The law, religious piety and practice have fallen on hard times these days in the church. The modern day status quo stance of many professing evangelicals seems to be something of, “I’m free in Jesus to do what makes me happy while not hurting anyone else and to follow the way of Jesus as he outlined in the Sermon on the Mount,” etc. etc. This may be the kind of stance red-letter-only Christians tend to possess. However there’s a big problem with this.
The law is God’s standard for perfection and if you don’t measure up, you can’t be in His presence. “Oh Mylanta, that’s the very essence of legalism! Pharisee!” someone might say. But hear me out. This is precisely why Jesus had to come, because we all don’t measure up to His law. We’re law-breakers and could never do enough to measure up to an infinite standard of perfection. Jesus didn’t come to merely bring law, the perfect example of law (though He did indeed do that), but He came to do even more, He came to save us from our lawlessness. But how does He do this?
If Jesus is only your example of how to live a moral, upstanding life (for instance within the Sermon on the Mount), and not more than this, you’re simply back to square one with the law, and in fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, you have an even higher hurdle to overcome. And the law saves no one, in and of itself. It points the way, away from itself, to another who could provide salvation. It exposes and displays all of your faults, hidden and visible. It’s like a mirror in this sense. Jesus is the perfect embodiment of the law, namely because He obeyed the Father’s will perfectly. But if he’s merely an example, you are without hope. If he’s only the embodiment of the law, the perfect moral teacher to follow, you remain in your sin. The debt incurred by our willful disobedience to the Lord is infinite and can never be repaid from ourselves, by our adherence to the law.
However, the good news is Jesus is not only the perfect embodiment of the law, but the great fulfiller who stands in our place. He is an example, to be sure (and not in the humanistic sense he’s quoted from various secular authors), but infinitely more than that. In His perfect life’s work, Jesus came not just to satisfy God’s wrath for us on the cross through His death, cancelling the record of debt we stacked up through our day in and day out rebellion, but to fulfill all righteousness, fulfill the law, on our behalf, as well, through faith and resting and trusting alone in Him. He didn’t just bring us up to a zero balance through propitiation (substitutionary atonement, wrath-absorption), but gave us His infinite worth and value and righteousness through His imputed righteousness, that is, His perfect record, perfect law-keeping counted or credited to us as our own.
As the great law fulfiller, Jesus is our righteousness before the Father and intercedes for us on this basis, presenting us to God in pure white linens, free of spot and wrinkle. We are robed in His righteousness. We have free access to the Father because Jesus achieved what was unachievable for us. What a freeing truth.
The amazing thing is, this brings us full circle back to the law in the present. Because Christ succeeded where we failed, our hearts are no longer burdened to carry out His law now that we could never fill up what is lacking in us in the first place. In fact, through faith and trust in Him alone for our redemption, He writes the law on our hearts, it becomes a part of the very thing we want now. Our desires have been reoriented by His grace to desire to please Him, to obey Him, to perform acts of righteousness, to obey the law. So adherence to the law doesn’t save us, Christ’s adherence does. He obeyed to the point of death, even on a cross. And now we’re freed to obey the law from a transformed heart, overwhelmed at the grace of His perfect law keeping in our place.
“Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire.” – Augustine
“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12:14
“…He has hushed the law’s loud thunder, He has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame.” – Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder
“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” – Romans 3:31