A Catechism on God’s Law (Part 6)

Based on by Greg Bahnsen’s “By This Standard,” (1991).

  1. What was the work of Christ?

The scriptures regard the work of Christ as that of obedience. In defining the purpose of his Messianic advent, Christ said “I have come down from heaven to do the will of Him who sent Me” (Jn.6:38). The pivotal event in the accomplishment of redemption was Christ’s laying down of His life and taking it up again-His death and resurrection; in these things Christ was obeying His Father’s commandment (Jn.10:17-18). His work of atonement was performed in the capacity of a suffering servant (cf.Isa.52:13-53:12).

As such He was subjected to the law (Gal.4:5) and justified us by His obedience (Ro.5:19). Obedience to the will and commandment of God was therefore crucial to the life and ministry of our Saviour. As our great High priest He was sacrificed to discharge the curse of the law against our sin (Gal.3:13; Heb.2:17-3:1; 4:14-5:10).

As the prophet of the law, Christ rendered its proper interpretation and peeled away the distorting traditions of men (Mat.5:17-48; 15:1-20). And because He obeyed the law perfectly and hated all lawlessness, Christ has been exalted as the anointed King (Heb.1:8, 9). Therefore we see that Christ’s saving work and His three-fold office are determined by His positive relation to the law of God, the permanent expression of His holy will

As one could readily expect, since Christ is the exact representation of God’s nature (Heb.1:3) and since the law is a transcript of the holiness of God, Christ embodied the law perfectly in His own person and behaviour. Christ challenged His opponents with the stunning, virtually rhetorical question, “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” (Jn.8:46). Of course, no one could, for Christ alone was in a position to declare, “I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (Jn.15:10) (p.55-56).

  1. Was Jesus lawless or above the law?

We read in Galatians 4:4 that “when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, that He might redeem them that were under the law.” Christ was neither lawless nor above the law; He submitted to its every requirement, saying “it becomes us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mat.3:15). He directed the healed to offer the gift commanded by Moses (Mat.8:4), kept the borders of His garments (Mat.9:20; 14:36), paid the temple tax (Mat.17:24-27), attended to the purity of the temple (Mat.21:12-17), etc. He directed His followers to do those things which conformed to the law’s demand (Mat.7:12), told the rich young ruler to keep the commandments (Mat.19:17), reinforced the Old Testament law by summarising it into two love commands (Mat.22:40), indicted the Pharisees for making God’s commands void through traditions of men (Mk.7:6-13), and insisted that even the most trite or insignificant matters of the law ought not be left undone (Luke 11:12) (p.57).

  1. Could the law’s demands be pushed aside?

Christ submitted to the law of God even to the very point of suffering its prescribed penalty for sin. He died the death of a criminal (Phil.2:8), taking upon Himself the curse of the law (Gal.3:13) and cancelling thereby the handwriting which was against us because of the law (Col.2:14). “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities… Jehovah has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa.53:4-6). Sin cannot avoid the dreadful judgement of God (Nahum 1:2-3; Hab.1:13), and therefore God does not save sinners without righteousness and peace kissing one another (Ps.85:9-10); He remains just, while becoming the justifier of His people (Ro.3:26).

Accordingly the law’s demands could not be arbitrarily pushed aside. Christ had to come and undergo the curse of the law in the place of His chosen people; He had to satisfy the justice of God. That is why it can be said that the death of Christ is the outstanding evidence that God’s law cannot be ignored or abrogated. According to the law there is no remission of sin apart from the shedding of blood (Heb.9:22; Lev.17:11). “Therefore it was necessary that Christ offer up Himself in sacrifice for sin” (Heb.9:23-26). The necessity of the law’s continuing validity is substantiated by the saving death of Christ on our behalf (p.58-59).

  1. How then can we be saved?

Christians should therefore be the last people to think or maintain that they are free from the righteous requirements of God’s commandments. Those who have been saved were in need of that salvation precisely because God’s law could not be ignored as they transgressed it. For them to be saved, it was necessary for Christ to live and die by all the law’s stipulations. Although our own obedience to the law is flawed and thus cannot be used as a way of justification before God, we are saved by the imputed obedience of the Saviour (I Cor.1:30; Phil.3:9). Our justification is rooted in His obedience (Ro.5:17-19). By a righteousness that is alien to ourselves- the perfect righteousness of Christ according to the law- we are made just in the sight of God. “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin on our behalf in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor.5:21) (p.59-60).

  1. Does Christ’s coming remove the requirement for God’s law?

Christ’s advent and atoning work do not relax the validity of the law of God and its demand for righteousness; rather they accentuate it. Salvation does not cancel the law’s demand but simply the law’s curse: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gal.3:13). He removed our guilt and the condemning aspect of the law toward us, but Christ did not revoke the law’s original righteous demand and obligation. Salvation in the Biblical sense presupposes the permanent validity of the law. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit indwelling true believers in Jesus Christ makes them grow in likeness to Christ-“to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph.4:13, 15; cf. Gal.4:19) (p.60).