Romans 6:15-23 (ESV):

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In this passage Paul seems to be saying that sin doesn't stop being terrible just because we are under grace now, and that it is still in our best interest to keep making every effort to avoid it. This is expressed very eloquently and succinctly in verse 15: "Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!".

However, this leads to the question: What is meant by sin under grace? Does the definition of sin change from a context under law to a new context under grace?

The Mosaic Law has been classified into 613 commandments, and sin is traditionally understood as transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). Is this the definition that Paul is using when he refers to sin under grace? In other words, is Paul essentially saying "Are we to break the Mosaic Law because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!"?

7 Answers 7


Even before the Mosaic laws, sin was in the world. From the very beginning, sin has existed because man is free to choose that which goes against the will of God, whether explicitly known, as in the case of Adam (Gen 3:1-7), or implicitly understood, as in the case of Cain (Gen 4:1-8).

  • Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all mankind, because all sinned—14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the violation committed by Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. (Rom 5:12-14)

This question of sin and the law brings to mind the story of Jesus' encounter with the rich man. In this passage, Jesus affirms the validity of the law, while also pointing to its limitations:

  • If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not give false testimony; 19 Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to Him, “All these I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mt 19:17-21)

The commandments in this passage can be summarized by the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Though the man kept all these commandments, he was still “lacking.” The implication is that spiritual maturity cannot be attained by external observance of the law alone.

Jesus tells him, “Come, follow Me.” This is an invitation to leave behind, not only all of the man’s possessions, but also a relationship to the law that is characterized by bondage and submission. It is also a call to follow a "new" commandment and to model Jesus’ example of perfect obedience.

  • I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (Jn 13:34)

It is not that the new commandment is different in principle from the old, rather, it is the person’s relationship to God and to the law that is no longer the same:

  • For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons and daughters of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons and daughters by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:14-15)
  • No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, because all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. (Jn 15:15)

With this change in identity and understanding comes a shift in perspective and motivation. Obedience to God’s will is dictated by love, rather than by obligation and fear:

  • We love, because He first loved us. (1 Jn 4:19)
  • But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed (Rom 6:17)

The commandments to love God and neighbor are unchanging, and sin remains as it ever was. It is the person who changes. It is an inner transformation, a process and a mystery of the Spirit at work in the soul. This is beyond any interpretation of the text, but in my opinion, a person’s sensitivity to sin grows under the effect of grace. The soul grows more attuned to God’s will and becomes increasingly aware of each speck within itself that is displeasing to God or that has the slightest shade of darkness:

  • Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. (1 Jn 2:7-8)
  • Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope set on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 Jn 3:2-3)
  • This is very well-written, upvoted +1. I particularly appreciate your comments about become more sensitive to sin (not less) as we draw closer to God. May 15, 2021 at 15:28
  • @Nhi You say "sin has existed because man is free to choose". Man chooses; he chooses on the basis of who he is; he is not free to choose who is; what he is depends upon God who made him; he is not free of how God made him. God made man needing grace to obey and when God withholds that grace man sees how dependent he is for that grace if he is to obey.
    – C. Stroud
    Jun 19, 2021 at 17:37
  • @ C. Stroud I think I agree with you. God made man weak so that we would always need God, and free, so that we could love him.
    – Nhi
    Jun 21, 2021 at 13:53

In a larger context further down the letter, Paul defined sin, namely

"For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." [ Rm 14:23 (ESV) ]

In the more immediate context, Paul said, "sin entered the world through one man" [ Rm 5:12 ]. Surely there was no Law with Adam, and thus Paul is not talking about transgression of the Law. The Law was given only that man may know of its transgression and become accountable.

Now if we examine a little of Adam's sin, it boils down to the temptation of Satan, namely two: that you shall not surely die, and you shall be like God. The first is contrary to God's word, and the second is an appeal to the pride of man, even as it was in the devil himself, who also wanted to be God.

In other words Adam did not believe God but rather the devil instead as prompted by his own self. This is consistent with how temptations leads to sin as articulated by James in his epistle. And secondly Jesus very own definition of sin:

" ... in regard to sin, because they do not believe in Me." [ Jn 16:9 ]

And that leads back to Paul's definition: sin is that not of faith.

  • Adam did have law, and that law consisted of one command. Adam’s sin was breaking the one law he was given.
    – Ben Miller
    Apr 5, 2021 at 19:10

The Hebrew word for "sin" is חטאה, which literally means "miss the mark." The mark, in this case, is the Word of GOD, so therefore anything that misses the mark or is outside of the Word is a sin.

When Paul says Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!, he is simply saying that even though we are saved or born again in Christ, that does not mean we can use that as an excuse or reason to sin, because we are to live in the Word, and not in sin.


Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” - what is meant by sin in the context of Romans 6:15?

Some people in the congregation apparently perverted the doctrine of grace by saying that: Do you say that God’s grace is wide enough to cover every sin? Then let us go on sinning, for God’s grace can wipe out every sin. In fact the more we sin the more chances God’s grace will get to operate.” Such reasoning is twisted.

Paul countered such wrong thinking about God's grace when he asked: ........ and on each occasion Paul emphatically answered: "Absolutely not"

Romans 6:1-2 (NET Bible)

6 What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? 2 Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 6:15 (NET Bible)

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not!

Clearly, as Jude observes, certain ones were “turning the grace of our God into an excuse for license for evil.

Jude 4 (NASB)

4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into indecent behavior and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Peter added that the destruction of such one is not asleep.

2 Peter 2:3 (NET Bible)

3 And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words. Their condemnation pronounced long ago is not sitting idly by; their destruction is not asleep.

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    "Sin and sin boldly" comes to mind Apr 5, 2021 at 11:45
  • Clearly, as Jude observes, certain ones were “turning the grace of our God into an excuse for license for evil. - what is evil? how do you know if something is evil or not?
    – user38524
    Apr 6, 2021 at 1:46
  • Paul wrote. Some had been idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, and the like. Yet, they were “washed clean” and “sanctified.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11) That was likely also true of some in the Roman congregation. Apr 6, 2021 at 16:30

The translation of 1 John 3:4 by the KJV is "Sin is transgression of the law" is most unfortunate. The Greek phrase is just

ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία = "sin is lawlessness"

However, the KJV rendering is more theological that translational and thus is not entirely without foundation, but not in 1 John 3:4. For example:

  • Rom 3:20 - ... for through the Law is knowledge of sin.
  • Rom 7:7 - Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "You shall not covet."
  • Rom 7:13 - Did that which is good, then, become death to me? Certainly not! But in order that sin might be exposed as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.

That is, without the law (moral law is obviously referenced here) we do not know that we are sinful! That is, the law defines sin but offers no remedy.

In Rom 6:15 Paul appears to be addressing a common problem that has plagued Christianity from the beginning, a problem Paul and other address in other places - the problem of licentiousness. This idea is known in some circles as "cheap grace" (see https://www.gotquestions.org/cheap-grace.html ) - because God is so kind and forgiving we can sin all we like and God will always forgive.

  • Rom 6:15 - What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
  • Rom 6:1, 2 - What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? Certainly not!
  • Rom 3:31 - Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Certainly not! Instead, we uphold the law.
  • Jude 4 - ... They turn the grace of our God into a license for immorality ...

Barnes succinctly summarizes the problem that Paul deals with in Rom 6:15 -

What then? shall we sin ... - The apostle proceeds to notice an objection which might be suggested. "If Christians are not under the law, which forbids all sin, but are under grace, which pardons sin, will it not follow that they will feel themselves released from obligation to be holy? Will they not commit sin freely, since the system of grace is one which contemplates pardon, and which will lead them to believe that they may be forgiven to any extent?" This Consequence has been drawn by many professing Christians; and it was well therefore, for the apostle to guard against it.

Similarly, Gill suggests -

because we are not under the law, but under grace? here the apostle meets with an objection of the adversary, saying, that if men are not under the law, and are free from all obligation to it, then they may live as they list; nor can they be chargeable with sin, or that be objected to them; since where there is no law, there is no transgression, and sin is not imputed where there is no law; and if they are under grace, or in the love and favour of God, from which there is no separation, then they cannot be damned, do what they will: but this objection proceeds upon a mistaken sense of the phrase, "under the law"; for believers, though they are not under the law as the ministry of Moses, yet they are under it, as it is in the hands of Christ; and though not under its curse, yet under obligation to obedience to it, from principles of love and grace; and a transgression of it is sin in them, as in others; and which is taken notice of by God, and visited with stripes in a: fatherly way, though his loving kindness is not removed: and to argue from the unchangeableness of God's grace, or the doctrines of it, as encouraging licentiousness, is greatly to abuse the grace of God, and manifestly betrays such persons to be ignorant of it and its influence; since nothing more powerfully engages to a love of holiness, and hatred of sin; wherefore the apostle, answers to this objection in his usual way,

God forbid; signifying his abhorrence of everything of this kind.

Mosaic Law vs Moral Law

The OP specifically askes about the Mosaic law. The law in view in Rom 6, 7 , 13 etc, is the Moral law as signified by the following considerations.

  • Rom 13:9 - The commandments “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and any other commandments, are summed up in this one decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” [These are all from the Moral Law of the 10 commandments, not the ceremonial Law.]
  • Rom 7:7 - What then shall we say? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed, I would not have been mindful of sin if not for the law. For I would not have been aware of coveting if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” [Again, this is an extract of the Moral Law of the 10 commandments.]

Further, this moral law cannot be called the Mosaic law because it existed well before Moses [Moses was the first to formally have it recorded]. Note the following examples of the Moral Law existing well before Moses:

The following (far from exhaustive) list shows that people knew of the ten commandments well before the formal giving at Mt Sinai. Indeed, we have the very general comment –

  • Gen 26:5, because Abraham listened to My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.

Commandment #1 – Worship only YHWH:

  • Gen 22:5, 24:26, 48, 52 all describe worship of the true God of heaven, YHWH.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #2 – Idolatry prohibited

  • Gen 31:32-35 – Jacob clearly understood that idolatry was forbidden.
  • Gen 35:1-4 – Jacob instructs his whole household to eliminate all foreign gods

Commandment #3 –Cursing and taking the name of the LORD in vain prohibited

  • Job 1:5 – When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.

Commandment #4 – Sabbath worship

  • Gen 2:1-3 – Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. And by the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on that day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on that day He rested from all the work of creation that He had accomplished.
  • Gen 16 also records the incident with manna and that collecting manna on the seventh-day Sabbath was forbidden

Commandment #5 – Respect for parents, elders and authority

  • Gen 28:6, 7 tells of the story of Jacob following his mother’s advice. Respect for parents is built into the very fabric of the patriarchal stories in Genesis.

Commandment #6 – Sanctity of Human life

  • Gen 4:8-12, 15 records Cain’s punishment for the sin of murder
  • Gen 9:5, 6 records that murder was prohibited under the ancient Noahide covenant

Commandment #7 – Adultery prohibited

  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for almost tricking a pagan king into committing adultery
  • Gen 19 records the appalling events involving attempted pack-rape of the two angels
  • Gen 39:7-9 – Joseph calls Potiphar’s wife proposal “a great evil and sin against God”.
  • Gen 49:4 – Reuben is scalded for his sin of incest
  • Gen 34 – the story of Dinah records a heinous incident involving her defilement (plus murder and lying)

Commandment #8 – Stealing prohibited and respect for property

  • Gen 30:33 – Laban and Jacob discuss the problem of stealing of wages and property
  • Gen 31:32-35 – Laban is angry about the sin of stealing the household gods

Commandment #9 – Lying prohibited; insistence of honesty and integrity

  • Gen 4 – the story of Cain being punished, among other things for not being honest with Abel and God in his statements
  • Gen 12:10-20, 20:1-17, 26:6-11 all record “adultery narratives” in which the patriarch is (correctly) chided for lying to a pagan king about their marital status
  • In the story of Jacob, he is pejoratively called Jacob = “deceiver”, Gen 27:36.

Commandment #10 – Coveting prohibited

  • Gen 3:6 – the woman is tricked by the serpent using the sin of covetousness
  • a great answer for those of us who state that all Christians should also keep the 4th commandment "Remember the Sabbath say to keep it Holy. In six days labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God"
    – Adam
    Apr 5, 2021 at 22:07

Simply, Paul was teaching that our obedience to The Law makes us holy or sanctified. G38 noun hagiasmos: the process of making or becoming holy, sanctified.

It's a process, which Paul emphasizes. Romans 2:13 "...doers of The Law will be declared righteous..." We get better at recognizing our sin & preventing it and grow in our understanding developing a loving heart for The Law as we become better people (holy?).

Paul also defines righteousness as keeping The Law quoting Deuteronomy 6:25 "We will be declared righteous if we observe to do these Commandments before God as he hath commanded us".

Finally, to fully mature, our goal should be to understand the spiritual application of The Law or the emotions of our heart. Romans 8:6-7 ...to be Spiritually minded is life and peace.... The Law is Spiritual (Romans 7:14).

We sin if we outwardly follow The Law but internally harbor, hatred, jealousy towards our brothers & sisters, the attitude of our hearts. This is the fulfillment of The Laws & they are in no way abolished!


As Nhi, beautifully explained that sin existed before Moses, from the time of Adam. Paul also used Abraham's example that righteousness apart from law existed, before Moses. The whole point is that sin and righteousness are not exclusively to the precepts of the Mosaic law. Paul wrote to liberate the churches from the fleshly reliance on the law. Paul and other apostles do not explicitly define the term law, but the nuance is understood from the context. Similarly, John did not mean to refer to Mosaic law by mentioning lawlessness, the immoralities and sins are mentioned in his context.

In Romans 6, Paul is explaining again that sin, lawlessness, iniquities still exist under grace. We have been liberated from the Mosaic covenant, but that doesn't mean we can disobey God's moral law or commandments. Paul commands to fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). The word law doesn't always mean the law of Moses. Paul did command explicitly like the rest of the apostles, that the covenant of Moses has been abolished, nullified. And those who attempt to obey the law (of Moses) will be cut off from the grace covenant. He makes the same argument as in James 2, that if you wish to keep just one commandment, you are bound by the whole law. In other words, he says, if you wish to be in the law of liberty, grace and promise covenant, you must lose yourself from the bond of Moses. Which is not actually breaking the Mosaic law, since you are called as dead to the law through Christ's death. The law has been nullified, and you cannot technically break it.

(Hebrews 9:15-17 NHEB) For this reason he is the mediator of a New Covenant, since a death has occurred for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, that those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. For where a last will and testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him who made it. For a will is in force where there has been death, for it is never in force while he who made it lives.

(Galatians 5:1-12 NHEB) Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Behold, I, Paul, tell you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will profit you nothing. Yes, I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. You are alienated from Christ, you who desire to be justified by the law. You have fallen away from grace. For we, through the Spirit, by faith wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision amounts to anything, nor uncircumcision, but faith working through love. You were running well! Who interfered with you that you should not obey the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little yeast grows through the whole lump. I have confidence toward you in the Lord that you will think no other way. But he who troubles you will bear his judgment, whoever he is. But I, brothers, if I still proclaim circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been removed. I wish that those who disturb you would cut themselves off.

Some nuances of the term Law:

1Cor 9:21 To the lawless, as lawless, (not being lawless to God, but subject to the law to Christ,) that I might gain the lawless, SLT

Gal 6:2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ. NHEB

Jas 2:8-12: 8 However, if you fulfill the royal law, according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you do well. 9 But if you show partiality, you commit sin, being convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak, and so do, as men who are to be judged by a law of freedom. NHEB

Jas 1:25 But he who looks into the perfect Law of freedom, and continues, not being a hearer who forgets, but a doer of the work, this man will be blessed in what he does. NHEB

1Cor 14:34 let the women keep silent in the churches, for it has not been permitted for them to speak; but let them be in subjection, as the Law also says. NHEB

In 1 Corinthians 14:34 Paul appeals to the law of Moses, not because he wants to keep certain precepts of it, but because it is a cultural norm for the assembly setting. We are not keeping the law of Moses, by following the gender order in the Church. When we continue the moral commands that the law taught, we are not keeping some aspects of the Mosaic law, because those are the called as the law of Christ, the law of God. They go beyond the Mosaic covenant. The mandatory observance of the characteristic works of the Mosaic law are forbidden, which makes the superior covenant of the Messiah void, because of lack of spirit and faith.

(Galatians 4:9-11 NHEB) But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, why do you turn back again to the weak and miserable elemental principles, to which you desire to be in bondage all over again? You observe days, months, seasons, and years. I am afraid for you, that I might have wasted my labor for you.

(Colossians 2:16-17 NHEB) Let no man therefore judge you in eating, or in drinking, or with respect to a feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day, which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ's.

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