“Don’t assume that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17).
I have heard the verse above used to prove that Christians are still required to keep the law. Jesus said He didn’t come to destroy the law so we need to keep it. Granted, Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law. That said, He did fulfill it. If we agree He fulfilled the law, then we should consider what that means.
In considering what it means for Jesus to fulfill the law, we make some assumptions. We look at the law as what God expects of humans generally. Encumbered as we are by sin, no one can live up to the standards of the law. Jesus had no sin so was able to live without breaking any commands. This is how we often think about Jesus fulfilling the law.
While there is some truth in this way of looking at the law, I think it’s flawed. I have come to think that the law was never about what God requires of people. The law was written to show us Jesus (Col. 2:17; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; Heb. 10:1). Jesus fulfills the law because it was written about Him. I can never fulfill the law even if I keep the commands because it’s not about me or how I behave. (For a more in depth treatment of this idea, see this excellent post by my friend, Daniel Brown).
We have chosen to live independently of God, not only in immorality but in religion. God gave the law as if to say, “OK, you want to please me on your own? Here you go, here is what my perfect, beloved Son looks like. Use your own willpower to be Him.”
Put this way, it sounds impossible, ridiculous. Yet the globe is full of people sincerely trying to follow the law because they believe God wants it.
God doesn’t want you and I to fulfill the law. He wants His Son, who fulfills the law. The wonder of being born again is that THE Son, the Son God desires, is placed in us. The law is fulfilled for us merely by Christ being in us.
Now, since the law is a shadow cast by Christ, He won’t commit murder or adultery; He won’t steal or worship idols. In fact, He won’t stop with the letter of the law. Jesus will turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Fulfilling the law means filling the law full and overflowing its limits. Jesus always does what pleases the Father (John 8:29). It was true when He walked the earth, and it’s true in our hearts.
There is a critical difference between believing we must fulfill the law and believing Christ is the fulfillment. It is the difference between the old and new covenants; between condemnation and acceptance; between death and life. It is the difference between the form of godliness and the power of it (2 Tim. 3:5).