A Question About Faith
Question: How does faith fulfill the law?
Answer: Thank you for your question. This is a great question because it gets at the heart of an issue that has confused Christians throughout the ages, and that is the relationship between faith and works, or between the gospel and the law. The Bible teaches, and Christians have confessed, that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The means by which we are saved is the grace of God. The means through which we are saved is faith. Faith, as John Calvin says, is the open hand that freely receives what God graciously gives to us.
The law is a reflection of God’s holy and righteous character. It is the law that is “written on our hearts” (Romans 2:15) at creation. It is the law that was again given in written form in the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20. So we have the law written on our hearts and written on tablets of stone, and as such, we are “hard-wired” for law-keeping. It’s part of our nature being created in God’s image. But due to the fall of mankind (recorded in Genesis 3), we are no longer able to obey the law. This was something our Lord, Jesus Christ, taught in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). He taught that obedience to the law is much more than an outward obedience, but is also a matter of the hearts, and no one has the necessary inward obedience to keep the law. Our “law-keeping,” such as it is, is always tainted with sin.
However, the Israelites (the recipients of the law) confused this function of the law and thought the law was a vehicle for obtaining a righteous standing before God. The Apostle Paul (particularly in Romans and Galatians) writes to show us that there is no way we can be righteous before a holy God by (or through) works of the law. Paul, when he gives his resumé in Philippians 3:4-6, mentions how “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, [he was] blameless.” Not that Paul was sinlessly perfect, but rather he did everything the law required of him, and as a result, before his conversion, he thought he was blameless before God. But Paul found out what Jesus taught in the Gospels, namely that the law cannot make one righteous because no one born in Adam can perfectly fulfill what the law demands. The law is simply a mirror that shows us our sin, it itself has no power to make one righteous.
So how does faith fulfill the law? Faith looks to the One who did perfectly fulfill the law in all its facets, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, was born without sin, and thus born without a fallen nature (like the rest of us). His life was one of perfect righteousness under the law. Jesus Himself said to the crowd in Matthew 5 that He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). He did what we, being born in Adam, are unable to do, and that is achieve righteousness before God by works of the law. It is that righteousness that is then imputed to us (applied to us, granted to us) through our faith. That’s what Paul means when he says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV).
No place is this concept of fulfilling the law through faith more explicit than in Romans 3:21-26, which I will quote at length:
Romans 3:21-26 (NKJV) 21 But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
That’s why Paul concludes Romans 3 by saying, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). The law is established through faith, in other words, we became law-keepers through faith. It is not our law-keeping that God sees when He looks upon us, but the law-keeping of His Son, Jesus Christ, which is received through faith. So faith fulfills the law by imputing Christ’s perfect righteousness before the law to us. That’s the gospel!
I hope this helps!
~ Pastor Carl