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Christ and the law

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Archives / 1995 / July/August

 

 

Christ and the law

Ángel Manuel RodrÍguez
Angel Manuel Rodriguez, Th.D., is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland.

 

You know the story. Isaac New ton was sitting under his favorite apple tree when an apple landed at his feet. Intrigued by this phenomenon, he concluded that the force that pulled the apple to the ground was strong enough to reach the top of the tree. Then he mused: Would it also reach as far as the moon? So began the formulation of the law of gravity. Newton did not, of course, create this law; he simply discovered it.

Laws that regulate our moral and spiritual lives, however, are not open to human discovery. The Bible declares that these laws find their origin in God, not human ingenuity. God Himself has revealed these laws to us (see Ex. 20:1-23).

The law of God is not just a set of regulations stating the way things ought to function. They are a description of the very essence of our moral fiber of what we were created to be. A rejection of God's law is a self-destructive decision. If the Bible emphasizes the law, it is because we have forgotten who we are and how we are to enjoy life fully. Such emphasis is not involved in defining the law as an instrument of salvation or a means of self-justification before the Lord. The relationship between Christ and the law is clearly stated in the Bible.

Christ is the goal of the law

The law is not an end in itself. Its deepest significance is found beyond itself in its ultimate goal. The meaning of much of what we do or experience is determined to some extent by its basic purpose. God's revelation has always had one central design, namely, to point to His redeeming work in Christ. The law is not an exception. Christ is the goal of the law (see Rom. 10:4), and a proper understanding of the way law and gospel interact will never place the one against the other in an antagonistic or antithetical relationship.

Christ is the goal of the law in several ways. First, He revealed in a unique way the true meaning of the law. He stated, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt. 5:17).* Christ fulfilled the law by revealing its true significance, by exemplifying through word and action its full meaning. In His sermon on the mount He raised it above legalistic concerns from a code governing mere external behavior to new heights of internal principles that rule inner motivations.

In His own life the Saviour revealed the substance of what it means to be willing to submit oneself to God's law (see Ps. 40:8). For Him, obedience to the law meant willingness to sacrifice for others, breaking down social barriers distorting the true meaning of the law, and full commitment to God in love. For Him, the law was much more than a set of rules to protect personal holiness; it was a system of life that opened up the individual to God and to others in true redemptive service. It was a law of freedom to love (James 1:25).

Second, Christ was the goal of the law in that the types present in the law found their fulfillment in Him. The prophetic content of the law pointed to Christ as the divine instrument of salvation (Luke 24:44). In a very specific way the Levitical law pointed to Him as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (Isa. 53:10-12; John 1:29). This prophetic dimension of the law was fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ and continues to be fulfilled in His high priestly work in the heavenly sanctuary (1 John 1:7).

Third, Christ is the goal of the law in that it leads us to Him. I have always been intrigued by roads. Roads come in different shapes and sizes, but they all have several elements in common. They all lead somewhere. The very purpose of a road is to lead you to a particular destination. Perhaps the most important part of a road is the signs, informing you where this particular highway is leading. In a sense, the law is like those signs. It reveals whether one is heading in the right direction or whether one is lost.

Paul describes the law not as a road but as a baby-sitter or a nanny (in Greek a paidagogos) under whose control we were and whose God-appointed intention was to take us to Christ (Gal. 3:23, 24). One of the most important functions of the law is to convince us that we are sinners and, therefore, lost in this world (see Rom. 3:20; 7:7, 8). Through the work of the Spirit on the human heart, the law reveals a need for a Saviour, someone through whom God's forgiveness and acceptance become a reality: "The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). By awakening our sense of lostness, the law points our need for salvation through faith in Christ. Even in its condemnation of us as sinners, it points to the only source and means of salvation (Rom. 3:21, 22).

Christ is the end of the law

There is also an element of discontinuity between Christ and the law. First, He ended the condemnatory function of the law for those who believe in Him (Rom. 8:1). Outside Christ the law condemns sinners to death and cannot give life (see Gal. 3:21). Christ came, was born under the law (see Gal. 4:4), and obeyed it perfectly. He chose to redeem us from the curse of the law by becoming Himself a curse for us (see Gal. 3:13). That which was our legal and rightful punishment or condemnation He took upon Himself as our substitute, bringing to an end that aspect of the law in our lives. Since Christ brought to an end the condemnatory aspect of the law, there is absolutely no need to continue to be at war with God.

Shoichi Yokoi was a Japanese army corporal during World War II. When the American troops retook the island of Guam in 1944, Yokoi fled into the jungles of the island and hid out for 28 years. Long after the war ended he was still at war. When found in 1972 and told that the war ended in 1945, he was baffled and confused. Those who used to be his enemies were now his friends. Likewise, for those who have found peace in Christ the law is no longer the enemy that claims our lives because the Lord took on Himself its condemnation.

Second, Christ ended any perception that obedience to the law was necessary for acceptance with God. Human works cannot achieve a righteous status before God. The works of the law have no such merit (see Rom. 3:20). Our human nature is spiritually weak (see Rom. 8:3) and we are in a state of rebellion against God that makes it impossible for us to submit to God's will (see verse 7). As a result, the law cannot be an instrument of justification.

Sadly, human obstinacy and pride seek acceptance before God through human effort. We want full control of our final destiny and our present security. We dislike placing such important issues in the hands of anybody else but ourselves. We want to be instrumental in our own preservation. This explains Paul's constant emphasis that we do not need the law as a means of salvation: "But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known.... This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe" (Rom. 3:21,22). God never intended that humans should achieve a righteous status before Him by keeping the law. Such misconception has ended forever through our Lord and Saviour.

Finally, Christ ended the cultic regulations of the Old Testament. Daniel prophesied that the Messiah would bring "an end to sacrifice and offering" (Dan. 9:27). The symbolic meaning of those services continues to be significant for the Christian because they are part of God's revelation, but we do not need to offer any more sacrifices. Those services were unable to bring final atonement for human sin (see Heb. 9:14; 10:4). All of them were a shadow of the things to come through Jesus (see Heb. 10:1). Neither do we need a human priest. Christ is our high priest in the heavenly sanctuary (see Heb. 7:11,12). Even the Israelite religious feasts found their fulfillment in Christ, making it unnecessary for believers to celebrate them (e.g., 1 Cor. 5:7; Col. 2:16, 17).

Christ establishes the law

In 1610 Galileo aimed his looking glass to the heavens. He observed the heavens from a fresh perspective; in fact, from a unique one. He saw the phases of Venus and the orbiting satellites of Jupiter. This established once and for all the sun-centered theory of our solar system. What he saw changed our understanding of the universe.

How we look at Jesus and the law can change our perspective and our lives. According to Paul, the proper perspective from which we should look at the law i s through Christ's redemptive work. If we do this, we would see that obedience to the law is not the center around which our salvation revolves. That center is Christ. Paul told the Corinthians that to understand the proper role of law it was necessary for them to remove the veil of legalism from their faces and to look at the cross through the lenses of Christ (see 2 Cor. 3:7-16).

When we look at the law through Christ, we find there a revelation of the loving character of God who enables us, by the Spirit, to obey "the righteous requirements of the law" (Rom. 8:4). Grace never nullifies the law but rather upholds it (see Rom. 3:31). This is only natural, since the Scriptures describe God's law as "holy, righteous and good" (Rom. 7:12). The psalmist refers to it as "perfect," "pure" (Ps. 19:7,9), and eternal (Ps. 119:152). Law and grace cannot conflict with each other because both of them find their common origin in a loving God.

Christ is not only Saviour but also Lord over His people (see Rom. 6:15- 18). His is not a tyrannical lordship but rather a tender and caring one born and nurtured in sacrificial love. The Lord said to His disciples, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15, NKJV). This statement is extremely important. It indicates that the motivating force behind obedience to the law is love. Only those who love the Saviour are indeed willing to submit to Him as Lord.

Therefore, obedience is the concrete expression of our genuine love for our Lord. Love is not simply an abstract idea or principle. It has a body that allows it to be what it is. That body could be called obedience. Hence Jesus summarized the essence of the law as love (see Matt. 22:37-40; Gal. 5:14). By saying this we are not taking away the specifics of the commandments. But we are saying that the fulfillment of the specific commandment is possible only because there is love. Paul expressed this thought beautifully: "Love is the fulfillment of the law" (Rom. 13:10). The law is no longer a letter to be obeyed out of fear. It is a description of God's love seeking to express itself through our lives.

When we look at the law through Christ, we understand that the law is never instrumental in restoring or preserving our relationship with God. Yet obedience to the law provides clear evidence, unquestionable evidence, that we have chosen Christ as our Lord. Christ the Saviour is to be proclaimed throughout the world as the only hope of salvation. But at the same time we must proclaim Him as our Lord. In this con text, the preaching of the law is the proclamation of the lordship of Christ.

The law and Christ's lordship

The law without Christ serves only to seal our extinction. Biblical law should never be separated from God's forgiving and redeeming grace. Obedience to the law shows that our Saviour is also our Lord. Hence, the law will play a significant role in the closing events of the great controversy when the lordship of Christ will be questioned radically by a rebellious world (see Rev. 12:17). In that setting, obedience to the law will be a clear validation of the fact that Christ is our exclusive Lord, worthy of worship.

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Christ and the law

Outline


Introduction
   A. Biblical law is revealed
   B. Grace and law not in conflict

I. Christ is the goal of the law
   A. Christ reveals the true meaning of the law
   B. Christ fulfills the types portrayed in the law
   C. The law points to Christ

II. Christ is the end of the law
   A. Christ ends the condemnation of the law
   B. Christ ends the law as a means of justification
   C. Christ ends the cultic regulations of the law

III. Christ establishes the law
   A. Christ provides a new perspective
   B. Obedience expresses love
   C. Obedience proclaims Christ's lordship

Conclusion
The law and Christ's lordship

 

Summary: The Law of God

The great principles of God's law are embodied in the Ten
Commandments and exemplified in the life of Christ. They ex
press God's love, will, and purposes concerning human conduct
and relationships and are binding upon all people in every age.
These precepts are the basis of God's covenant with His people and
the standard in God's judgment. Through the agency of the Holy
Spirit they point out sin and awaken a sense of need for a Saviour.
Salvation is all of grace and not of works, but its fruitage is
obedience to the Commandments. This obedience develops Chris
tian character and results in a sense of well-being. It is an evidence
of our love for the Lord and our concern for our fellow men. The
obedience of faith demonstrates the power Of Christ to transform
lives, and therefore strengthens Christian witness. (Ex. 20:1-17;
Ps. 40:7, 8; Matt. 22:36-40; Deut. 28:1-14; Matt. 5:17-20; Heb.
8:8-10; John 15:7-10; Eph. 2:8-10; 1 John 5:3; Rom. 8:3, 4; Ps.
19:7-14.)

 

Article Notes:

*Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture passages in this article are from the New International Version.

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