On Human Progress, Real and Imagined

Is world is getting better or worse?

I recently polled my Facebook friends and the trend was clear:

My Facebook friends aren’t alone.

In Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World-And Why Things Are Better Than You Think, Hans Rosling polled UN diplomats, university professors, diverse groups of people from all over the world.

The outcome was almost always the same: “The world is getting worse.”

And yet, measurably, the world is getting better. A few examples to convince you:

Lifespan: Life expectancy has increased from 40 to 75 in the last century. Fewer infants die in childbirth, and fewer mothers die giving birth. 1 in 100 expectant mothers died in 1800, now less than 1 in 10,000.

Disease: We’ve eradicated smallpox, we’ve wiped out polio. We recently developed a cure for Hepatitis C, and we’re close to a cure for malaria.

Poverty: 90% of the world used to live in extreme poverty: no running water, no toilet, no stove, no shoes, no transportation. Today, extreme poverty has all but been eradicated in the West, and worldwide only 10% remain in extreme poverty. Fewer people are starving.

Even in the most rural parts of deep African jungles, humans have access to electricity. Likewise, more people than ever have access to the giant repository of the sum total of all human knowledge: the internet. We can read books for $1, one-click purchase on Amazon.

(Fun story: I boarded a plane last week, and as it began to taxi before takeoff, I realized I didn’t have a book to read. In 15 seconds – before I lost cellular service – I quickly whipped out my phone, navigated to Amazon, searched for an ebook I had planned to read, bought it and downloaded to my offline reader app. All in mere seconds before I took flight in my air conditioned flying machine. Have you ever considered just how amazing that is?)

We own personal giant air-conditioned thrones we call cars,  we consume cheap airfare and can cross oceans in a few hours, we have plenty (too much?) food, and haven’t seen either plague or famine in our lifetimes.

HumanProgress and OurWorldInData document all this and more – showing through raw data that the world is measurably and tangibly getting better.

Religious people don’t like this. We want to believe the world is getting worse before the apocalypse.

Secular people don’t like this either. They believe the world is getting worse because of the climate. And Brexit. And Trump. And race/class/gender inequalities.

But the world is getting better.

Rosling’s book is wonderful and I recommend it. For me, though, it raised some difficult questions:

  1. Do the optimists have blind spots where values are concerned? (For example: is access to abortion really progress? Rosling thinks so.)
  2. How do we view human progress through history, e.g. the Roman empire? Was the world better off or worse off because of Rome? Did Rome mislabel some things as progress?

Blind spots and mislabeling human progress

As I read through Factfulness, I found myself cheering on the author, championing human progress at every turn. (I’ve long been an advocate of modern medicine, technology and science, arguing that people of faith should embrace these wonders and put away pseudoscience and medical quackery.)

Chapter after chapter I nodded in agreement, adding more ammunition to my arguments about why the world is getting better.

Until I came across a statement that made my heart sink. In his section on human sexuality, praising the correlation between richer families and fewer children, Rosling states,

“A woman’s right to an abortion is supported by just about everyone in Sweden today.”

He goes on to describe how Sweden was formerly so conservative and repressed, but now – look at us! – we’re so progressive, no one thinks abortion is bad or immoral.

Rosling admits that he may have blind spots. Might abortion be such a blind spot?

Rosling’s Swedish culture and time in history certainly see the killing of unwanted children as progress. But how do we know that’s really progress? Might we be wrong about what’s progress and what’s not?

Certainly much of what counts as “human progress” indeed is progress. I have no doubt eradication polio and smallpox are real progress. It reduces human suffering. Likewise for reduction of poverty, fewer malnourished and starving, and so on.

But it’s not clear on issues like abortion or capital punishment. Capital punishment Rosling derides, calling it human progress to eradicate capital punishment and preserve the lives of civilization’s worst murders.

How do we know what’s progress and what is masquerading as such?

Our second question helps here:

Historically, what was progress and what was mistaken as progress?

Thinking about human progress through history made me consider the Roman Empire. It undoubtedly saw advances in human progress.

Roads, aqueducts and running water, military and technological advances, education, philosophy, histories and written records, and even medicine.

But, historically, it also produced things that we now call backwards, brutish, or downright evil.

  • Public torture and crucifixion of political rebels.
  • Death and murder as entertainment.
  • Exposing unwanted infants to the gods/wild animals.
  • Pedastery; sexual relations between a grown man and a boy.
  • Emperors worshiped as divine, with full cities (e.g. Caesarea) devoted to worship.
  • Slave labor

Undoubtedly, the culture of Rome once called these things “human progress.”

How is it that the same Roman Empire that brought advances like running water, paved roads, education and philosophy, also publicly tortured and murdered the world’s only sinless human? (Not to mention destroying God’s house in Jerusalem in 135 AD, still yet to be rebuilt even after 2000 years.)

Western civilization is like this too. Despite all the amazing advances in the last 200 years, the West also produced the two bloodiest wars in human history. Encompassing the whole globe! It had never happened before. Enlightened Europe, with its bejeweled crown of philosophy, education, and theological centers in Germany, produced Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust.

If ancient Rome had blind spots in their own progressive society, might we be making the same mistake? Do we have blind spots in our optimism about how great things are?

Almost certainly.

There is real progress, but there is also mislabeled progress. Abortion is one such issue. It will be seen in the way Roman infant exposure is now seen: brutish, inhumane, immoral. (Or in a less religious standpoint, some people have argued that eating animals will eventually be seen as barbaric.)

In the West, while we’ve eradicated slavery, we have things that may be blind spots in our praise of human progress:

  • Legal and even championed abortions (e.g. Michelle Wolf’s Netflix special and its “Salute to Abortion”)
  • Fighting-to-brain-damage as entertainment in the form of boxing and MMA.
  • Normalized sexual deviancy, such that we introduced HIV to the human race.
  • New addictive chemical substances like cocaine and heroine, destroying millions of lives in the process.
  • Continue to increase the power of our government, such that individual freedom is reduced as dependency on the government is increased.
  • Due to new world communication, we have global alliances that caused 2 wars of unprecedented scale: two World Wars that were more bloody that the world had ever seen.
  • Invented weapons that can wipe out entire nations in the blink of a nuclear explosion. Their full power isn’t even known; some modern weapons may set the atmosphere on fire and destroy nearly all life on earth.
  • Our economic system praises consumption, but through our consumption we pollute the earth; whole swaths of ocean are now covered in plastic or oil. Land masses are deforested, polluted, or otherwise contaminated, making them uninhabitable for most life. Thousands of species have gone extinct.
  • Because of scientific progress, atheism has flourished and faith has receded. With God and ultimate justice eliminated, for many, their lives can and have become meaningless; you’re just a meaningless spec of dust with no calling or task in the world except your own pleasure. Morality become relative; there is no real right and wrong.

These are just a few blind spots we may have in the West.

Just as the Roman empire produced great human progress, but also mislabeled some of its backward practices as such, so also our modern culture in the US and Europe. The West, for all its grand achievements, also has backward practices we call progress.

Final thoughts

The world is getting better, though it’s getting worse in certain areas. Not all that is called progress is progress.

So, what is progress?

Things that align with the values God laid out in the Bible.

Reducing human suffering. Caring for widows and orphans. Feeding the hungry. Healing diseases. Compassion for people on the low rungs of society. Wisely exercising dominion over nature. Justice for the wronged. Showing mercy instead of taking vengeance.

The nuts and bolts of faithful living.

These align with the divine values of the Bible. These are real human progress.

The Messianic Realities of Psalm 67

Summary: We’re in the midst of the counting of the omer, the 50 days between Passover and Shavuot. Each day, the people of Israel read Psalm 67, a psalm that speaks of a future that has now happened: international knowledge of God’s ways and salvation. It’s happened because of the work of one man: Yeshua.

An 18th century amulet containing the Hebrew text of Psalm 67.

Psalm 67 is a short but remarkable psalm, containing just 8 verses - 50 Hebrew words, a word for each day of the omer count – that speak of a luminous future when the whole earth knows God:

May God be gracious to us and bless us.
May He cause His face to shine upon us—Selah
So that Your way may be known on earth,
And Your salvation among all nations.
Let the peoples praise You, O God.
Let all the peoples praise You.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
For You will judge the peoples fairly,
And guide the nations on the earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise You, O God.
Let all the peoples praise You.
The earth has yielded its harvest—
God, our God will bless us.
God will bless us,
and all the ends of the earth will fear Him.

-Psalm 67

I’ll sum up this psalm in a sentence: “Let the whole world know and praise God.”

The first few lines are, to me, most stirring:

So that Your way may be known on earth,
And Your salvation among all nations.
Let the peoples praise You, O God

What is “Your way”? I take this to mean the ways of God; the Bible, especially the moral instruction of the Torah.

What is “Your salvation”? Literally, God’s power to save people. I take this to mean Messiah: the name Yeshua literally means “Yah saves.” As the gospels record it, “You shall call his name Jesus [Yeshua; “Yah saves”], for he will save his people from their sins.” God has saved billions of people on earth through the work of his servant, the Messiah.

Psalm 67 asks God to bless Israel so that God’s way [the moral instruction of the Bible] would go global, and that God’s salvation [the Messiah] would be known in all nations.

What’s absolutely remarkable is that this has happened. And not just in some airy spiritual sense, but in a tangible and measurable way. Today, in every nation, God’s ways and salvation are known. This has happened because the Bible has gone out from Jerusalem into all nations.

Shlomo Riskin, the Orthodox Jewish chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel, said that Jesus taught the fundamentals of the Jewish Bible to the whole world.

Jesus made the God of Israel known to the whole world. The New Testament records that what became Christianity was originally called הדרך, HaDerech, the Way, a kind of Judaism unlike any other because it had realized the identity of Judaism’s long awaited Messiah.

The Way exploded onto the world 2000 years ago, changing it forever.

Governments, law codes, civil courts throughout the world warped into a newer and more godly form. Nations formerly idolatrous turned to the one God; the polytheistic gentiles turned to the God of Israel. The former temple prostitutes turned to chastity and fidelity. The slaves found freedom in Israel’s God and Messiah. Whole societies changed, governments turned, nations becomes the kingdoms of God.

Artifacts of this global revolution remain with us today. The United States Supreme Court has, at its peak and center of the building, a statue of Moses holding the 10 commandments.

Why does the highest judicial court in the most powerful nation on earth have Moses and the tablets featured front and center?

Why is Moses’ law a foundation for the law codes of Western civilization?

Why are the gentiles looking to the Torah?


Jesus brought the values of the Hebrew Bible to the whole world.

This brings us back to Psalm 67:

So that Your way may be known on earth,
And Your salvation among all nations.

God’s ways, especially the principles in the Torah, have been amplified to a worldwide audience. It happened through God’s salvation – Yeshua, Jesus – who commanded his disciples to go into the whole world and teach God’s ways.

During this season of counting the omer, Jesus showed himself alive, risen from the dead:

Yeshua showed Himself to be alive to his disciples after His suffering through many convincing proofs, appearing to them for forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

-Acts 1

The disciples were counting the omer with all of Israel when the Messiah showed himself alive for 40 days after Passover, living with them and teaching them about the Kingdom of God.

How fitting, then, that all Israel recites Psalm 67: that God’s ways and God’s salvation would be known in all the earth.

These have taken place because of the work of Yeshua.

And because of it, the nations are glad, and the earth has yielded a great harvest: billions of people calling on the God of Israel.

Blessed are you, Lord
Who commands us to count the omer
And Who has made Your way known in all the earth
And your Salvation in all nations
Through Your servant Yeshua
The precious Vine of David
So that all the nations will praise You
And the ends of the earth will fear Your name
To You be the glory forever!

3 reasons why “You are not under law, but under grace” doesn’t mean what you think it means

Summary: In Romans 6, Paul says “…you are not under law, but under grace.” Does this mean Christians are free to disregard the Torah’s commandments? Many Christians say yes. I give 3 reasons why that interpretation is likely inaccurate.
Well-intentioned Christians often respond to any kind of Torah keeping with, “Don’t you know you’re not under law, but under grace?”

It’s a quote from the New Testament, Romans 6, where Paul says as much.
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

-Paul, Romans 6
The implication is that Paul intends to say believers no longer have an obligation to obey Torah commandments.

This is a fair challenge: if “not under the law” means “free to disregard the Torah’s commandments”, then we Torah-pursuant Messianic believers should stop wasting our time and join the local non-denominational church.

In the last year, I’ve given 16 – count ‘em, 16! – teachings on Romans at my local Messianic congregation. (And I’m only on Romans 7! By the time I’m done, I expect to have delivered some 40 sermons on this remarkable letter.) This deep dive into Romans has revealed some surprises that may change your thinking about what “not under law” mean. Theses surprises were new to me. Maybe they’re new to you.

Let’s dig in:

“Not under law” can’t mean “free to disregard Torah commandments." Why?

1. Because Paul appeals to the Torah’s authority throughout Romans

Imagine a father who says to his children, “You don’t have to listen to your mother.” Then a moment later he tells them, “Don’t you remember what mom said about this? Listen to her.”

Christians who claim “not under law” means “free to disregard Torah” are making the same mistake. Paul appeals to the authority of the Torah repeatedly in his letter.

In Romans 3, Paul tells the Roman believers to uphold the Torah, rather than overthrow it (3:31).

In Romans 7, Paul clarifies that the Torah is “holy, righteous, and good” (7:12), and that the Torah is a spiritual document (7:14) that Paul himself “joyfully concurs with” (7:22). He states that he himself serves the Torah, while it’s the flesh that serves sin (7:25).

In Romans 8, Paul says the Law is made full in us (8:4), and that it is the sinful desires of humanity that rebel against the Law (8:7).

Finally, towards the end of the letter, Paul encourages the Roman believers to live upright lives. How? By keeping the Torah. He says in chapter 13, “He who loves his neighbor fulfills the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and every other commandment is summed up in this: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (13:8-10)

If Paul is appealing to the Torah as holy, righteous, good, spiritual, something which we should keep and obey, instructive for believers’ lives, made full in us – how can Paul say “you don’t have to keep it?”


This point hasn’t been lost on New Testament scholars. C.E.B. Cranfield notes, for example,
“[Romans 6:14] is widely taken to mean that authority of the law has been abolished for believers and superseded by a different authority. And this, it must be admitted, would be a plausible interpretation, if this sentence stood by itself. But, since it stands in a document which contains such things as 3:31, 7:12, 14a, 8:4, 13:8-10, in which the law is referred to more than once as God’s law, and is appealed to again and again as authoritative, such a reading of it is extremely unlikely.”

-C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans 1-8
Cranfield is saying that if “not under law” means the Law is replaced by grace, Paul is inconsistent with his own words  where he appeals to its authority.

Cranfield says the usual Christian interpretation might be plausible if Paul’s “not under law” statement stood in isolation. But when taken in context of Paul’s entire letter, it cannot mean what many say it means.

“Not under law” can’t mean “free to disregard Torah commandments." Why?

2. Because it’s an incomplete, context-free quote. The full contextual quote contradicts the supposed meaning.

We often hear, “...you are not under law, but under grace”, even though that’s an incomplete thought; in English translations, an incomplete sentence. Paul’s full statement is:
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
We're not under law, but under grace, because sin is not master over us.

What does sin being master over you have to do with law and grace?


In the next chapter, just a few paragraphs away, Paul says that the Torah defines what sin is. He says in Romans 7,
“I would not have known sin except through the Torah. For I would not have known about coveting if the Torah had not said, “You shall not covet.”

-Paul, Romans 7
This has huge implications by itself; this is a mic-drop moment for Messianic theology. 😊 Torah defines sin, breaking Torah laws is sin.

Some Christians might respond by claiming Paul is only speaking about the ever-nebulous, ill-defined “moral law” here. Even if so, their interpretation still doesn’t make sense: since sin is breaking the [moral] Torah, consider how this statement reads:
“For [breaking the Torah] shall not be master over you, for you are [free to break the Torah].”
Again, a non-sequitur. Even if you swap in the ill-defined “moral law” here. It doesn’t follow, because it’s not what Paul is saying.

“Not under law” can’t mean “free to disregard Torah commandments." Why?

3. Because Paul is a Torah-observant Messianic Jew

I’ve written before that understanding Paul’s identity as a Messianic Jew is a necessity for accurately interpreting his letters. Here’s an example where it comes into play.

Our premises about Paul’s identity impacts how we interpret him.
Was Paul an ex-Jew who converted to a new religion? (Or even, invented the new religion of Christianity, as some Orthodox Jews claim?) Did he convert, change his name, and abandoned his Jewish identity and his Judaism?

Or did Paul discover Judaism’s long awaited Messiah, amplify his faithfulness as a Jew, see his role as a calling by the God of Israel, keep the Torah, teach others to do the same?

Thankfully, the New Testament already answers this for us:
“They [Jerusalem believers] said to Paul, “You see, brother, how many myriads there are among the Jewish people who have believed—and they are all zealous for the Torah. They have been told about you—that you teach all the Jewish people among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to walk according to the customs. What’s to be done then? No doubt they will hear that you have come.

“So do what we tell you. We have four men who have a vow on themselves.  Take them, and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. That way, all will realize there is nothing to the things they have been told about you, but that you yourself walk in an orderly manner, keeping the Torah.”

-Acts 21
The Jesus-followers in Jerusalem hear rumors that Paul is telling Jewish people to disregard the Torah, forsake both Moses’ Law and Judaism’s traditions. (Much like today.)

They ask Paul to put the rumors to rest. How? By taking a vow at the Temple as described in the Torah, and paying for his expenses and those of several Torah-observant brothers who were taking the same vow.

This would put an end to the rumors that Paul doesn’t keep or teach Torah. And it should.

Thus, if Paul keeps Torah and teaches others to do the same, Paul’s “not under law” statement can’t mean breaking Torah.

After all, the Roman community Paul is writing to is headed up by a Messianic Jewish couple, Acquila and Priscillla, and the community itself was made up largely of Jewish followers of Jesus, synagogue-attending Gentiles (1st century “God-fearers”), as well as a smattering of non-Jewish slaves and underclass.

If Paul’s “not under law” statement really means “no need to follow the Torah”, now was Paul’s chance to speak boldly and persuasively against Torah.

But he didn’t. And this presents a problem for the “not under law means don’t obey Torah” view.

How Christians interpret this chapter of Acts is both amusing and unfortunate.

Many Christians will say, “Paul did this not because he was Torah observant, but because he was appeasing people.”

This acrobatic interpretation is amusing because it overturns the plain meaning of the text. But it’s unfortunate because it makes Paul out to be a two-faced deceiver and accuses Paul of doing the very thing he rebuked Peter for in Galatians 2: compromising on convictions for appeasement’s sake.

But what about Paul's conversion?

Paul was an ex-Jew who converted to a new religion and changed his name, right?

Not so fast.

Post-Damascus Paul never claims to cease being a Jew. On the contrary, Paul states – again, post-Damascus – that he is a Pharisee (Acts 23), a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11).

As for converting to a new religion, Paul states persuasively in Acts: “I worship the God of our ancestors, believing everything written in the Torah and Prophets.” For Paul, his faith was no new religion.

Larry Hurtado, the respected New Testament scholar and leading authority on early Christianity, writes in Was Paul ‘Converted’?:
“[S]cholars have differed over whether “conversion” is the right term to describe Paul’s change from fierce opponent of the young Jesus-movement to one of the most well-known advocates…

In general usage, a “conversion” marks a change from one religion to another, or a shift from an irreligious to religious profession/stance.  At the time of Paul’s experience (a scant couple of years after Jesus’ crucifixion), the Jesus-movement wasn’t what we know and think of as a self-standing “religion.”  It was more a rather exclusive new sect or movement within the larger Jewish tradition.  (And it must be emphasized that Paul’s “persecution” of Jesus-followers was not directed at “Christians” but solely at fellow Jews whom he must have regarded as having seriously problematic in their beliefs and practices.)

More significantly, Paul refers to that experience that prompted his shift in direction as a “revelation” (apokalypsis) and a “calling” (kaleo) as in Galatians 1:11-17.  On the other hand, Paul can refer to those Gentiles who accepted his gospel message as having “converted” or “turned” (epistrepho) to God and having turned away from their ancestral gods (“idols”), as in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10.  So, in Paul’s thinking Gentiles/pagans “convert” from their polytheistic practice to worship and serve “a true and living God.”  But Jews such as he instead come to right understanding of what their ancestral deity requires of them.

Given that the Jesus-movement became “Christianity,” a separate religion, however, and for many centuries largely made up of non-Jews, the term “conversion” may reflect this outlook.  But Paul thought of himself as bringing former pagans (and fellow Jews too) to a proper alignment with the God of Israel and his Messiah, not inventing a new religion.”

-Larry Hurtado, Was Paul Converted?
Hurtado is explaining that conversion may not be the right term here, because Paul didn’t convert to a new religion nor change deity, but understood Jewish believers like himself had come understand Jesus was Judaism's long-awaited messianic figure. Trusting this Messiah was not divergent from Judaism, but a new revelation within it.

He goes on to cite another New Testament scholar Paula Frederickson, who demonstrates that Paul refused to give up his Jewish identity and religion even under great duress:
“In her recent book on Paul (Paul:  The Pagans’ Apostle) Paula Fredriksen insists that “conversion” isn’t appropriate.  Her emphasis is that Paul didn’t change deities, and also continued to see himself and function as a Jew.  His willingness to undergo several synagogue floggings attests this, for the punishment was given only to Jews, and only if they submitted to it.  Paul came quickly to see that his previous attitude toward Jesus and the Jesus-movement was wrong, and that the God of his ancestors in fact affirmed both.”
Frederickson notes that Paul willingly underwent synagogues floggings to remain as a Jew. (He could have recanted his Jewish identity and religion and not submitted to the floggings.) This suggests that to Paul, following Jesus as Messiah wasn’t a new religion – no change in deity – and that it wasn’t a change in identity, as he remained a Jew even at infliction of great pain.

And what about the name change? Didn’t Paul change from the Hebrew “Saul/שאול” to the Greek “Paulus/Paul”?


Messianic scholar John McKee notes,
“Paul is not the new name of Saul. While there are discussions about whether or not the Apostle adopted the name Paul in lieu of the salvation conversation of Sergius Paulus on Cyprus, that the name Paul was taken by him to replace the name Saul should be totally disregarded. It is widely recognized in Christian academia that in some form or another, Diaspora Jews commonly had a Hebrew or Aramaic name, and also a Greek or Roman name.”

-John McKee, Romans for the Practical Messianic
New Testament scholar C.E.B. Cranfield attests to this as well:
“Had Paul not been a Roman citizen, it would have been natural to suppose that ‘Paul’ was simply a Gentile name possessed by him from childhood alongside his Jewish name ‘Saul’; for the use of a Gentile name in addition to a Jewish, particularly one more or less like-sounding, was by NT times a well-established custom among Hellenistic Jews. But, since Paul was a Roman citizen, the matter is rather more complicated. It is very probably that he possessed the three names characteristic of a Roman citizen: a praenomen or personal name, a nomen or clan name and a cognomen or family name.”

-C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans 1-8
Cranfield suggests that Paulus was likely the cognomen or family name.

The picture of Paul as an ex-Jew who converted, changed religion, deity, and name can be disregarded based on the evidence.

So what does “not under law” mean?

We can say with confidence what it doesn't mean: it doesn't mean freedom to disobey or disregard the law.

But do we have a better interpretation?

Yes. In the context of the quote, Romans 6 is spent almost entirely on sin: purging it from our lives, crucifying our old lifestyle, dying to sin. Even the full statement, “Sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” begins with a statement about sin.

Sin is what’s being spoken of in Romans 6, and Romans 6:14’s statement that we are not under law also speaks of sin. In particular, it means that condemnation for sin doesn’t fall on Jesus’ disciples. God’s judgment on our sin, and the guilt of our sin, is lifted due to Jesus taking humanity’s sin upon himself.

Cranfield concurs, saying,
“The fact that “under law” is contrasted with “under grace” suggests the likelihood that Paul is here thinking not of the law generally but of the law as condemnation for sinners; for since grace (Greek: χαρις/charis) denotes God’s undeserved favour, the natural opposite of “under law” is under God’s disfavour or condemnation. And the suggestion that the meaning of this sentence is that believers are not under God’s condemnation pronounced in the law but under his undeserved favour receives strong confirmation from 8:1…”

-C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans 1-8
He refers to Romans 8:1,
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Messiah Yeshua. For the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
-Paul, Romans 8
In Romans 8, Paul says the condemnation of sin is not upon believers in Christ.

Messianic scholar Tim Hegg also supports this conclusion, saying,
“The context shows clearly that Paul’s point in this concluding phrase is that the reign of sin had its power or authority through the Torah, for the Torah condemns sin and the sinner…when he concludes that the believer is not under the Torah but under grace, he is not putting the Torah and grace at odds with each other, but showing the means by which the believer is no longer a slave to sin but instead is alive to God. The penalty of the Torah against the sinner, just and righteous as it was, was put entirely upon Yeshua and therefore the believer is no longer under its condemnation. In the place of condemnation has come forgiveness and grace.”

-Tim Hegg, Romans 1-8


Paul saying “you are not under law, but under grace” doesn’t mean we are free to break Torah commandments. Such an interpretation introduces a number of problems:
  1. It undermines Paul’s own statements in Romans where he appeals to the authority of the Torah.
  2. It is out of context: Romans 6 is speaking about sin, and even the statement “you are not under law, but under grace” is an incomplete quote. The full quote and context leads us to a different interpretation.
  3. It is out of character for Paul, the Torah observant Messianic Jew. Paul is not an ex-Jew who abandoned his Jewish identity. Rather, Paul affirms himself a Torah-observant Pharisee who teaches Torah and keeps it himself.
A more harmonious, and likely more accurate interpretation of Paul’s words is that believers are not under God’s condemnation for breaking the Torah; sinning. The penalty for that was paid voluntarily by Messiah, and thus, “there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.”