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In Christ, We Are Law-Keepers

     Of what use is the Mosaic Law? For Christians, this question has always been a tricky one. There are some classical answers, of course. An ancient understanding of the Law divides the commandments into three divisions: the Moral Law, the Ceremonial Law, and the Civil Law. This too is a helpful exposition of the Law of Moses as it clarifies how to apply the different statutes of the Law. The Civil Law pertained specifically to the nation-state of Israel and thus has no bearing on modern Christians living in different nations of the world. The Ceremonial Law finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ and thus has no claim on the consciences of his followers. The Moral Law still has force, as it is interpreted through the perspective of the New Testament writers. This division is a useful tool for understanding the Old Testament, but still leaves something lacking.
     John Calvin asserted that the Law has three uses for the Christian. First, the Law is a mirror that reflects both the righteousness of God to sinful humans who cannot look directly at God and simultaneously reflects the wickedness of humans back to them. Second, the Law is a restraint on evil in the world. Third, the Law is a revelation of the pleasures of God to his children. Again, it is helpful to think of the Law in these catagories, but not finally satisfying.
     The best answer to the perenial question of the usefulness of the Law is that it shows us the perfect standard for standing before God. It would be absolutely correct to say that the person who keeps the Law is righteous in God’s sight. Of course, no one keeps the Law. Even the most fastidious Pharisee broke the Law in some points and had recourse to the sacrifical system to make atonement, thus testifying to his inability to keep the Law.
     But Saint Paul wrote that for those who believe, Jesus Christ is the “end” or “fulfillment” of the Law (Romans 10:4).
     The truth of this statement is expressed from the the negative perspective by the first follower of Jesus ever killed for his faith. Stephen, after presenting a polemic defense against the charge that he had blasphemed Moses and the Law, condemns the religious leaders of Israel for breaking that very Law. Here’s what he says:
You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it. (Acts 7:51-53)
     Did you catch it? They betrayed and murdered the “Righteous One,” who had been promised by the prophets. As a result they were those who failed to keep the Law. Stephen is saying so much more here than just, “You broke the Law by shedding innocent blood.” He is saying that the incarnation of the Law was among them and they failed to recognize him. Worse, they destroyed him. They literally broke the Law. They murdered the Law Incarnate.
     By contrast, then, those who follow and obey Jesus Christ are the true Law-keepers. We are those who stand in the company of the Law Himself.
     When we read the Old Testament commands, we can rejoice in them, not because we reflect on how wonderful we feel when we successfully keep them for a little while, but because we are bosom friends of the incarnation of those words carved in tablets of stone. In Christ, we are perfect Law-keepers.



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