Romans 10:4 – “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes”.
When I read this verse a few weeks ago and marked it down for further study, I did so because of an apparent contradiction. In particular, I recalled the words of our Lord in the sermon on the mount recorded in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel:
“17 Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”
How can Christ be “the end of the law” if He Himself said that he came not to abolish, not to have a single iota or dot erased from the Law? I hope to show in context of Paul’s letter to the Romans what is meant by this statement, that it is indeed not a contradiction, but rather a resounding encouragement to those whose faith has been credited to them as righteousness.
In chapter 9, Paul laments the unbelief of his fellow Israelites in their promised Messiah (v. 1-5). But God’s promise isn’t failing though the Messiah came and was rejected by Israel and hung on a cross for crimes He did not commit. For “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (v. 6-13). Paul’s message is that God chose to extend the promises of the new covenant (cf. Ezekiel 36) to those who are not sons of Abraham by bloodline (v. 14-33). The key summary of this discourse is found in verses 30-32, where Paul says:
“30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone”
So, in the immediate context, Paul’s statement is better understood that Christ is the “law-ender” insofar as the law is a means of justification. This is further evidenced in the first three verses of chapter 10 wherein Paul explains that his desire and prayer is for the salvation of Israel, for their zeal is real, but is not in accordance with the righteousness of God, because they sought righteousness by works. This jives perfectly with Jesus’ teaching, such as in John 14:6 – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me” – indicating that the law was not the means of justification. Even closer to home in the aforementioned sermon on the mount – Jesus corroborates Paul’s claim with his series of “You have heard it said…but I say to you” statements, in which He indicts the nation of Israel by the law. Even the Pharisees could not be justified by their works, for their inner thoughts did not conform to the moral demands of the law (cf. Matthew 5:20-48).
In what sense, then, did Christ end the law? Let us examine a few of these ways in the totality of Paul’s gospel to the Roman church:
1) The law doesn’t justify us (Romans 3:21-22). Do you believe this? It is my hope that if nothing else is gleaned from this post, it is but a simple proclamation and reminder of the good news of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And what good news this is – our conscience testifies to us that if we were to earn our righteousness by works of the law, we would not hit the mark, for all have sinned and fall short of the perfect demands of the law (cf. Rom 3:23). But while we were stuck in our sins, Christ died for us, imparting on us the perfection that fulfills the law and pays the debt owed for our transgressions if we repent and place our faith in Christ!
2) The law doesn’t own us (Romans 6:1-14). Those that have indeed saving faith are not enslaved to the law anymore. What does that mean? I refer you to a post I wrote recently (here) wherein I deal with this subject in more detail, but a sufficient summary is a reminder of the truth that Christ’s work on the cross completed our debts to the law, and put us under new ownership. Therefore, because we are no longer enslaved to the law, we no longer are enslaved to sin. Our old self was crucified with Christ – our regeneration by grace through faith gives us a new nature, one that actually has the ability to say no to sin. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body” (v. 6:12).
3) The law doesn’t condemn us (Romans 8:1-4). The due penalty of our not keeping the law has been removed. Paul says earlier in chapter 6 that the “wages of sin is death”, meaning the due outcome of our disobedience to the law is death. But that condemnation is removed from those who by faith have been set free from the law (Romans 8:2). This is an important truth to be reminded of on a regular basis lest we become distraught of our continued body of sin. Thanks be to God, that even though we still sin post faith, there’s nothing we can do to modify our standing before God – Christ was that perfect and God is that gracious and loving! There is no condemnation! Nothing, not even our sin, can separate us from the love of God poured out in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Romans 8:34-39).
In closing, I draw upon Paul’s writing to the Corinthian church, how we as believers are supposed to respond now to the good news of Christ ending the law’s dominion over us. In chapter 15 after the long discourse on resurrection, Paul reminds his readers that in that day, when the dead are raised, that death will lose it’s sting, for Christ has overcome and provided victory over death. And what is death but the outcome of sin? And what is sin but the outcome of the law? (1 Cor. 15:54-56). So not only are we to have hope unending and joy abounding for the coming victory over death, but also, we are to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Dearest reader, cherish the good news of Christ. Let it be the thought on your mind when you rise in the morning and when you go to sleep. It is this good news that will keep us until that day.