Christ the Fulfillment of the Law
“...not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ...”
1 COR 9:21
The law of Christ is not some replacement of the Father’s law, giving us merely a few small commands in exchange. The law of Christ is the whole completion of the Law of God, like a precious gem (Christ) being placed within the setting of a beautiful gold ring (the Law). Christ’s work is one of bringing us into true holiness, not of permission for lawlessness.
Christ is literally the fulfillment of the law. He says in Matthew 5:17, “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.” Very often we state that Christ does not abolish the law and yet our ideas about how He fulfills it very much imply its abolishment! Rather, He is Himself the fulfillment since He is the object to which all these things point.
Christ is the Light and Life of these things. It is in Him that all of these things come to life. Just as God made Adam’s body yet he was not alive until God breathed the breath of life into him, “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Gen 2:7) So the law does not have life without Christ. In Ezekiel 37:8 we see the distinction between the body and the life again: “And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.” There is that which is the body and that which gives life to the body. Therefore the law is like the body and Christ is the life in the body, the breath placed into the body of the law. This is the life we have with Christ. To remove the law is to remove the body, that which holds and defines the life. To remove Christ is to remove the Life from the body, to leave it with form and yet dead.
Christ's fulfillment of the law is far greater than abolishing it—this being what many people claim is the freedom Christ grants us—instead, He is the fulfillment at which all of these things point. He is the One to whom all the things belong, and He takes possession of them. Christ’s law is higher in calling, not lower. For in Christ we are now empowered by His Spirit and His righteousness to walk in holiness. We are now called to a true and complete holiness. Not a fulfillment that calls unrighteousness righteous, but fulfillment that has the life placed into it, making us spiritually alive.
“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3:6) Barnes comments on this verse saying, “This is said, doubtless, in opposition to the Jews, and Jewish teachers. They insisted much on the letter of the Law, but entered little into its real meaning. They did not seek out the true spiritual sense of the Old Testament; and hence, they rested on the mere literal observance of the rites and ceremonies of religion without understanding their true nature and design.”
We understand that we no longer walk in the shadows of the law but we walk in the true light of it, and this light is Christ. An example of where the Word of God shows us this is in 1 Corinthians 9:9-10, “For it is written in the Law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop.” We do not follow this to the letter so as to ensure we do not muzzle an actual ox. Yet we also don’t just chuck this command behind our backs altogether! Rather, we discern the true holiness of God. Christ is literally the life and light of true holiness. And in Him we see what is spiritually revealed. By Christ’s Spirit we now understand the true meaning of the law of God.
Christ leads us to true holiness whereas the mere outward observances of the law had no power to produce true holiness—the life and light of it. But Christ has this life within Himself, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) This is what Romans 8:3 teaches us, that Christ alone has the power to deliver us from sin into holiness. Christ fulfills the law therefore, not in removing it, but in giving the true light and life of it. First in our salvation, being all in His finished work alone, and then to our sanctification, all from His holiness. For holiness is in God alone.
The measure here is that we must not think to keep the law apart from Christ. We must receive Christ, who is the light and life. And in Him alone, by His Spirit, do we walk in true holiness. Again, Christ does not deliver us to some partial morality. He delivers us to a whole and complete holiness. One that encompasses what is holy and good in all things. A holiness that accounts for every part of the human life. Therefore this is also what is expected of us. “...Who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father..." (Gal 1:4) “...Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” (Eph 1:4) “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Rom 3:31)
So we, who would seek to throw the law of God behind our backs in the name of some “freedom in grace”, need to ask ourselves this—are the partial commands that Christ brings, separated from the rest of God’s Word, truly enough to produce a whole and complete holiness? The trouble for many people is that they think so. They think they can take the specific commands of Christ, sever it from the rest of God’s Word and live just by these. These people fail to understand that the work the Spirit of Christ does within us guides us in the whole of God’s Word. We need the whole Bible to be a whole Christian—not to enter into salvation, but to worship God rightly. These people are not convinced of Christ; they are convinced of themselves and their own morality, thinking it is enough. So the question to such people is not really if they think this oversimplified morality is enough, but if it actually is. Such people fail to understand that the Father and Son are one (John 10:30), and that Christ came “according to the will of our God and Father.” (Gal 1:4) As the law does not have life without Christ, so the light of Christ has no definition or containment without the body of the whole of God’s Word. The law defines the light, and shows where holiness is and where it is not. Christ is the life in the body yet the Word of God is the body!
Now the law does not bind us, keeping us under chains of elementary ways (Gal 4:3, 9) yet the Word of God certainly does dictate all things to us and we are never free from its bounds. To confuse the elementary law with God's Word is a terrible error. Let us remember that as Christ is not separate from the law, the law is not separate from Christ—in Whom the Word became flesh (John 1:14).
Christ is the fulfillment of the law, as life does not destroy the body but gives true function, possession, and power to it, bringing about the true fulfillment of God’s work by His Word. The Old Testament and New Testament are one, together being the authority and binding Word of God. “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Mark 10:9) We may struggle to understand how both come together, but we wander into great sin and even apostasy if we are not very careful to watch that we remain faithful to the whole of God’s Word and the name of Jesus Christ. If we press on in faithfulness to these then we will find there is no contradiction in Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God, but that both have power to produce true holiness within us. Christ does not mean in His fulfillment of the law that He removes the body, but rather, gives true life and possession of it.
January 29, 2021