Has God’s Law Ended?
by Bob Burridge ©2017
There’s a lot of confusion about how God’s law applies today in this time after the finished work of our Savior.
As I was monitoring some online chat there were some Christians debating about God’s law and it’s place in our lives today. It started when one of the chatters quoted Psalm 119:97, “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day.” Another chatter immediately objected saying that God’s law was only for ancient Israel before the birth of Jesus Christ. He went on to say that the only commandment believers have after the resurrection of Jesus is that we are to love. For support he quoted Jesus in John 13:34 when he said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” Both were using the King James Version of the Bible.
One of the verses used to support the anti-law argument was Romans 10:4. Since they were using the King James Version, I quote that translation here: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” Supporting the pro-law side, Romans 7:12 was quoted, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.”
This difference of conviction about God’s law is not uncommon. The danger is that it’s easy to grab verses that seem to support what we think should be true. But we need to take a close look at the context, what point the speaker or author was making, and how it fits in with what was being said. We need to consider other statements in the Bible that deal with the same topic. Often a closer look at the meaning of the words being used in the original language the verses were written in will also help clear up the meaning of the sentence.
The language and context of Romans 10:4 clarifies what Paul was saying about the Law of God. The English Standard Version (ESV) translation of this verse is very much like the old KJV. it says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The word translated as “end” in both translations is the Greek word “telos” (τέλος). It means “the end product” of something, the “goal” to which something aims. It does not mean making something ineffective or ending its existence.
Peter uses the same word to describe what Jesus did regarding our faith. 1 Peter 1:9 speaks of, “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” The word translated “outcome” is this same Greek word “telos”. The KJV translates it, “Receiving the end of your faith …” Peter certainly didn’t mean that Jesus abolished our faith, or put an end to it. He brought it to completion, fulfillment.
Jesus used a form of this same word as he hung on the cross. In John 19:30 Jesus said, “It is finished.” The word translated as “finished” is a passive form of this same word “telos” (τέλος), but here it’s in the perfect tense “tetelestai” (τετέλεσται) because the work he came to do had now become “completed”. He accomplished, consummated, perfected the work he came to do. He didn’t annul or destroy all he had done. He brought it to its full completed goal.
Here in Romans 10:4 it tells us that Jesus Christ brought the law to completion, to its goal. He fulfilled in our place what the law demanded. He paid the debt the law required for those God determined to redeem from the curse of the law. It was by his suffering and death that righteousness was secured for all who would believe in his work. That’s why it says Christ is the end of the law “for righteousness.” What Christ provides for us is that toward which the law aims. His righteousness is imputed to, credited to, all who by a true faith trust in his atonement. The law shows us how much we need a Savior. It drives us to him in humble repentance. It still convicts us of our personal sins in this present age.
Those who say that God’s law has been reduced to just one law in the New Testament often cite two main portions of Scripture. In John 13:34 Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
The other text expands more on this in Matthew 22:37-40. “… You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Here in Matthew 22 Jesus was actually quoting Old Testament law. First he cited what Moses wrote in Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Then Jesus quoted from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” The command to love was not a newly introduced idea. To say that ignores the Scriptures Jesus was quoting.
The comment in John 13:34 was spoken to the disciples after the Last Passover Supper on the night before Jesus would be crucified. The “commandment” he is referring to here is a “new commission”, a newly commanded duty for them to go out as disciples showing love as they proclaimed the gospel. That was a common use of that word. In the next verse Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The context shows that he was not introducing a substitute for God’s moral law which was summarized in the Ten Commandments. He was sending these Apostles out with a “new assignment”, proclaiming the about to be completed Gospel message.
Jesus supported the continuing force of the Ten Commandments which were the underlying theme in Matthew 5 during his Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:17 Jesus said, “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.”
The law is fulfilled in Christ. It’s not ended. The word translated “fulfill” in that verse is “plaerosai” (πληρῶσαι). It means to bring something to its full measure. Jesus brought the law to the fullness of what it was meant to be all along. He didn’t abolish it when he fulfilled it. Jesus was making a contrast in this passage. Instead of abolishing or destroying the law, he was fulfilling it. God’s moral commandments are summarized by “love”, not eliminated by or replaced by love.
The Apostle Paul often taught the continuing value of the Old Testament moral laws of God. In Romans 7:12, he wrote, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” In the context Paul is dealing with his own past sin of coveting, the 10th Commandment. In Romans 13:9 Paul wrote, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” He is confirming that love is a summary of the other moral commandments, it does not eliminate them. He directly says that the Commandments teach that it’s wrong to commit adultery, to steal, to bear false testimony, and to covet. In Ephesians 6:2 Paul quotes the 5th Commandment, “honor your father and mother” which he refers to authoritatively as “the first commandment with a promise.”
Keeping God’s law was never the means by which people were forgiven for their sins or restored to fellowship with God. But the law has always had, and still has, a good purpose.
1. God’s moral law reveals what is pleasing to God.
It shows us what’s right and true. It reveals the moral nature of God. The more we understand God’s law, the more we can respond with proper worship regarding his glory, and strive to live in ways that truly show our love and respect for our Redeemer.
Psalm 119:27 “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.”
2. God’s law exposes our fallen nature and inability to please God.
The more we understand God’s law, the more it humbles us before God’s perfectly pure holiness and justice. It shows how unworthy we are of his blessing, and how impossible it is for us to keep the law sufficiently to please God, even in one little point.
Romans 7:7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ ”
Romans 7:12, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
3. The Old Testament laws foreshadow the work of Jesus as the Messiah.
The symbolic animal sacrifices of the Old Testament illustrate dramatically that our sin deserves death.
The sacrificial laws foreshadowed the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in place of his people. They teach that unless God provides a substitute by a gracious covenant, there is no hope for any one.
Since Christ’s death for his people has been completed, the rituals of these Levitical codes are no longer appropriate, but they still teach us what divine justice demands. Death because of sin is required of everyone descending from Adam by ordinary generation. The only satisfaction that could be made in place of the sinner would be a perfect Redeemer who was also the infinite God who was the party offended. Studying the ritual laws continues to drive us to Christ as we see the principles underlying them which are now made clear in the New Testament. As the Apostle’s taught, these ritual and sacrificial laws are no longer binding upon us, but they still teach the same truths they illustrated for the time before Christ.
Galatians 3:24, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”
The law never had the power to remove guilt, or to produce obedience and holiness. Only Jesus could do that. That was the message of these ancient ceremonial laws.
2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Philippians 3:8-9, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”
Hebrews 9:12, “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
Hebrews 10:4, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
4. God’s law is a perfect guide for showing us how we ought to live.
The believer is made alive spiritually. This compels him by the renewed disposition of his heart to give thankful obedience to his Savior. The law of God shows what is pleasing to the object of our love. Otherwise we would not know how to honorably and rightly obey our Creator and express our gratitude to him.
Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”
Psalm 119:97, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
Psalm 119:171, “My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes.”
Romans 7:7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ “
5. God’s law restrains sin in the world for the benefit of the covenant people.
The general effects of these moral laws are applied by God to society at large providing a restraining effect that keeps depravity from expanding into total moral chaos. Even secular societies have laws against murder, civil violence, theft, and such crimes that would disrupt societal tranquility. These laws are not imposed by secular societies intending to honor the true God, but to benefit their own peace and prosperity. There is no true benefit to this kind of obedience for the unbeliever. The beneficiaries of this restraint are the redeemed people of God who are living here.
Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.”
Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.”
God’s law continues to have great uses and benefits today. Though some legal duties may have only temporal applications, there is an eternal element to all of God’s law. The moral principles underlying the revealed precepts are never done away. We need to learn to honor that law and to be holy even as the Lord our God is holy (Leviticus 19:2).
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.