What is the opposite of “Law”? From a Biblical standpoint, it depends on which passage of Scripture you're reading. For example, there are times when “Law” is contrasted with “Grace.” Such as John's description of the earthly ministry of Jesus, “For the law was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) The covenant that God gave Israel through Moses was a legal covenant which said “do this and live” or “don't do this and die.” The covenant that God gave the world (not just Israel) through Jesus is a gracious, rather than a legal covenant. For all of those who are “in Christ” from every nation of the world, are alive because of God's work. Through faith in Christ, the believer is saved. Through the death of Christ their sins are paid for. The “work” of the New Covenant is the work of Jesus, which is manifested in the changed life of the believer who is a “new creature in Christ.”
Another antonym for Law can be “lawlessness.” Certainly, the Apostle Paul, as well as others in the New Testament church received this accusation from the Jews of their day. By proclaiming that the Law of Moses had been fulfilled and was not binding on the believer, Paul and others were persecuted severely. Some accused Paul of having no standard at all, yet this was not the case. Paul wrote, “To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. (1 Corinthians 9:20-22) So Paul is adamant that he is “not outside the law of God.” But he is equally adamant that, even as an ethnic Jew, he is not under the Law of Moses as a Christian. In this passage alone Paul address four potential definitions of “Law”: The Law of God, The Law of Moses, The Law of Man, and the The Law of Christ. And while there is certainly overlap within these categories, they are not synonymous, as Paul makes clear in stating his own relationship to the various kinds of Law.
Another interesting contrast with “Law” comes about in Romans 7. This passage is the well known passage that speaks of someone struggling to be justified. It's fiercely debated as to whether or not Paul is describing a believer who still struggles with sin, or a Jew trying to be justified by keeping the Law. Either way, the person in question is clearly frustrated over their lack of holiness. But it seems that Paul tells us exactly who he is talking to in verse 1 where the parenthetical phrase states, “for I am speaking to those who know the law.” This would seem to provide the contextual parameters for what follows, which is a description of a Jew who knows the Law, yet also knows they can't keep it. But that's alright, because by verse five Paul is offering another contrast with the “Law.” “For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:5-6)
Paul explains that the Law “aroused sinful passions.” While Jews, such as Paul, had sought justification by Law-keeping, deep down he knew this wasn't happening. Indeed he practiced the very things he hated. And the Law simply made it worse by codifying sin and by accusing Jews of not being able to measure up. Paul uses the example of “coveting” which was forbidden in the Decalogue. So did the command against coveting eliminate coveting? Not at all, to the contrary, Paul said “Sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind.” (v. 8) So sin killed Paul, but the Law was the club that sin used to beat him to death. The Law couldn't save. The Law couldn't change the sinfulness of the heart. The Law still can't.
Even today people are still trying to be justified by “Law” in some form or fashion. For some people it is still the Old Covenant Law of Moses that they cling to in a vain effort to please God and be justified by self-righteousness. Yet this is the very trap Paul fell into and spent his entire Christian life warning others about.
For others it's not the Law of Moses, but rather some other extra-Biblical code of conduct that either their church has created or they themselves have come up with to seek justification with God. But extra-Biblical Law is a fool's errand that will either produce an arrogant self-righteousness, or utter despair. So listen to Paul as he presents a more excellent way. Let your heart rejoice as you read Paul's words, “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6)
As a Jew, Paul was once under the Law. He was held captive to it. But in Christ he was “released from it.” Gentiles, on the other hand, never were under it for it wasn't given to them but to Old Covenant Israel alone. Nevertheless, even Gentiles are enslaved to sin though they may not be able to define it so well.
Paul knew now that the Law couldn't save him, but the Lord had. And so having “died to that by which we were bound” which is the Law. Paul now served in the “newness of the Spirit.” The contrast Paul makes here is not between “Law and Grace” per se, nor between “Law and Lawlessness”; but rather between Law and Spirit. The Old Covenant Law was written on tablets of stone, but couldn't change the inner heart. The New Covenant Law of Christ is written on the heart rather than tablets of stone. The Law of Moses was external and unattainable. The Spirit, on the other hand, is internal and transforming. God, by way of the work of Christ and regenerating, indwelling power of the Holy Spirit grants the holiness and salvation that the Law couldn't grant. Indeed it was not intended to. As Peter stated at the Jerusalem council, Jews and Gentiles are saved in the same way, “Through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” (Acts 15:11)
One final contrast Paul offers in this passage is between “new” and “old.” We serve in the “newness of the Spirit” and not the “oldness of the letter.” The Spirit empowers the believer under the New Covenant in a way that is “new” and different than the Old Covenant. And in contrast to this, the “letter” of the Law is “old” which is to say “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13) The Law kills, but the Spirit grants life.
The application for us today is that we should not seek justification by self-righteousness of any kind. But instead we look to Jesus the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) Should we strive to please God? Certainly. Will we be able to by adhering to an external Law? Never. We look to Christ and rest in Him. We obey Him because we love Him. We imitate Him because we want to be like Him. We follow Him because He is our Shepherd and we know His voice. And if these things aren't true of you, then you aren't a believer. The Holy Spirit doesn't live within you. And no amount of Law-keeping will ever change that. You need Jesus. Look to Him and leave the “oldness of the letter” behind.
NOTE: For an audio sermon I preached called "Law Written on the Heart" that explains this more, click here.