with Christ in His death." (Romans: Verse by Verse, William R. Newell)

It is true that no man is justified by what some want to identify as a "legal principle" or a "legal system." If I understand what they mean, it is the idea that men seek to be justified before God by merely keeping "works" or "ordinances of law." It may be possible that some disciples of Christ have the mistaken idea that man is in some way justified before God "by doing some works" without faith and apart from the grace of God. However, I have never met them and doubt that such can be found. I have never heard of a gospel preacher who taught such an idea. To write in this manner, as some have done, is to leave the impression that all who teach the importance of following the law of Christ are teaching "a doctrine of works" and not of grace.

In the text under consideration, the apostle Paul had for several chapters emphasized the fact that Christians are not under the law of Moses, but under another arranged set of ideas. This new system, identified as the law, or gospel, of Christ, was made possible by the grace of God. The Jew was made free from sin by obedience to the gospel and no longer to be counted as under the law of Moses, under which there was no forgiveness of sin. By the grace of God, a means of salvation from dominion of sin is realized.

Reader friend, through the mercy and grace of God a new system has been revealed whereby sinful man can be freed from sin and completely reconciled to God by his obedience to the gospel of Christ. There is no other way for man's salvation. Without the grace of God providing all which is absolutely necessary for man's redemption and with faith demonstrated by obedience to the gospel, there can be no salvation. Surely, man's salvation is by grace through faith, not of works lest any man boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9).