How did Jesus fulfill the Law?

Posted by Matt Postiff November 20, 2009 on Matt Postiff's Blog under Interpretation  Theology 
First, let us be sure we understand the term "Law." The Law (capital L) refers to the Mosaic Law given at Mount Sinai to Moses. It started with the 10 commandments in Exodus 20 and has many other elements to it. Some say there are 613 specific commandments. In any case, the whole Mosaic Law is what we are referring to. Second, we must understand that no one has or could fulfill that Law, apart from Jesus Christ. All people find even the 10 commandments impossible to follow, particularly when considering Christ's high standard given in the Sermon on the Mount.

So this brings us to the question of how Jesus fulfilled the Law. He said He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-18). There are two ways that He did so. First, he perfectly kept all the commands and did fall short in any one of them. From the very beginning, at His birth, until the end of His life, he did no sin (1 Peter 2:22), he knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21), in Him was no sin (1 John 3:5), and He was totally without sin (Heb. 4:15). This is sometimes called Christ's "active obedience."

The second way in which Christ fulfilled the Law was by taking upon Himself all of the penalty of breaking the Law. The Law also has penalties in it for any infraction of the Law. Now despite the fact that the Lord Jesus did not have any infractions, He still took upon Himself the penalty of being cursed by hanging on a tree (Gal. 3:13). This is sometimes called Christ's "passive obedience."

In other words, the Lord fulfilled the Law as to its positive demands (actively doing all of them), and He also fulfilled the Law as to its penalties (passively taking them).

There is a third way in which Christ fulfills the Law today, and that indirectly is through believers. Romans 8:4 says that "the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." This does not mean that believers keep the Law directly, for Christians are not under the law per se (Rom. 6:14), and Rom. 10:4 says "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes." Putting these facts together, we understand that while believers are not keeping the Law directly, and they are not trying to do so in order to attain a righteous standing before God, they are, by their very nature as Spirit-indwelt Christians, fulfilling the righteous standard of the Law in their behavior (albeit imperfect) and also because of their perfect standing in Christ. He fulfilled the Law so that we, who could not and cannot perfectly do so, might be seen by God as in Christ and so fulfilling the righteous requirement of the Law.

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