Christ Is the End of the Law

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Abstract

“Christ is the end of the Law” does not mean Christ has brought an end to the Law in the sense of terminating it, changing it, or relieving us of our responsibility to obey it. It means He is the goal of the Law, the purpose or intention of the Law. This purpose is Christ-likeness in three dimensions: (1) love from a pure heart, (2) a good conscience, which accurately discerns good and evil, and (3) a genuine faith, being absolute assurance of spiritual realities. (1Ti 1:5)

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In the Bible it is written, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (Ro 10:4) What does this mean, that “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness?”

As with any text of scripture, it is good to look at the larger context, especially the initial context in the first three verses:

1Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. 2For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. 3For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. 4For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

In the immediate context Paul is addressing legalism, the idea that justification, or being declared perfectly righteous before God, can be attained merely by human effort and obedience. In verses 1-3 Paul testifies of his great concern for the people of Israel, how they have generally missed the whole intent and purpose of the Law in this regard, using it for an unlawful purpose. (1Ti 1:8) God did not intend for anyone to try and obey His Law, Torah, the Mosaic Law, in order to establish their own righteousness before Him so that He would accept them; this is not “the end (goal) of the commandment.” (1Ti 1:5) People who do this are ignorant of two very basic things: [1] that they are immensely wicked before God in their very best natural state, such that God could not ever accept them on their own personal merit (Ro 3:12), and [2] that God has provided a way for them to be fully justified – counted perfectly righteous before Him – as a free gift, by faith and not by works (Ro 4:5). Justification does not come by our own personal effort and obedience; we can’t get there from here merely by trying our best to be good.

5For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

Paul continues after our chosen text, reinforcing this same concept by quoting Leviticus 18:5: “Ye shall therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments: which if a man do, he shall live in them: I am the LORD.” God makes plain the fact that if anyone keeps the Mosaic Law perfectly and never breaks it then they will live by their acts of obedience, their own righteousness would permit them to enjoy acceptance and fellowship with God. However, once one has broken Torah, in any way or fashion, one has a profound problem, and it is a problem that Torah itself does not explicitly address, even in its sacrificial system, which merely reminds sinners of their need of a Savior: there is no sacrifice which can actually take away our sin, or pay the penalty we deserve for our sin, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Heb 10:4)

The “But” in verse 6 points us to the only way out, the only possible way to deal with the problem of our sin:

6But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:) 7Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)

Paul is explaining that there is a righteousness which is not attained by personal effort; it is obtained by faith in – believing in – Christ. Paul sees this truth expressed in Deuteronomy 30:11-13, which he quotes for us. The text is as follows: “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?

Paul discovers the truth of the gospel here by applying a principle of interpretation woven throughout Torah, part of its very fabric and nature; it is the principle of how much more: God reveals His character in less important things so that we may see trust Him in more important things. Christ gives us examples of how to leverage this principle in His Sermon on the Mount: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Mt 7:11) Jesus is saying that if God has designed parents to provide good things for their children, He will certainly take good care of His own children. Another example is: “If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Lk_12:28) In other words, if God makes an effort to make the plants beautiful for us to look at, He is certainly planning to make us beautiful to look at as well. In looking at examples in nature of God’s provision for others, Christ encourages us to derive promises of Gods provision for ourselves. In other words, if God will do the less important, how much more will He do the more important.

Paul leverages this same type of thinking to help us perceive the amazing spiritual cleansing the power of the blood of Christ: “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (He 9:13) When God takes pains to show us His nature in the minor, less important things, He is expecting us to understand His heart in the major, more important things, even as Christ expected Nicodemus to see “ye must be born again” from his study of the Tanakh (the Old Testament). (Jn 3:10)

In this way, God’s provision of righteousness by faith is found in Deuteronomy througha priceless how much more insight: the fact that God has has made His way easy for us to find implies that He has also provided a way for us to be in relationship with Him. God has given His law plainly to us: He not demanded that we ascend into the heavens to search out His ways, or that we travel beyond and beneath the oceans into the very ends and bowels of the earth in our search for truth. Faith rooted in the beauty of God revealed in Torah sees that God is reasonable and gracious, full of gifts of mercy, forgiveness and righteousness. God has been plain with us: He has freely given us His holy standard and shown us His ways, both in revealing Torah at Sinai and in sending His Son to live out Torah in our midst so that we could handle Him and see His ways fleshed out before us. (Jn 1:14). If He will do these kinds of things to reveal His nature and help us see what being in relationship with Him looks like, which is our lesser need, how much more will He also provide a way for us to actually be in relationship with Him, which is our vastly greater need.

And if we should have any doubt whatever about the ultimate nature of God and the eternal justice of His how much more spiritual economy, and so we are wanting to speak with those who have already died and gone on before us, He has assured us of the final end of the righteous by bringing Christ back from the dead permanently, fully overcoming the grave and validating His righteous ways, and allowing us to speak with Christ and engage with Him. In the witness of The Twelve we see beyond the grave and out into eternity; we and find convincing proof that God is indeed a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. (He 11:6)

As God gave us His Law freely and plainly, and did not make it impossible for us to find it out, and has openly assured us of His ultimate justice and righteousness in raising Christ from the dead, the righteousness of faith perceives — based on how much more — that He has also made a way for us to meet His holy standard and obtain this righteousness – which is our vastly greater need – and that He is pointing us toward this priceless gift through the Law itself. The heart of faith, seeing the nature of God, does not even start to journey the hopeless path of legalism, pride and self-righteousness, dumbing down Torah into mere mechanical ritual such that it can be kept by carnal men; the heart of faith sees a better way.

8But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;

Paul continues quoting from the above context in Deuteronomy, which is, “But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” (De 30:14) Paul evidently sees the Gospel of Christ in these precious words of Torah, “the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart.” These words embody the concept of justification by faith which Paul preaches: they are a way of expressing the gospel itself; these words are … “the word of faith, which we preach.” Paul finds the text rich with the new-heart concept of the New Covenant, found in both Torah and the Prophets: “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Je 31:33) This is justification by faith: a mind and heart so renewed and transformed by faith in Christ that the Law is now written deep within.

Paul then begins to describe what this transformation, this justification by faith, looks like for his primary audience, for the Jewish believer in ancient Rome (Ro 1:7, 2:17), one who has been raised in a religious culture steeped in the lie that Jesus was an impostor rather than the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, and one who is formally threatened by civil society for acknowledging any global authority other than Caesar. (Jn 19:12) Paul affirms for such a Jew …

9That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

Paul is not providing a pat formula or ritual whereby just anyone from any time period or culture may participate in this New Covenant, but describing the effects of such a transformation in the instructed Jew of that time period. Paul makes this clear as he continues,

10For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

The transformation of the New Covenant is not found in any mechanical ritual, but in a heart believing unto righteousness, that is, there is a trusting in God with the innermost being, a trusting in the God of Israel Who has revealed Himself in the design and structure of both the Creation and the Torah, in such a way that God’s perfect righteousness is attributed to the soul. Upon this believing the heart is so changed that the whole man is anew with the pulse of spiritual life, and the tongue will naturally speak to others about this transformation. Such a vast change in the core nature of the soul will be expressed in the natural life; this spiritual life cannot remain hidden and unobserved in the natural life.

This concept of salvation is not such an easy thing to explain or understand, and it is impossible for us to accomplish this transformation through our efforts or works, any more than giving ourselves heart transplants. We cannot do this in and of ourselves; it is no easier for the trained theologian than it is for the little child: it is the work of God, with Whom all things are possible. (Mt 19:26) We must not merely know that only God can do this, we must trust that He actually will do it in and for us as we seek it from Him. (He 11:6)

This, my friend, is the proper context of what we are considering in verse 4. Let us now carefully consider it together.

4For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

The first key word to notice is the word telos, translated end in the English. It means, the goal, the point aimed at as a limit; by implication the conclusion of an act or state, result.” This definition is important to understand, especially in this context, since the English word end can also mean the termination or abrogation of something such that it is done away, no longer present or in effect. Many Christians come to this text presuming that the Mosaic Law has already been abolished, and therefore incorrectly read this latter meaning into the text without thinking thinking carefully through its implications, but the concept is not there.

The text is stating that our coming to and being renewed in Christ Himself is the intended goal of Torah; this is the point at which the Law aims as it both reveals and demands righteousness. The goal of Torah is both to show us the nature of Christ, that being perfect righteousness, and also to direct us to Him in order to achieve or realize this same righteousness in our lives as He lives out His Torah within us, writing it into the very fabric of our nature, embedding its principles and standards into our very minds and hearts. (He 10:16, Je 31:33-34) In those who participate in the New Covenant by faith in Christ, Christ Himself becomes for them the perfect righteousness which He demands from them in Torah; He is not only the Giver of the Law, He is its fulfillment within and also on behalf of those who believe, “even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Ga 3:6)

This is a righteousness that is both imputed to the believer as a free gift (Ro 5:16), yet also actually worked out in the life such that their thoughts, words and deeds are seen more and more to conform to His perfect moral standard. (Ep 2:10) God treats the believer as if they have never sinned, as if they have lived the perfectly righteous life of Christ, and also makes this into a practical reality by giving them a new heart and transforming them; Christ Himself begins to live in and through the believer, giving them a new heart that is inclined toward obedience to Torah, such that they begin to live in a manner that is consistent with His ways. (Jn 15:4-5, 1Co 1:30) This positions us to abide in fellowship with Christ, and for Christ to reveal Himself to us. (Jn 14:21)

Since the goal of Torah is the realization of the righteousness of Christ in our lives, both in legal standing and in practice, Torah itself being a perfect expression of this righteousness, no one may properly claim to be a believer in Christ who is continually and willfully breaking Torah as a manner of life. Though salvation is not produced by obedience to Torah and is only realized by faith, salvation is not “by faith alone.” In other words, there is no such thing as faith by itself, or a saving faith that does not produce obedience to Torah, for salvation itself, the very definition of the New Covenant, is the work of God in creating and energizing a new mind and heart into which Torah itself is deeply intertwined. We cannot separate participation in the New Covenant from the very nature and outworking of this covenant. “Faith alone,” faith that is not accompanied by works, is dead. (Ja 2:17)

For further reading on this topic, please see the articles Dead To the Law, Not Under The Law, and Keep My Commandments.

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