Sunday Evening Bible Study — Romans 10:4 — “Christ, the End of the Law for Righteousness”

7 Jan

Now we’ve been climbing the theological Mt. Everest for a few months, studying through Romans chapters 9-11. And we’ve seen throughout Romans Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, unfolding for us God’s great work in salvation. But in Romans 9-11 a key issue arises, namely that God already had a people before He sent Jesus. But God’s nation, the Jews, had largely rejected Jesus. And since they had largely rejected Jesus, God’s character is called into question, since those He had called His people have turned away from the Savior. Paul’s does say in chapter 9 that he has anguish in his heart over his people the Jews, for they have received many privileges from God but have not believed in His Son Jesus. But in this Paul is careful to make clear that God’s Word has not failed. Not all who are physical Israelites are true children of God. The true child of God is a child of God because of God’s sovereign will in saving them, not because of their physical lineage. God chose Isaac but not Ishmael, God chose Jacob but not Esau. God raised up Pharaoh and hardened his heart to fulfill the purpose of saving Israel physically from Egypt. It is all about God’s sovereign plan. God’s plan is a good plan, it is a saving plan, but it is a strange plan because God hardens some to make the way of salvation for others. He hardened Pharaoh to save Israel physically and He also hardened Israel in order that the door to salvation might be opened to the Gentiles. But there was a remnant of Israel left who believed, so God was true to His Word to call a people from among Israel, but on the other hand many among Israel rejected the Savior. They pursued righteousness not through faith in Christ but by works of the law and they failed. Paul demonstrates the failure of the law to provide righteousness all through Romans, especially in chapter 2 and in chapter 7.
So Paul enters chapter 10 expressing his deep desire that Israel would be saved. Their problem, as verse 3 says, is found in their attempt to establish their own righteousness instead of submitting themselves to God’s way of righteousness, which is faith in Christ. And it is then at this point that we come to the great verse, chapter 10 verse 4 . . .

4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Now what I want to do tonight is just study this verse, just break it down. Then next week I want to use this verse as a kind of launching pad to a broader discussion which is critical to our understanding of the Christian life: namely, what is the role of God’s law in the believer’s life? Are we as Christians still under the Old Testament law? Completely? Partially? Not at all? How should Christians regard the Old Testament? Should we set it aside? Reinterpret it? Treat it just as a Jewish person would treat it? These are huge questions with huge implications for how we approach living as a Christian. So I hope you will concentrate with me tonight and then come back next week as we draw out the implications of this verse for our lives as believers.

So let’s start by looking at the verse . . . “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Most versions translate this verse in very similar ways. The NIV uses the word “culmination” rather than end but I think that word too can point to both possible meanings of the Greek word used in this verse. The Greek sentence is sparse, not wordy, and the most significant thing I see about it is that the word “end” is put at the very front of the sentence for emphasis. So what Paul is underlining by the way he writes the verse is that Christ is the END of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes. So while these other aspects are important, the key word in the verse is the word “end.” Now the big question here is what does the word “end” mean? It is the Greek word “telos” which can mean end as in time. It can mean goal or it can mean result. The majority of times it is used in the New Testament the word has a time force. It is talking about the time factor. And I think it is the time factor here as well, but of course we have to go deeper than that to really understand all this.

One of the good places to start is to remember the imagery of 9:30-10:4. The word “pursued” in these verses is an athletic term. The Jews were running after the righteousness of God by their own effort. But it didn’t work. They stumbled on their way over the stumbling stone Jesus. And here’s the imagery. Christ is the finish line of the law for righteousness for all who believe.

Douglas Moo says, “Two theological reflections on this much quoted verse are in order before we leave it. First, while I have argued that Paul is teaching that Christ brought an “end” to the law, it is important to clarify what this means and perhaps, more important, what it does not mean. Paul is thinking in this verse in his usual category of salvation history. He is picturing the Mosaic law as the center of an epoch in God’s dealings with human beings which has now come to an end. The believer’s relationship to God is mediated in and through Christ, and the Mosaic law is no longer basic to that relationship. But Paul is not saying that Christ has ended all “law”; the believer remains bound to God’s law as it now is mediated in and through Christ (see Gal. 6:2; 1 Co. 9:19-21). Nor is he saying that the Mosaic law is no longer part of God’s revelation of no more use to the believer. The Mosaic law, like all of Scripture, is “profitable” for the believer (2 Tim. 3:16) and must continue to be read, pondered and responded to by the faithful believer.

I do not believe the Old Testament teaches that salvation comes through our keeping the law. Even when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, He says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.” So the basis for the law in the first place was God’s saving work for Israel. Salvation and life with God has always been based on grace. I don’t believe in the commonly held idea of two ages, the age of Israel and the age of the Church, or law age and grace age. What happened with Christ is a decisive difference, but it emerges from what God had already been doing rather than being a totally new thing. Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. He fulfilled it by perfect obedience and He fulfilled it by ushering in the fullness of its meaning. The basis of God’s dealings with people has always been grace. We see it in Genesis 3:15 and in Genesis 12:3.

The law served the purpose of showing us our sinfulness while at the same time pointing to God’s character and what He desires for His people. But the law was never intended to be what we pinned our hopes on. Even the whole sacrificial system pointed to the need for redemption. But it seems that along the way the Jews did begin to pin their hopes on their law-keeping, using it as a kind of identifying badge, as a claim to a status as the people of God.

So the bottom line here is this: I believe the word telos here carries the connotation of end as in “completion” and also end as in “goal.” So I think in this case Paul is using the term to say Christ has fulfilled the law and because of His fulfillment of the law the pursuit of righteousness through the law is done.

Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. The Jews had been pursuing the law for righteousness. They had been pursuing righteousness by works rather than by faith. But it never works out to do it this way. This is zeal without knowledge, when we try to establish our own righteousness rather than trusting in the righteousness of Christ.

Paul makes it clear in his writings that law-keeping cannot make us righteous. But he is also clear that people, especially the Jews, tried to be righteous through law-keeping.

Now Romans 2:13 seems to say something different when Paul says, “It is not the hearers of the law who will be justified but the doers of the law.” But remember the context. Paul goes on to say no one keeps the law. Therefore no one is justified in the way Paul describes in chapter 2. These Jews who rely on the law and boast in the law do the very things the law condemns. This whole idea reaches its apex in chapter 3 verse 20, “For by works of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets testify to it. The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as a propitiation through His blood to be received by faith.”

When Paul illustrates the great paragraph of chapter 3 in chapter 4 he turns to Abraham and he makes it clear that Abraham was not made righteous through the law but by faith in God’s promise of grace. Paul’s whole discussion of his life under the law as a Jew in chapter 7 shows us His inability to keep the law.

The book of Galatians makes the strongest case that righteousness can’t come through law-keeping. Galatians 2:21 is maybe the strongest theological point. If righteousness were through the law, Christ died for nothing! You can’t make a much stronger statement than that. And then in chapter 3 Paul says, For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”

In Philippians 3, Paul regards his past law-keeping as righteousness of his own and he considers it rubbish, trash, worthless.

So law-keeping can’t make us righteous. It didn’t make Paul righteous. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. People could never attain righteousness through law but with Christ the very pursuit comes to an end. But not for everyone. In fact, it is only for those who believe that the pursuit ends. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes. Paul is not saying before we could have the law for righteousness but when we believe we have Christ for righteousness. He is saying before we believed we pursued the law for righteousness and failed. Now, through faith in Christ, we no longer pursue the law for righteousness and we succeed in having righteousness, because Christ gives it to us by faith. And this is true for everyone who believes: to the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness at all and to the Jew, who pursued righteousness by the law. All alike have righteousness through faith in Christ.

So this is really good news to share with the world. Righteousness is available through faith in Christ. This righteousness is both right standing with God and a changed life. We see something of that in the word “believes.” It is in present tense in the Greek text and may be pointing here to the ongoing life of faith. I keep on trusting Jesus and He changes me in a way that the law never could. And don’t we see that in Romans 8? There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

This is the gospel we have to share: right standing before God and a changed life. Free from the back-breaking burden of performance and free from the soul-crushing pain of a self-serving life.
This is our good news. Let it filter down into every corner of our church. Don’t turn away from it. Let it become the air we breathe. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. Not law for righteousness, Christ for righteousness. Doesn’t chapter 1:16 and 17 take on a richer meaning now? For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

And of course I think here of 2 Corinthians 3, Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.
12 Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. 15 Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. 16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

What does it look like when we live as if this verse is true? I think that is a question answered well by the rest of the New Testament. It doesn’t mean there is no more effort. It doesn’t mean we don’t have to be mindful of what we are doing. It does mean however that our standing with God is always secure because Jesus secured it for us. It also means that we have a new power for living, the Holy Spirit, who leads us as we walk with Him. There is walking to do for us, but it is walking in the power of God not in the weakness of our flesh. And it is this power of God that enables us to show great love, endure great hardship, resist great temptation, pray with great fervency and do all the other things which characterize a life changed by Jesus.

Now our question for next week is this . . . If what we have said today about Christ being the end of the law is true, what is the place of the law in the life of a Christian today? I want to urge you to come back next week. If you understand the truths we talked about tonight and combine them with what we talk about next week, you will have an excellent foundation from which to live as a Christian.

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