Fulfilled, Sin, Love - Musings on the Law of Moses

This summer at Risen Life Church we recently completed a summer preaching series on the Law and particularly the Ten Commandments from Exodus 20:1-17. I was privileged to open and close this preaching series introducing the Law and showing its fulfillment in the New Testament. As our preaching team covered each of the Ten Commandments I urged them to consider three aspects about each Law. 1) What is the commandment about and what does it teach us about God? 2) How was it to be lived out in the life of Israel? 3) How is it fulfilled in Christ and how does it apply to new covenant believers in Christ?

Rembrandt - Moses with the Ten Commandments - Google Art ProjectI set the stage for looking at the Law by focusing on its inception and core in the Ten Commandments. I defined God’s purpose in given the law to be to deepen his relationship with Israel thereby making them his treasured possession through covenant. Now that is a mouthful, but it is easy to liken this covenant to the marriage between a man and a woman. God had called Abraham, had grown his descendants into a nation, had brought them out of slavery in Egypt, and now was calling them to a deeper relationship with a special purpose. Grace had preceded Law. Just like marriage, God’s covenant was an agreement to be in an exclusive relationship with a purpose. Exodus 19:5-6 gives us God’s purpose. He wanted Israel to be his treasured possession, his special people, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. And it was through this nation that God planned to show the world what it means to follow him. The nation of Israel was to live a rightly ordered life before and in relationship to God and draw other nations to itself. This required a covenant with God with rules and stipulations that reflect the very character of God that Israel was to reflect to the world. God’s purposes remains the same today. Now we become his special people through salvation in Christ.

The relationship between the Law and the New Testament can be confounding. Are we to follow God’s Law exactly? What has changed between the Mosaic covenant in the Ten Commandments and Christ? This is not an easy topic. Some have considered the relationship between the Law and the New Testament to be the second hardest theological problem behind the relationship between God and Evil. But I think there are several things we can say that give us good direction on the relationship. The New Testament speaks about the Law in very specific ways and in fact, I think the New Testament gives us three words to think about the Law with: Fulfilled, Sin, and Love.

Fulfilled. This is the most important word the New Testament gives us to think about the Law. Jesus himself gives us this word in Matthew 5:17-20. Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount by saying that the Law has not passed away and will not pass away but rather it is fulfilled in him. Jesus gives us a hermeneutical principle here for thinking about the Law. Instead of asking what we should do in relation to the Law Jesus wants us to think first about how it is fulfilled in him, and I think he has fulfilled the Law in four important ways. First, Jesus fulfills the righteous demands of the Law. Jesus was born under the Law and perfectly lived out the demands of the Law. Through Christ’s perfect obedience to the Law he became God’s true son that Israel was meant to be. Secondly, Christ also fulfilled the curse of the Law. Jesus having lived out the perfect, righteous life then becomes the perfect sacrifice that the Law demands. He stands in our place and takes the punishment that the Law demands of us. Thirdly, Christ reaps the benefits of the Law. Having become the perfect Son, Christ reaps all the blessings and life that was promised in the Law. Now in the great exchange Christ offers his perfect righteousness in exchange for our sinful life. We can now reap the blessings Christ has won by becoming sons and daughters of God through Christ’s sacrifice. Finally, Christ fulfills the law typologically. Everything in the law gives us pictures of what God was going to do in Christ. The priesthood, the sacrifice, the holiness code, all of it finds its embodiment in the person and work of Christ. Fulfilled.

Sin. Romans 7:7-13 gives us part of the purpose of the Law and that is to show us what sin is and how deeply rooted it is in our life. The Law is given and our heart is enraged to rebel against and break the law. Without Christ’s sacrifice the Law leads to death. Upon receiving new life in Christ the Law can still show us sin but now instead it can be used to teach us about God’s righteous demands. The Law still embodies God’s character and there are many things to learn from it. In the New Covenant in Christ blood we have now received the Holy Spirit that gives us the power and the ability to follow the Holy demands of God. Ezekiel 36:26-27 even tells us that the Spirit of God will now “cause” us to walk in God’s ways. We are free from the penalties of the Law and freed in Christ to pursue a righteous life. The Law then becomes wisdom for Godly living rightly applied. Sin.

Love. We don’t often think about the Law in terms of Love but Jesus and Paul do. In Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus is questioned about the greatest commandment. Jesus aptly summarizes the Ten Commandments and the wider Law by saying it is all about loving God first and loving other people second. This attitude of love towards God and neighbor fulfills the Law. When you read the Law through this lens it begins to be easy to see how all the laws are actually instruction in how to love based on God’s holy character. Secondly, Paul says in Romans 13:8-10 that one who loves another fulfills the Law. But notice in this passage that loving others is not divorced from moral legal demands. In fact, it is the moral demands of the Law that form the basis for loving others. It is popular today to say that we are to love others and overlook all of God’s commands for righteous living. But in Romans, 13 Paul roots loving others in the righteous demands of the Law. It is these very laws that instruct us in Love. In John 13:34-35 Jesus gives us a new command to Love and in John 14:15 he says that if we love him we will keep his commands. Love.

The Law is a very important topic in Biblical Studies and it is one of my favorites. I have written several other articles on the topic that you can read HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE. I hope these few thoughts on the Law will help you think about how you can relate to the Law as a New Testament believer in Jesus. I have included the links to the sermons I preached in this series below. If you would like to hear the whole series click HERE.

The Law in the New Testament  audio
The Third Commandment - Exodus 20:7  audio
The Second Commandment - Exodus 20:4-6  audio
Introduction to the Law: The Ten Commandments audio
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