The End of The Law
Some of us may be alarmed at the title of this article, however the phrase is a perfectly legitimate biblical statement taken from the writings of the apostle Paul and it can be found in Romans 10: 4.
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Rom 10:4)
What is the implication of this word, “end”, as Paul uses it in this phrase? There are several possible meanings to the word, and of course Christians interpret it in different ways depending on which denominational group they belong to. The word usually means, conclusion, termination, abolition, the point where something ceases to exist. But it can also mean the goal, aim or purpose of something. Many Christians understand Paul to be saying that the law (meaning the 10 Commandments) has been abolished. Sabbath-keeping Christians however, interpret the phrase to mean that the purpose or the goal of the law was Christ. In other words the law was intended to bring us to Christ, but now that we have come to Christ that does not mean that the law has passed away, it is still just as relevant as ever.
Many times when we have two opposing views of a particular topic, neither side has the complete truth. Often there is an imbalance on both sides with the truth lying somewhere in the middle. I believe this is also the case with this particular statement of Paul’s. Context is most important. For most of my life I would not have agreed with those who suggest that it means that the law has been abolished, however, as my understanding of the gospel and the plan of salvation has become more complete I now have to agree that in the context of the verse the word, “end”, really does mean, “abolished”.
Notice that it says that Christ is the end of the law specifically in relation to righteousness. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness”. Let me ask the question, is the law abolished in terms of how we obtain righteousness? The answer is, absolutely yes! The law has been abolished as a means of providing righteousness! It has no part to play in our experience of righteousness, so in the context of Paul’s statement it is perfectly correct to say that the law has been abolished. Of course this does not mean that the law has no more significance or that it teaches false information.
Christ is the end of the law in relation to righteousness, this is what we need to understand. However in order to get the full impact of what he is saying we need to go back to the beginning of this world’s history and to understand some foundational things.
A Broken Relationship
When God created Adam and Eve and placed them in Eden, right at the beginning he gave them a law, they were forbidden to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why did God give them this law, what was its purpose? From the beginning God’s purposes have been misunderstood and this has taken humanity onto a path which has affected our understanding of spiritual truths until this very day.
The popular understanding is that the issue behind the law was, morality. God wanted to prevent man from stealing, he wanted to test whether man would live by upright moral principles. However this is a faulty perspective, God was not testing man’s ability or willingness to live in a morally upright way. The real issue between God and man was an issue of relationship, relationship based on trust. If we believe the issue was one of morality, then we go on to build on the idea that moral awareness and moral living are the most important factors in man’s relationship with God. However if we understand that the issue was trust, and that the command concerning the fruit was simply a means of testing man’s trust in God, then we come to the realization that the vital element in man’s relationship with God and in fact in the entire controversy between good and evil, is the factor of trust. It is a question of how much we trust God. In other words, the real disaster in Eden was not a broken law, it was a broken relationship, it was broken trust.
If we start out by believing that the issue was a broken law then this is the background from which we try to understand salvation. We look at the Bible as a book which is primarily focused on morality and our purpose becomes an effort to place the law in a position of prominence. Really, it is not that difficult to fix a broken law, all that is required is that the person who broke it should start keeping it, it is as simple as that.
However, broken trust is a far greater problem. Trust is not something that is created by commandments or appeals or regulations. When trust is broken between two people they start avoiding each other, their conversations are formal and strained, they avoid eye contact and each one views the actions of the other with suspicion. This was the disastrous situation that arose between man and God when Adam and Eve distrusted God and broke the relationship between him and humanity. This is why the constant theme of the Bible is the theme of faith, this is what was really broken and what really needed to be restored. God did find a way to repair that broken relationship but it would take many centuries of untold suffering, misunderstanding and misrepresentations before the situation would finally be remedied and man restored to that first relationship with God.
The Law at Sinai
Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: (Rom 5:20)
Paul says that the law entered. What did he mean by this? Where, and when did the law enter? Well if we look at the context of the chapter, Romans 5, we will see that he is saying that the law entered into God’s plan of dealing with humanity. We can’t discuss it in detail at the moment, but as we read the chapter through carefully it is evident that this is what Paul is saying. At some point in time the law came into the picture in terms of the relationship between God and man and of course it is obvious that before this point the law was not a part of the relationship. It had no place in the original scheme of things.
More than 2000 years after man destroyed his relationship with God in Eden, God formally gave a set of rules to the Hebrew nation at Mount Sinai. God established a covenant relationship with these people, identified them as being his in a special way and gave them a set of rules to govern every aspect of their lives. This was the first time since the Garden of Eden that God was giving a law to the human race. The question may be asked, why did God now decide to give these laws to the Hebrews? The apostle Paul gives us a couple of answers to the question.
Because of transgression
Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. (Gal 3:19)
Notice that the law had a beginning point as well as an expiry date. Paul says the law was added but only until the seed (Christ) arrived. He says that it was added because of transgressions. In other words, one reason why God gave the law was because there was the need to limit and control the evil nature of men. Wickedness was increasing and human nature was becoming more depraved, transgression was abounding and in order to bring it under some kind of control, God gave the law. Of course it is evident that the law could not make people better (Heb 7:19) – laws do not change human nature – but it could compel them to outwardly control their behaviour to a certain extent. The punishments which accompanied the breaking of the law would force people to try to control their evil actions, even though they could not change their natures and their evil desires.
This was the first reason why God gave the law. It was “added because of transgressions.”
To prepare for Christ.
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Gal 3:24)
Another reason why God gave the law was that it was designed to prepare his people for the coming of Christ. It did this in two ways; first of all the system of the law contained many rituals and ceremonies which were intended to be teaching tools, illustrations which taught lessons about the life and ministry of Christ, and the plan of redemption. For example, the sacrificing of animals was a graphic illustration of the death of Christ.
But secondly, the law also prepared people for the coming of Christ because it made people aware that there was a great gap between God and man. It made them aware that they were not fit for a relationship with God and created a desire for someone who could bring them back into a meaningful relationship with him. So in creating a desire for a mediator, it really was preparing them spiritually, for the coming of Christ.
To create an awareness of sin
The third reason why the law was given was in order to create an awareness of sin. This is the reason that the apostle Paul emphasizes more than any other and in the context of this article it is most important that we understand it thoroughly.
Was then that which is good made death unto me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful. (Rom 7:13)
Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. (Rom 4:15)
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. (1Cor 15:56)
Look at the verses above carefully; what are they really saying? According to these verses the law was not intended to be a solution to sin, but rather, to magnify and to multiply the problem of sin! This is not me putting words into the Bible, this is what the apostle Paul teaches. But let us take a moment to understand exactly what he’s saying.
Sin is a principle which separates man from God and results in death. But how much sin is necessary to accomplish this separation and death? How many wrong actions does it take in order for sin to produce this alienation between God and man? The tiniest degree of sin is all that it takes, the wages of sin is death, regardless of how much sin is involved. All humanity, every single person has been condemned by his involvement in sin. This is the problem which we have inherited from Adam, because Adam involved us all in sin and this is why we are told that Adam brought sin and condemnation upon all men.
… by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation ….
…. by one man's disobedience many were made sinners …. (Rom 5:18-19)
So the law never solved the original problem of the broken relationship with God and that was not it’s purpose. Clearly, it is not the solution to the sin problem. When Israel was governed by the system of the law, God was seen as a person who is fearsome, vengeful, a person to be avoided, so the law did not bring about reconciliation between God and man, but rather, it increased the separation! There were times under the law that it seemed that God was very harsh and exacting and this is not always easy to understand. But this is the way it had to be under the law. Whenever we are dealing with law there is the need of penalties. No law can accomplish its purpose if there are no penalties connected to it and furthermore, the worse the condition of the people the more severe the penalties need to be. If we follow through on this fact it helps us to better understand why God had to relate to the people as he did during the age of the law. He was dealing with people who were loose and wild, without any self-control, who were dominated by the carnal nature. They had to be controlled by an iron hand.
However, it was never about the law, the law was never a solution to the real problem and it was only a temporary measure. When a problem arises between friends and the relationship is damaged, the real necessity is the need to rebuild trust and confidence. Of course one person can come to the other and say, “you can trust me”, but trust does not work like that. When a relationship is broken people stop trusting the motives, the intentions, even the words of the other person. Even kind actions are often regarded with suspicion. So when the relationship between man and God is broken, God cannot just come and say, “trust me”. He may threaten us so that we try hard to keep his rules and to walk a straight line, but this will not build a relationship of love and trust and when a person serves because of fear, he might as well be a slave! This is God’s problem, he is trying to build a relationship with a race of people who are naturally afraid of him. It is a difficult problem because the carnal mind is naturally at enmity with God (Rom 8:7). This is the real reason why it is so difficult to speak to worldly people about God; they are naturally afraid of him and have no desire to come close to him or to serve him. So this is God’s problem, the question of how to get his children who fear him, misunderstand him and even hate him to come to him. This is where the gospel comes into the picture.
The problem was a broken relationship and the need was reconciliation. This was the problem from the time that man turned from God in the Garden of Eden and it has been the true problem ever since. The trust and the relationship was broken and we became enemies of God.
God’s solution to the broken relationship was not the law. What God did was that he took one person, one human being and in this person he restored the broken relationship between himself and humanity. This person was his Son who became the son of man, Jesus Christ. This was a man who knew God well enough that he trusted God 100%. In this person God was fully reconciled, not only to that one man but to the entire human race of which that one man was now a part.
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. (2Cor 5:18-19)
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Rom 5:10)
This is amazing! Notice that it was while we were enemies that we were reconciled! Notice that it is the world that was reconciled to God! Our behaviour, our performance, our keeping the law had nothing to do with this reconciliation, it was something that happened independently of us, without us, accomplished entirely by the son of God! We were not there and we were not involved, we were reconciled in our absence! In Jesus Christ God took that problem of sin out of the way comprehensively and permanently. It is never again to be an issue between God and man, Jesus will never again have to die for sin. Notice the amazing statement in 2 Corinthians 5:19, “not imputing their trespasses unto them.” God does not hold anybody’s sins against him or her, they have all been dealt with through Jesus Christ. Sin is never again to be an obstacle in the way of man’s relationship with God.
For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9:26)
Why then will so many people still be lost and experience everlasting death? It is because they will not believe the truth, the real problem is a problem of unbelief not the problem of transgressing the law! It is still the issue of lack of faith and trust in God. The issue of the broken law has been dealt with long-ago, but unbelief is dependent on each individual and that is why it is still such a major problem, one which will result in eternal loss for billions of people who have already had their sin dealt with. There is a place for every human being in eternity, but the tragedy is that most will never accept what is theirs.
So we are reconciled to God in the sense that God no longer has any barrier between himself and us, but let us consider the question, what was it that created the barrier between man and God? It was unbelief or lack of trust. But whenthe law came into the picture, it became an issue of more than lack of trust. The law created an additional problem because the law made man morally guilty. So it is not just that we were separated from God but we also became morally guilty, so we had two things against us. Now the Bible says that we have been reconciled to God, but if reconciliation is to be complete, it is clear that there are two things which must be removed. The first is the element of unbelief, the element of lack of trust has to be removed and the second thing is the element of guilt. In order for man to be restored to a comfortable and complete relationship with God the element of guilt must be taken out of the way.
However, if guilt is to be permanently taken out of the way, how can this be possible if the thing which causes guilt remains in the picture? If guilt is to be permanently taken out of the relationship between God and man then the thing which causes that guilt, must be removed from the relationship! As long as the law remains involved in the relationship we will continue to accumulate guilt, and guilt will continue to be a barrier in the relationship between us and God. This may be a very difficult idea for many of us to accept, but note carefully that I am not saying the law has been abolished as a statement of what is good and bad, of what is right and wrong. What I am saying is that the law has been taken out of the equation as a means of defining the relationship between God and his people. In other words our relationship with God is no longer defined by how good we are, how well we conform to the law or how badly we fail at keeping the law! This is what the apostle Paul is alluding to when he tells us,
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. (1Cor 6:12)
So in the context of what Paul is saying in Romans 10:4, it is correct to say that Christ has abolished the law. So the verse, paraphrased, would read,
For Christ is the ABOLITION of the law as far as the relationship with God is concerned, to every one that believeth. (Rom 10:4)
In other words, as far as obtaining righteousness is concerned, the law has been abolished. It is no longer involved in the experience of either obtaining, or of losing righteousness. Christ has brought an end to the legal relationship with God. We are not accepted by our performance, our keeping of the law or any other works. The converse is true, we are not rejected because of our performance or our failure to keep the law. As one person put it, “what cannot make us righteous, cannot make us become unrighteous.” As far as righteousness is concerned Christ has brought the law to an end! So the apostle Paul tells us very clearly,
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. (Eph 1:6)
We are accepted, “in the beloved”. There is no other basis for our relationship with God – nothing else is involved. We are saved or lost on the basis of our relationship with, “the beloved”, Jesus Christ.
Servants and Sons
This is the difference between being a servant and being a son of God. In Galatians 4, the apostle Paul says concerning Christians:
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal 4:7)
There is a vast difference between a servant and a son. The place of a servant in the home depends upon his performance, it depends upon how well he keeps the rules and obeys the master of the household. If he disobeys, his place is jeopardized, if he displeases the master then most likely, he will have to leave. However sons do not operate on this basis, their right to a place in the home is based upon inheritance, it is based on the fact that they share the same life as the other members of the household, they are members of the same family. There is no danger that they will ever be put out. Even if their behaviour is bad, they are assured that the family will work to help them to do better, not that they will lose their place. Their performance has absolutely nothing to do with their privilege of a place in the home.
So God not only took our guilt out of the way, but he placed our relationship upon a solid foundation, something which can never be threatened. He did this by removing the thing which caused the guilt, which is the law. Can we see the beauty of this? We never again need to feel threatened or insecure in our relationship with our heavenly father. Yes, we may fail him or sometimes come short of the mark, but this does not and can never jeopardize our relationship with him because our success or failure have been eliminated as a basis for defining our relationship with him. The only relevant factor is our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Now we behave right, our lives are in harmony with the law, but it is not because of the law, it is because we have the life of Christ in us and we are sons of the living God. We behave like sons because we are sons, “his seed remains in us” and we will not sin because we are born of God (1 John 3:9). Our behaviour as Christians is not determined by our attentiveness to the law because the law is no longer a factor in our lives and how we live it, our behaviour is determined by the one who lives in us.
In the experience of salvation man has only one contribution and it is faith, man must believe. And yet faith is not even man’s contribution because it is God who nurtures and develops faith in us, however it is we who must exercise that faith. This is our only contribution to the process of salvation, there is nothing else as far as we are concerned. Everything else is the work of God.
Some of us may suggest that surrender is also another thing that we contribute, but surrender is an integral part of faith. In other words faith and surrender are not two different processes, surrender is the work which accompanies or is a part of true faith. True faith always produces surrender.
This is the amazing truth of God’s grace. If human work was involved in our acceptance with God, then how could we ever succeed? The only thing that is guaranteed is that we would fail, but God in his amazing love has made it all dependent on his grace. Thank God for Jesus! Thank God for the gospel! May we all believe it, and live by it!