10:4 Christ is the end of the law in being both its fulfillment and its termination. Any system of salvation based on performance is excluded.
10:4 Christ is the end of the law. The interpretation followed here is that Christ is the goal or purpose of the law (Gal. 3:24). Another interpretation is that for believers Christ makes the law obsolete because they no longer strive to establish their own righteousness by it.
10:4 is the end The Greek word used here, telos, often translated “end,” could refer to a goal, result, or termination. Thus, Christ can be understood as the law’s fulfillment, in the sense that His death and resurrection achieved God’s purpose for the law.
of the law for righteousness Paul typically uses the Greek word nomos (“law”) to refer to the law of Moses. Paul’s point about the relationship between righteousness and the end of the law can be read in several ways, depending on how the Greek grammar is translated.
10:4 End probably includes the idea of both goal and termination. The Mosaic law has reached its goal in Christ (it looked forward to and anticipated him), and the law is no longer binding upon Christians (the old covenant has ended). Since Christ is the goal and end of the law, righteousness belongs to all who trust in Christ.
10:4 Christ is the end of the law. Although the Gr. word translated “end” can mean either “fulfillment” or “termination,” this is not a reference to Christ’s having perfectly fulfilled the law through His teaching (Mt 5:17, 18) or through His sinless life (2Co 5:21). Instead, as the second half of the verse shows, Paul means that belief in Christ as Lord and Savior ends the sinner’s futile quest for righteousness through his imperfect attempts to save himself by efforts to obey the law (cf. 3:20–22; Is 64:6; Col 2:13, 14).
10:4 — For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
When we place our faith in Christ, God looks at us just as He looks at Jesus, who completely obeyed the whole law, without exception and without fault. The perfect record of Christ becomes ours through faith.
10:4 End can mean “fulfillment”; that is, Christ fulfilled all the requirements of the law. It can also mean “goal,” to say that Christ was the object to which the law led. The point is that Israel was ignorant of God’s righteousness because they failed to comprehend what the law was intended to do. The law revealed sin and showed that people could not hope to keep the law. Christ came and fulfilled it, then offered us His righteousness through faith in Him.
10:4 If they had only believed on Christ, they would have seen that He is the end of the law for righteousness. The purpose of the law is to reveal sin, to convict and condemn transgressors. It can never impart righteousness. The penalty of the broken law is death. In His death, Christ paid the penalty of the law which men had broken. When a sinner receives the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, the law has nothing more to say to him. Through the death of his Substitute, he has died to the law. He is through with the law and with the futile attempt to achieve righteousness through it.
|NASB, NKJV, NRSV
|“for Christ is the end of the law”
|“for Christ has brought the law to an end”
|“but now the law has come to an end with Christ”
This statement is in line with Matt. 5:17–48. The purpose, goal or end (telos) of the Law was not salvation, but conviction of sin, and that purpose continues (cf. 3:10–20 and especially Gal. 3:24–25). The classical NT text on this subject is Gal. 3:1–29.
When discussing this issue, context is crucial. Paul uses the OT in several different ways. When discussing the Christian life, the OT is God’s revelation (cf. Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11), but when discussing salvation it is void and has passed away (cf. Heb. 8:13). This is because it is a metaphor for the old age. The gospel of faith in Jesus is the new age of the Spirit. The Law’s time is up!
|“for righteousness to everyone who believes”
|“so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes”
|“so that everyone who believes is put right with God”
|“so that all who have faith will be justified”
Chapters 9–11 must be interpreted together. The emphasis on God’s sovereignty stated so strongly in chapter 9 must be held in tension with the call for all to believe in chapter 10 (cf. vv. 4, 9, 11, 13; 3:22; 4:11, 16).
The universality of God’s love and redemptive purpose was stated in Gen. 3:15 and strongly implied in Gen. 12:3 and Exod. 19:5–6. The prophets often spoke of God’s universal love and plan to unite all mankind. The fact that there is one God and that He made all humans in His image provides a universal invitation to all to be saved. However, the mystery is that no one can respond without the agency of the Spirit (cf. John 6:44, 65). Then the question becomes, “Does God draw all humans to salvation?” The answer must be, “Yes!” (cf. John 3:16; 4:42; 1 John 2:2; 4:14; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). The haunting paradox of sin, the fall, and Satan is that some say “No.” When Paul preached, some Jews responded, some did not; some Gentiles responded, some did not!
The term “believe” (pisteuō) is translated by three English terms, “believe,” “faith,” and “trust.” It is PRESENT TENSE, which speaks of continuing belief. It is not the acknowledgment of facts (theology, historical details, gospel information) that receives the gift of God’s grace through Christ. The NT is a covenant; God sets the agenda and initiates the necessary response, but the individual must respond in initial faith and repentance and ongoing faith and repentance. Obedience and perseverance are crucial. Christlikeness and ministry are the goal!
4. For Christ is the goal of the law, so that there is righteousness for everyone who puts his trust (in him).
Does one wish to understand the goal, the meaning and substance, of the Old Testament law? Then study Christ. Is not the very purpose of the law the establishment of love? See Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18 (in that order); cf. Matt. 22:37–39. Is not Christ the very embodiment of that love, both in his life and in his death? And is it not true that because of this love which caused him to suffer and die in his people’s stead, there now is right standing with God for everyone who reposes his trust in the Savior? Is not this the very theme of Romans?
Since verse 4 refers to Christ, as the law’s goal, in the sense explained, it would seem to be logical, in the present case, to refer to Christ also in the next verse.
Righteousness for those who believe (v. 4)
Paul’s words are the more potent for their brevity.
For Christ is the ‘end’ of the Law
for all who believe.
The introductory ‘For’ ties verse 4 back into the preceding passage (9:30–10:3) and summarizes that passage. Paul describes Israel’s futile attempt to establish ‘righteousness’ based on Law.
9:31 Israel pursued the Law to attain righteousness …
9:32 [Israel] pursued righteousness based on works …
10:3 They seek to establish their own righteousness …
Israel pursued Law for righteousness based on works. But Christ is ‘the end’ of ‘the Law’.
What does Paul intend us to understand by ‘end’, ‘righteousness’ and ‘believe’?
By his word ‘end’ (telos) Paul has in mind several layers of meaning. First, ‘end’ means ‘end point’ or ‘goal’. In this sense Christ is the ‘fulfilment’ of all the hopes, promises and ‘visions’ of the ‘Law’, that is, the entire corpus of the Old Testament. But ‘end’ also means ‘that which terminates’. Understood like this, Christ crucified and risen brings Law to an ‘end’. In this second layer of meaning, ‘Law’ is the covenant God gave the people through Moses at Mt. Sinai. As promised by the prophets, however, God established a ‘new covenant’ based not on Law, but on the promised Christ who died for sins, and on the Spirit who changes the hearts. But this way of ‘righteousness’ Israel has rejected.
‘Righteousness,’ the keyword of the entire letter (see on 1:17), was reintroduced in the previous chapter (see on 9:30–31). By ‘righteousness’ Paul means God’s own ‘righteousness’ that he shares with sinful man (as in v. 3). But on what terms does God give his ‘righteousness’ to man?
The answer is provided in the words, ‘to all who believe’ (see on 1:16–17; 3:22–5:1), which in context can mean only one thing, namely, ‘all who believe’ in ‘Christ’ who is ‘the end of the Law’. ‘Christ’ has fulfilled the ‘promises’ of the Law and the Prophets as the Davidic Messiah Jesus, crucified and risen. Thus ‘Christ’ is the One in whom man is to believe, whether Jew or Gentile, to enjoy the gift of God’s righteousness.
Earlier Paul had demonstrated that no one—Jew or Gentile—is capable of achieving his own ‘righteousness’ (see on 1:18–3:20). This teaching is rejected by most Jews who seek to attain the ‘righteousness of God’ by the ‘works’ of the ‘Law’. Thus throughout Romans Paul sets ‘Christ’ against ‘works’ and ‘Law’ as the means to the ‘righteousness of God’. Paul is insisting that only God can declare sinful people ‘righteous,’ which he does by way of ‘gift’ or ‘donation’ to those who ‘believe’ in Jesus, the son of David and the Son of God, crucified and raised.
‘All who believe’ has a precise meaning. It is not a vague ‘believing’, a misty religiosity but a personal trust informed by the apostolic gospel that is intentionally directed towards the Son of God and away from any kind of self-effort hoping for acceptance by God.
Ver. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.
Christ the end of the law:—
- In what sense? 1. As its great antitype. 2. Its only sacrifice. 3. The source of its moral power.
- For what end? To secure—1. Pardon of sin. 2. Holiness of life.
III. Unto whom? 1. Every one. 2. That believeth. (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Christ the end of the law for righteousness:—
- The end of all law is righteousness—the production of the most perfect results. 1. In the natural world the use of the law is to perpetuate results essential to its well-being, e.g., the circulation of the atmosphere, ebb and flow of tide, alteration of seasons, motions and influence of planets, &c. 2. The great aim of law in the moral world is to regulate conduct so as to produce a righteous character. The aim of the law of Moses was to lead to a higher life (chap. 7:10). (1) The ethical element in the Mosaic law discovered to man the havoc made by sin (chap. 7:7, 11, 13). (2) The ceremonial element shadowed forth the remedy. The sacrifices and festivals were intended to show the necessity for the expiation of sin, by the atonement of Christ.
- In Christ we have the grand end of both the ethical and ceremonial law—righteousness and holiness. Law depends for its authority upon the personal character of the lawgiver. The character of Christ was like His law—holy, just, and good. 1. From Christ proceeds the moral law by which sin is discovered to us. His character is a constant reproof to us. His words bring home the consciousness of violated law. 2. In Christ is the only remedy for sin. The arrangements of the ceremonial law terminated in Him—the shadow retired when the substance appeared. In His life and death He fulfilled the duties and endured the penalties of the law, thus vindicating the righteousness of God and providing a complete righteousness for sinful man.
III. Faith in Christ is accepted as a perfect obedience to the law. Law is powerless punitively when the end for which it exists is attained. We disarm the law by obeying it. All our unaided efforts to obey law—while in a state of lawless unnature—are futile. It is like running alongside a parallel pathway into which we are vainly trying to turn ourselves. Faith, and faith only, is the means of junction. This puts us into the position in which law would place us. The end of all law being the production of the most perfect results, this very end is answered when we believe in Jesus. For Christ, and all He has, becomes our own. “He is made unto us, of God, wisdom and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption.” “The law and the gospel are evidenced in man’s moral nature. The law the ideal of its life, the gospel the life of its ideal.” Lessons: 1. It is hopeless to attempt to attain righteousness by law, because of our moral inability to obey all its requirements. 2. Faith in Christ is the only and universal way of obedience. (J. S. Exell, M.A.)
Christ the end of the law for righteousness:—
- What is implied in these words. 1. That the law of God has been universally broken (chap. 3:10, 12). 2. That, therefore, every man is under the curse of that law (Gal. 3:13; Rom. 2:8, 11). 3. That, in order to be saved, this curse must be removed and sins remitted. 4. That no man of himself can remove this curse or obtain this remission of his sins. 5. That notwithstanding God cannot recede from His claims, nor abate one jot or tittle of what His holy law demands, either in penalty or precept. 6. That every person who would obtain salvation must look out for such a righteousness as shall be answerable to all the claims of the law, be perfectly satisfactory to God, and therefore available for his justification and peace.
- In what way is “Christ the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth”? Consider—1. The general purport of Christ’s coming (Psa. 40:6, 10; Heb. 10:1, 14; Isa. 42:6, 7, 21; Dan. 9:24; Jer. 23:5, 6; 33:15, 16; Isa. 53:6, cf. 1 Pet. 2:24; 2 Cor. 5:21). 2. The special character of His mediation. We must consider it as substitutional. We must behold Him rendering unto God, for those whom He represented, a perfect obedience to the law which they have broken, and suffering to its full and utmost extent the curse which they have incurred. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness—not by abrogating its authority, or lowering its requisitions, to meet the exigencies of our lapsed condition—but rather by asserting its full obligation and satisfying all its equitable claims. This is the great glory of the gospel—that God can be just—in exacting every claim of the law and in punishing every sin of those whom He saves to its full desert—and yet the justifier of them that believe in Jesus.
III. To whom is this provision available, or who are benefited thereby. “Every one that believeth,” and no more. But we must ascertain—1. The testimony given in Scripture to this truth. We are again and again told that faith alone is the means appointed by God for granting the efficacy of this provision to the souls of men. 2. Why we can be benefited in this way of faith, and in no other? It is enough to say that God hath declared it. But we need not let the subject rest here. Man is utterly lost, helpless, and undone. Nothing that we can do can avail for our salvation. Our help and hope are based upon One, who only is mighty to save. It is therefore evident that the only way in which we can be benefited by what another has done for our salvation, must be by believing in Him for the execution of such an interposition, and for the advantage of the blessing procured thereby. 3. What is the nature of that faith by which we become interested in this righteousness. It is the act of a soul made willing in the day of God’s power, under a clear discovery of its lost condition, and a clear perception of the mediation of Jesus, by which it is brought to rely on that mediation, and to plead that righteousness with God for its pardon and peace (chap. 10:10; Heb. 11:1). 4. To what extent is this truth to be carried in the justification of the sinner before God? To the full extent for which it is designed for that purpose. It takes in the sinner’s whole case—sins, guilt, condemnation, and deserved wrath. It brings him a full and complete deliverance and justification from all. Nay, more, it invests him with the perfect righteousness of Christ, as a perfect fulfilment of the law by which he stands accepted with God.
- What are the importance and advantages arising therefrom. Hereby—1. The law is established in all its authority, obligations, and claims. 2. God is honoured and exalted in the possession and exercise of all His perfections. 3. A sure and certain way of life and salvation, of pardon and peace, is opened for guilty men. 4. A sure provision is made for a loving, devoted, and delightful obedience to the will of God. 5. There is afforded to the soul a sure rock for its present safety and a firm foundation for its future security, even for ever. 6. The Church of God is provided with an unerring test by which to try every doctrine proposed for her acceptance, and an indomitable weapon by which to conquer every antichristian foe. (R. Shittler.)
Christ the end of the law for righteousness:—
- The proposition. “Christ is the end of the law.” The end of a thing is either mathematical or moral. The mathematical end is the utmost part of a thing, in which the length or continuance is determined; as a point is the end of a line, death the end of life, the day of judgment the end of this world. The moral end of a thing is the scope and perfection of it. Now Christ is the end of the law both ways. 1. The mathematical end of the ceremonial and moral. Of the ceremonial by a direct signification, of the moral by an accidental direction. The ceremonies signified Christ and ended at Him. Properly, the moral law leads sinners to the curse, but by account to Christ, as the disease leads to the medicine or physician. 2. He is also the moral end of both. For He is the body of those ceremonies and shadows, and He perfectly fulfilled the Decalogue for us, and that three ways. (1) In His pure conception. (2) In His godly life. (3) In His holy and obedient sufferings, and all for us. For whatsoever the law required that we should be, do, or suffer, He hath performed in our behalf. Therefore one wittily saith that Christ is Telos, the end, or tribute, and we, by His payment, Ateleis, tribute-free, we are discharged by Him before God. Christ is both these ends, but principally the last is here understood.
- The amplification “for righteousness.” When thou art come to Christ thou must not cast away the law, but use it still to make thee more to cling unto Christ and as a rule of righteous living. Christ is the end of the law, not the killing, but fulfilling end; not to end, but to urge thy obedience. When the merchant is come aboard his ship by boat, he drowns not his boat, but hoists it up into his ship; he may have use of it another time. Or as a nobleman neglects not his schoolmaster when he is come to his lands, but prefers him. So certainly, if the law (though sharp) hath brought thee to Christ, thou canst not but love it for this office; if thou doest not, thou hast not Christ. Yea, it will be the delight of a man to be then doing, when Christ is with him, as Peter then willingly and with success cast out his net. Without Christ the law is an uncomfortable study; but with Him, nothing more delightful. (Elnathan Parr, B.D.)
Christ the end of the law:—Consider—
- Christ in connection with the law. The law is that which we have cause to dread; for the sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.” Yet, like the fascination which attracts the gnat to the candle, men by nature fly to the law for salvation. Now, what has our Lord to do with the law? 1. He is its purpose and object. The law is our schoolmaster, or rather our attendant to conduct us to the school of Jesus; the great net in which the fish are enclosed that they may be drawn out of the element of sin; the stormy wind which drives souls into the harbour of refuge; the sheriff’s officer to shut men up in prison for their sin, concluding them all under condemnation in order that they may look to the free grace of God alone for deliverance. It empties that grace may fill, wounds that mercy may heal. Had man never fallen, the law would have been most helpful to show him the way in which he should walk: and by keeping it he would have lived (ver. 5). But since man has fallen, a way of salvation by works has become impossible. The law is meant to lead the sinner to faith in Christ, by showing the impossibility of any other way. It is the dog to fetch the sheep to the shepherd, the burning heat which drives the traveller to the shadow of the great rock in a weary land. The law is adapted to this; for—(1) It shows man his sin. Who can lay his own character side by side with it without seeing how far he has fallen short of the standard? When the law comes home to the soul it is like light in a dark room revealing the dust and the dirt which else had been unperceived. It is the test which detects the presence of the poison of sin in the soul. A true balance discovers short weight, and such is the first effect of the law upon the conscience of man. (2) It shows the result and mischief of sin. The types were intended to lead men to Christ by making them see their unclean condition and their need of such cleansing as only He can give. Men put apart because of disease or uncleanness were made to see how sin separated them from God; and when they were brought back and purified with mystic rites, they were made to see how they can only be restored by Christ, the great High Priest. “Without shedding of blood is no remission.” (3) It teaches men their utter helplessness. Such holiness as the law demands no man can reach of himself. “Thy commandment is exceeding broad.” “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one.” “How can he be clean that is born of a woman?” In grace there is hope, but as a matter of debt there is none, for we do not merit anything but wrath. The law tells us this, and the sooner we know it to be so the better, for the sooner we shall fly to Christ. (4) It shows us our great need. The law is the surgeon’s knife which cuts out the proud flesh that the wound may heal. The law by itself only sweeps and raises the dust, but the gospel sprinkles clean water upon the dust. The law kills, the gospel makes alive; the law strips, and then Jesus Christ robes the soul in beauty. 2. Christ is the law’s fulfilment. (1) God by immutable necessity demands righteousness of His creatures, and the law is not compelled to lower its terms, as though it had originally asked too much; but Christ gives the law all it requires. The law claims complete obedience, and Christ has brought in such a righteousness as that, and gives it to His people. Only as righteous ones can we be saved, but Christ makes us righteous, and therefore we are saved. (2) Jesus has thus fulfilled the original demands of the law, but since we have broken it there are other demands. God “will by no means clear the guilty,” but every transgression shall have its just punishment. Here, then, Christ is the end of the law as to penalty. The claims of the law both as broken and unbroken Christ has met: both the positive and the penal demands are satisfied in Him. (3) Not only has the penalty been paid, but Christ has put great honour upon the law in so doing. If the whole race had kept the law it would not stand in so splendid a position as it does now that the Son of God has paid obeisance to it. Who shall say a word against the law to which the Lawgiver Himself submits? (4) The law’s stability also has been secured by Christ. That alone can remain which is proved to be just, and Jesus has proved the law to be so, magnifying it and making it honourable. He says, “I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” As to the settlement of the eternal principles of right and wrong, Christ’s life and death have achieved this for ever. “We establish the law, we do not make void the law through faith.” 3. Christ is the end of the law in that He is the termination of it in two senses. (1) His people are not under it as a covenant of life. “We are not under the law, but under grace.” (2) We are no longer under its curse. Jesus has given us all the righteousness it demands, and the law is bound to bless. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
- Ourselves in connection with Christ—for “to every one that believeth.” To believe is not merely to accept a set of doctrines but to trust, to confide, to rest in. Dost thou believe that Christ stood in the sinner’s stead and suffered the just for the unjust, and that He is able to save to the uttermost? And dost thou therefore lay the whole weight of thy soul’s salvation upon Him alone? Then Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to thee, and thou art righteous. It is of no use to bring forward anything else if you are not believing, for nothing will avail—sacraments, prayers, &c. Observe—1. There is no question raised about the previous character, for it is written, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” But, Lord, this man before he believed was a persecutor and injurious. Yes, and that is the very man who wrote these words. So if I address one who is defiled with every sin, yet I say if thou believest thine iniquities are blotted out, for the blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin. 2. There is nothing said by way of qualification as to the strength of the faith. He is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, whether he is Little Faith or Greatheart. The link may be very like a film, a spider’s line of trembling faith, but, if it runs all the way from the heart to Christ, Divine grace can and will flow along the most slender thread. It is marvellous how fine the wire may be that will carry the electric flash. If thy faith be of the mustard-seed kind, if it be only such as tremblingly touches the garment’s hem, if it be but the faith of sinking Peter, or weeping Mary, yet Christ will be the end of the law for righteousness to thee as well as to the chief of the apostles. 3. If this be so then all of us who believe are righteous. We are not completely sanctified, but still, in the sight of God, we are righteous, and being justified by faith we have peace with Him. 4. The connection of our text assures us that being righteous we are saved (ver. 9). Conclusion: 1. If any one thinks he can save himself, and that his own righteousness will suffice before God, I would ask, if your righteousness sufficeth, why did Christ come here to work one out? 2. For any to reject the righteousness of Christ must be to perish everlastingly, because it cannot be that God will accept you or your pretended righteousness when you have refused the real and Divine righteousness which He sets before you in His Son. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ the end of the law for righteousness:—
- What that righteousness is, spoken of in the text. Evidently that which is necessary in order to eternal life, and which infallibly leads to it (chap. 5:17, 21). It is termed “The righteousness of God” (ver. 3; chap. 1:17), and said to be by faith (chap. 3:21, 22; Phil. 3:9). It implies—1. Justification (chap. 3:24; Tit. 3:7); without which, as guilty condemned sinners, we can have no title to eternal life. 2. Regeneration or sanctification (see Phil. 3:9); spoken of Eph. 4:17–24; Tit. 3:5, 6; John 3:5, 6; without which we are not in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15), and have no fitness for heaven. 3. Practical obedience (Eph. 2:10); the grand evidence that we are righteous (Luke 1:6; 1 John 3:7). As to the necessity of this, see chap. 2:6, 7; Rev. 22:14; and especially Matt. 7:20, 21.
- Where and how this righteousness is to be found. 1. Not in, or by, the law. (1) The moral law (chap. 8:3) which requires perfect obedience. This we have not paid, do not, and cannot in future, pay. Hence it finds us guilty, and has no pardon to give us; it finds us depraved, and has no new nature for us; it finds us helpless, and has no supernatural aid to impart. (2) The ceremonial law. Its sacrifices could not remove sin (Heb. 9:23; 10:4). Its purifications could only impart a ceremonial cleanness, or remove “the filth of the flesh” (Heb. 9:13; 1 Pet. 3:21). Its institutions respecting meats, days, &c. As they did not make the tree good, of course the fruit could not be good (Matt. 12:16–19). 2. But wherefore, then, serveth the law? In Christ was the end for which the law was instituted; the moral law being chiefly to convince men of sin (chap. 3:19, 20; 7:7, 8), and thus to be a “schoolmaster to bring them to Christ” (Gal. 3:19–24), and the ceremonial law to shadow forth His sacrifice and grace. The end may mean—(1) The scope; the law continually points to Christ; the moral law directs the sinner to Him who fulfilled and removed the curse of it, for that justification which itself cannot give; and the ceremonial law directs him to look from its sacrifices and purifications to the atonement and Spirit of Christ. (2) The perfection, or completion (1 Tim. 1:5). Christ fulfilled the moral law in fully explaining its meaning, and freeing it from the glosses of the Scribes; in obeying it, in suffering its penalty, and in providing that it may be written in our hearts; He also answered in His person all the types and shadows of the ceremonial law. (3) The period or termination (chap. 6:21). Thus the whole Mosaic dispensation gives way to the gospel (2 Cor. 3:11), and its ceremonies are taken out of the way by Christ (Col. 2:14). 3. “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness.” (1) For justification, or righteousness imputed, is only to be found in His obedience unto death (chap. 3:24; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21). (2) Regeneration, a new creation, and entire sanctification are only to be found in Christ, by His Spirit and grace, who is made of God to us sanctification (John 1:14, 16; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Cor. 1:30). (3) Practical righteousness is likewise to be had in Him; His laws direct us how to walk; His promises and threatenings enforce His laws; His example allures us; and His grace enables us to walk in His ways (2 Cor. 12:9; Heb. 4:14–16).
III. By whom this righteousness is to be found. By “every one that believeth” (vers. 5–10). 1. Its object is that God hath raised Christ from the dead. This—(1) Demonstrated Him to be the Son of God (chap. 1:3, 4), and, therefore, the only Saviour able and willing to save to the uttermost. Of this faith is persuaded, and, therefore, trusts in Him for salvation. (2) Was the broad seal of heaven set to His doctrine, of which faith is so thoroughly persuaded as to lay it to heart and walk according to it. (3) Was to show that His atonement was sufficient and accepted; of this faith is also persuaded and, therefore, relies solely on the propitiation in His blood for justification (chap. 3:23, &c.; Gal. 2:16–20). (4) Was that He might ascend, and intercede, and receive for us “the promise of the Father,” for which faith thirsts and comes to Him (John 7:37, 38). (5) He rose and ascended as our Forerunner. This faith believes, and, consequently, anticipates immortality and glory. He rose to give evidence that He will judge all mankind (Acts 17:31). Faith is persuaded of this, and prepares to meet Him. 2. Our faith, in these respects, must be such as will enable us to “make confession with our mouth,” therefore it must be “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (ver. 10). As to the faith that does not part with sin, and give up everything that stands in competition with Christ, it is dead (James 2:20–26). 3. As to the origin of this faith (see vers. 11–17). It arises from the Word and Spirit of God (Acts 16:14; Eph. 2:8, 9; Col. 2:12). Therefore, hearing, reading, and prayer, are the important means. And in the exercise of that measure of faith we have received, however small, it will be increased. (Joseph Benson.)
Christ the end of the law for righteousness:—
- The immutability of the law is a fundamental truth. This rests on its nature and the immutability of God. The evidence is found in nature and conscience. 1. This the Jews believed, and it lay at the foundation of their error, which was twofold. (1) That the law was to be fulfilled by their own righteousness. (2) That the form in which the law was immutable was Mosaism. 2. This error led—(1) To the effort to establish their own righteousness. (2) To their making righteousness consist in ceremonial obedience. 3. Paul taught—(1) That the law is immutable. (2) That it cannot be satisfied by our righteousness, but only by the righteousness of God. (3) That Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (4) Consequently the immutability of the law is consistent with its abrogation, because its abrogation is effected by its fulfilment. The law is immutable so far as it demands righteousness as an indispensable condition of justification. But it is abrogated so far as it says, “Do this and live,” i.e., so far as it requires our own righteousness.
- In what sense is Christ the end of the law. 1. Not in the sense of its completion. Telos never occurs in the sense of pleroma. 2. But in the sense of having made an end of it, abolished it. This He has done—(1) In so satisfying its demands that it ceases to require our own personal righteousness as a condition of justification. (2) In putting an end to the Mosaic institutions, so that obedience to that law is no longer necessary to salvation. 3. In the sense of being its aim or object. This means either—(1) That the end of the law is righteousness. Christ is the end of the law because He is our righteousness; its design is secured in Him. So that it is by faith, not works, that the end of the law is to be attained. (2) Or, Christ is the object aimed at in the law. It was designed to bring us to Christ.
III. Consequences. 1. Out of Christ we are exposed—(1) To the inexorable demands of the law. (2) To its awful curse. (3) To its slavish spirit. 2. In Him we are righteous. (1) We meet all the demands of the law by pleading what He has done. (2) We are free from its curse as He was made a curse for us. (3) We are delivered from the spirit of bondage again to fear and are filled with the Spirit of adoption. Conclusion: As a result of faith in Christ our righteousness we have—1. Peace with God, and peace of conscience. 2. Assurance of eternal life, as no one can condemn those whom God justifies. 3. A principle of obedience, for until we are reconciled there can be no holiness. 4. All the benefits of Christ’s triumph. Having obeyed and suffered for us as our representative, we share in all the blessings promised as His reward. (C. Hodge, D.D.)
Christ the end of the law:—Christ was revealed to abrogate, to annihilate, utterly to abolish sin. Now, we all know what it is to have a thing abrogated. Certain laws have held good up to the first of January of this year with regard to the hiring of public carriages, but now are under a new law. Suppose a driver complies with the new law, gets his license, puts up his flag, gives the passenger his card of prices, and afterwards the passenger summons him before the magistrate for asking a fare not authorised by the old law; the magistrate would say, “You are out of court, there is no such law. You cannot bring the man here, he has not broken the old law, for he is not under it. He has complied with the requisition of the new law, by which he declares himself no longer under the old rules, and I have no power over him.” So he that believeth in Christ Jesus may be summoned by conscience when misinformed before the bar of God, but the answer of peace to his conscience is, “Ye are not under the law, but under grace.” “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” (C. H. Spurgeon.) The relation of the law to the gospel (text and 1 Tim. 1:5):—The law of God may be viewed in a twofold aspect, to distinguish between which is to prove a safeguard against both the errors of legality and the errors of antinomianism. We must regard the law—
- In relation to the righteousness which constitutes the title to its rewards. 1. When we strive to make this out by our own obedience, the aim is to possess ourselves of a legal right to heaven. We proceed on the imagination of a contract between God and man—whereof the counterpart terms are a fulfilment of the law’s requisitions upon the one side, and a bestowment of the law’s rewards upon the other. The one is the purchase-money—the other is the payment. They stand related to each other, as work does to wages. Now this spirit of legality, as it is called, is nearly the universal spirit of humanity. They are not the Israelites only who go about to establish a righteousness of their own. There is, in fact, a legal disposition in the heart, and, long after the utter shortness of human virtue has been demonstrated, yet will man, as if by the bias of a constitutional necessity, recur to the old legal imagination, of this virtue being a thing of desert, and of heaven being the reward which is due to it. 2. Now, for man to establish a right by his righteousness, is in the face of all jurisprudence. Both the law and the gospel alike disown man’s legal right to the rewards of eternity; and if he be too proud to disown it himself, he remains both a victim of condemnation by the one, and a helpless, hopeless outcast from the mercy of the other. If man will persist in seeking to make out a title-deed to heaven by his own obedience, then that obedience must be perfect. Even if he have but committed one sin—there is the barrier of a moral necessity in his way, which it is impossible to force. The God who cannot lie, cannot recall His curse upon every one who continueth not in all the words of the book of His law to do them. And one of two things must happen. Either, with a just conception of the standard of the law, he will sink into despair; or, with a low conception of that standard, he, though but grovelling among the mere decencies of civil life or the barren formalities of religious service, will aspire no farther and yet count himself safe. 3. Now herein lies the grand peculiarity of the gospel. It pronounces on the utter insignificance of all that man can do for the establishment of his right to the kingdom of heaven; and yet, he must be somehow or other provided with such a right, ere that he can find admittance there. It is not by an act of mercy alone that the gate of heaven is opened to the sinner. He must be furnished with a plea which he can state at the bar of justice—not the plea of his own deservings, which the gospel holds no terms with; and therefore with a plea founded exclusively on the deservings of another. Now what we reckon to be the very essence of the gospel is the report which it brings to a sinful world of a solid and satisfying plea; and that every sinner is welcome to the use of it. In defect of his own righteousness, which he is required to disown, he is told of an everlasting righteousness which another has brought in; and which he is invited, nay commanded, to make mention of. It is thus that Christ becomes the end of the law for righteousness.
- As holding out a method by which we might acquire a rightness of character in the cultivation and the exercise of its bidden virtues. The legal right which obedience confers is one thing. The personal rightness which obedience confers is another. Obedience for a legal right is everywhere denounced in the New Testament, but obedience for a personal rightness is everywhere urged. For the one end, the law has altogether lost its efficacy; and we, in our own utter inability to substantiate its claims, must seek to be justified only by the righteousness of Christ. For the other end, the law retains its office as a perfect guide and exemplar of all virtue; and we, empowered by strength from on high to follow its dictates, must seek to be sanctified by the transference of its bidden uprightness upon our own characters. It is no longer the purchase-money by which to buy your right of entry to the marriage supper of the Lamb; but it is the wedding garment, without which you will never be seated among the beatitudes of that festival. To be meet in law, and without violence done to the jurisprudence of heaven, we must be invested by faith with the righteousness of Christ. To be meet in character, and without offence or violence to the spirit or the taste of heaven’s society, we must be invested with the graces of our own personal righteousness. (T. Chalmers, D.D.)
4. Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified. The word ‘end’ (telos) has a double sense: it may mean ‘goal’ or ‘termination’. On the one hand, Christ is the goal at which the law aimed, in that he embodies the perfect righteousness which it prescribes. This is implied in Matthew 5:17, ‘Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.’ And the law’s requirements are fulfilled in the lives of those who are ‘in Christ Jesus’ (8:3–4; cf. 3:31). On the other hand, since Christ is the goal of the law, since in him the law has found its perfect fulfilment, a righteous status before God is available to everyone who believes in him, and that implies the termination of the law’s function (real or imagined) as a means of acquiring such a righteous status. In him the old order, to which the law belonged, has been done away, to be replaced by the new order of the Spirit. Cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6–18.
The case for understanding telos as ‘termination’ is presented by Käsemann, ad loc.; the case for ‘goal’ by Cranfield, ad loc. The two senses are combined by Barrett, ad loc.: Christ ‘puts an end to the law, not by destroying all that the law stood for but by realizing it’.
4. For the end of the law is Christ, &c. The word completion, seems not to me unsuitable in this place; and Erasmus has rendered it perfection: but as the other reading is almost universally approved, and is not inappropriate, readers, for my part, may retain it.
The Apostle obviates here an objection which might have been made against him; for the Jews might have appeared to have kept the right way by depending on the righteousness of the law. It was necessary for him to disprove this false opinion; and this is what he does here. He shows that he is a false interpreter of the law, who seeks to be justified by his own works; because the law had been given for this end,—to lead us as by the hand to another righteousness: nay, whatever the law teaches, whatever it commands, whatever it promises, has always a reference to Christ as its main object; and hence all its parts ought to be applied to him. But this cannot be done, except we, being stripped of all righteousness, and confounded with the knowledge of our sin, seek gratuitous righteousness from him alone.
It hence follows, that the wicked abuse of the law was justly reprehended in the Jews, who absurdly made an obstacle of that which was to be their help: nay, it appears that they had shamefully mutilated the law of God; for they rejected its soul, and seized on the dead body of the letter. For though the law promises reward to those who observe its righteousness, it yet substitutes, after having proved all guilty, another righteousness in Christ, which is not attained by works, but is received by faith as a free gift. Thus the righteousness of faith, (as we have seen in the first chapter,) receives a testimony from the law. We have then here a remarkable passage, which proves that the law in all its parts had a reference to Christ; and hence no one can rightly understand it, who does not continually level at this mark.
4 This verse, containing one of the most famous of all of Paul’s theological slogans, grounds (“for,” Gk. gar) what Paul has said about the Jews in v. 3. Specifically, he shows that the Jews’ pursuit of a righteousness of their own, based on the law, is wrong because Christ has brought the law to its culmination and thereby made righteousness available to everyone who believes. We must now justify this reading of the verse by looking at (1) the meaning of the word “law”; (2) the syntactical relationship between the first part of the verse and the second; and (3) the meaning of the word telos (which I have translated “culmination”).
(1) Scholars have argued for four different meanings of the word nomos in this verse: “law” in general, in whatever form; “OT revelation” broadly; “legalism”;404 and Mosaic law. The first and second of these interpretations are unlikely since neither meaning is found in the immediate context. The third, on the other hand, as I have argued elsewhere, is unattested in Paul and is not adopted here. With the great majority of scholars, therefore, I conclude that nomos refers in this verse, as usually in Paul, to the Mosaic law.
(2) Verse 4 contains an assertion—“Christ is the telos of the law”—and a prepositional phrase—“eis righteousness for everyone who believes.” How are we to connect the prepositional phrase to the assertion? A number of scholars argue that it should be connected directly to the word “law.” Paul would then be claiming that Christ is the telos of the law in its relationship to righteousness, or as a means of righteousness (“for everyone who believes” would then be attached to the statement as a whole); see NASB: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (KJV is similar). Most who construe the syntax in this way also think that telos means “end,” “termination.” They therefore conclude that Paul is proclaiming here the end of the (false) understanding of the law as a means of securing righteousness with God or the end of Israel’s misunderstanding of the law and its righteousness as confined to Israel.408 But the syntax does not favor attaching the prepositional phrase directly to the word “law.” It is much more likely that the prepositional phrase introduced by eis functions as a purpose or result clause attached to the assertion as a whole: “Christ is the telos of the law, with the result that there is (or with the purpose that there might be) righteousness for everyone who believes” (so, essentially, most modern English translations).
(3) This leaves the question of the meaning of the word telos. Most major English versions translate this word “end.” But this translation contains a crucial ambiguity: does “end” mean (1) “termination,” as in the sentence “The end of the class finally came!” or (2) “goal,” as in the sentence “The end of government is the welfare of the people”; or (3) “result,” as in the sentence “She did not foresee the end of her actions.” Each of these meanings is possible for the Greek word telos, and each is attested in Paul.412 If we accept the first meaning, Paul’s point will be a purely temporal one: the coming of Christ means that, in some manner, the period of the law’s significance and/or authority is at an end. If we choose either the second or the third meaning, however, Paul will be presenting the law and Christ in a dynamic relationship, with the law in some sense directed toward, or pointing forward, to Christ.
Neither lexical nor contextual data point unambiguously toward one or the other of these two main options. R. Badenas has shown that telos usually means “goal” or “intent” (a teleological sense) in nonbiblical Greek. But in both the LXX and the NT the temporal meaning (“closing part,” “termination”) of telos dominates. The context uses language of pursuing and attaining with reference to the law (9:31–32a); and this might lead us to expect that Paul would now present Christ as the true “goal” of the law, that goal that Israel sought but could not attain. In the same way, Paul’s use of OT texts to describe Christ and the righteousness he has brought (9:32b–33; 10:6–8, 11, 13) might indicate that Paul is thinking of Christ as the true meaning or intent of the law. However, there is much in both the immediate and wider context to favor a temporal translation. The relationship between v. 4 and v. 3 shows that Paul wants to stress the discontinuity between Christ and the law. The Jews’ striving for a righteousness of “their own,” based on the law (v. 3), is wrong (among other reasons) because (“for” [gar]) Christ has brought an end to the law and to the era of which it was the center. This is the same point that Paul has made in Rom. 3:21: God’s righteousness has been made manifest “apart from the law.” Indeed, the salvation-historical disjunction between the era of the law and the era of Christ is one that is basic to Paul’s teaching in Romans (see also 6:14, 15; 7:1–6). Moreover, while Paul certainly emphasizes in this passage the continuity between the OT generally and Christ and the righteousness he has brought (e.g., 9:32b–33; 10:6–8, 11, 13), he consistently emphasizes the discontinuity between Christ and the law (9:30–32a; 10:3; 10:5–8).
These considerations require that telos have a temporal nuance: with the coming of Christ the authority of the law of Moses is, in some basic sense, at an end. At the same time, a teleological nuance is also present. This is suggested not only by the contextual factors mentioned above but also by the fact that similar NT uses of telos generally preserve some sense of direction or goal. In other words, the “end” that telos usually denotes is an end that is the natural or inevitable result of something else. The analogy of a race course (which many scholars think telos is meant to convey) is helpful: the finish line is both the “termination” of the race (the race is over when it is reached) and the “goal” of the race (the race is run for the sake of reaching the finish line). Likewise, we suggest, Paul is implying that Christ is the “end” of the law (he brings its era to a close) and its “goal” (he is what the law anticipated and pointed toward). The English word “end” perfectly captures this nuance; but, if it is thought that it implies too temporal a meaning, we might also use the words “culmination” (NIV), “consummation,” or “climax.”
As Christ consummates one era of salvation history, so he inaugurates a new one. In this new era, God’s eschatological righteousness is available to those who believe; and it is available to everyone who believes. Both emphases are important and reflect one of the most basic themes of the letter (1:16; 3:22, 28–30; 4:16–17). Because the Jewish people have generally not understood that Christ has brought the law to its culmination, they have not responded in faith to Christ; and they have therefore missed the righteousness of God, available only in Christ on the basis of faith. At the same time, Christ, by ending the era of the law, during which God was dealing mainly with Israel, has made righteousness more readily available for Gentiles. Verse 4 is, then, the hinge on which the entire section 9:30–10:13 turns. It justifies Paul’s claim that the Jews, by their preoccupation with the law, have missed God’s righteousness (9:30–10:3): for righteousness is now found only in Christ and only through faith in Christ, the one who has brought the law to its climax and thereby ended its reign. It also announces the theme that Paul will expound in 10:5–13: righteousness by faith in Christ for all who believe.
We conclude our study of this verse with two theological reflections. 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 makes this claim in terms of his usual salvation-historical perspective. The Mosaic law represents an epoch in God’s dealings with human beings that 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 Cor. 9:19–21). Nor is he saying that the Mosaic law is no longer part of God’s revelation or 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.
Second, we find in Paul’s teaching about Christ as the culmination of the law another evidence of the beautiful unity of the NT message. For what Paul says here is almost exactly what Jesus claims in one of his most famous theological pronouncements: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Each text pictures Christ as the promised culmination of the OT law. And together they sound a note of balance in the Christian’s approach to the OT and its law that is vital to maintain. On the one hand, both Jesus and Paul warn us about undervaluing the degree to which Christ now embodies and mediates to us what the OT law was teaching and doing. Our relationship with God is now found in Christ, not through the law; and our day-to-day behavior is to be guided primarily by the teaching of Christ and his apostles rather than by the law. On the other hand, Jesus and Paul also caution us against severing Christ from the law. For he is its fulfillment and consummation and he cannot be understood or appreciated unless he is seen in light of the preparatory period of which the law was the center.
4 This verse gives the reason for the thesis of verse 3 that God’s righteousness and not man’s is the institution of God: “Christ is the end of the law”. This has been taken in the sense that the purpose of the law is fulfilled or realized in Christ. The term rendered “end” does on occasion have this meaning (cf. Luke 22:37; 1 Tim. 1:5). It is also true that if law is understood in the sense of the Mosaic institution, then this institution is fulfilled in Christ (cf. Gal. 3:24). Furthermore, the righteousness which Christ has provided unto our justification is one that meets all the requirements of God’s law in its sanctions and demands. There are, however, objections to this interpretation.
- Though the word “end” can express aim or purpose, preponderantly, and particularly in Paul, it means termination, denoting a terminal point (cf. Matt. 10:22; 24:6, 14; Mark 3:26; Luke 1:33; John 13:1; Rom. 6:21; 1 Cor. 1:8; 15:24; 2 Cor. 1:13; 3:13; 11:15; Phil. 3:19; Heb. 6:11; 7:3; 1 Pet. 4:7).
- If “end” means purpose then we should expect the apostle to say that the purpose of the law is Christ, the reason being that, on this assumption, the purpose of the law would be the main thought and the real subject of the sentence. But this would give an awkward if not impossible construction as will appear from the translation that would be required: “The end of the law is Christ for righteousness to every one that believeth”.
- In this epistle and in the context the antithesis is between the righteousness of the law as that of works and God’s righteousness as the righteousness of faith. The next verse is the clearest demonstration of this antithesis and of the meaning we are to attach to the apostle’s concept of the law as the way of attaining to righteousness (cf. also 3:20, 21, 28; 4:13, 14; 8:3; 9:32). The view most consonant with this context is, therefore, that the apostle is speaking in verse 4 of the law as a way of righteousness before God and affirming the relation that Christ sustains to this conception. The only relation that Christ sustains to it is that he terminates it.
- It needs to be noted immediately, however, that a qualification is added: “to every one that believeth”. This qualification implies that only for the believer is Christ the end of the law for righteousness. Paul does not mean that the erroneous conception ceased to be entertained. That was sadly not the case, as verse 3 proves. It is, Paul says, for every one who believes that Christ is the end of the law, and his whole statement is simply to the effect that every believer is done with the law as a way of attaining to righteousness. In this consideration we have an added reason for the interpretation given. If Paul were speaking of the purpose of the law as fulfilled in Christ, we would expect the absolute statement: “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness”, and no addition would be necessary or in place.
The foregoing observation regarding the force of the apostle’s statement bears also upon an erroneous interpretation of this verse, enunciated by several commentators to the effect that the Mosaic law had propounded law as the means of procuring righteousness.
It is strange that this notion should be entertained in the face of Paul’s frequent appeal to the Old Testament and even to Moses and the Mosaic law in support of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith (cf. 3:21, 22; 4:6–8, 13; 9:15, 16; 10:6–8; 15:8, 9; Gal. 3:10, 11, 17–22; 4:21–31). There is no suggestion to the effect that in the theocracy works of law had been represented as the basis of salvation and that now by virtue of Christ’s death this method had been displaced by the righteousness of faith. We need but reflect again on the force of the proposition in question: for the believer Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. Paul is speaking of “law” as commandment, not of the Mosaic law in any specific sense but of law as demanding obedience, and therefore in the most general sense of law-righteousness as opposed to faith-righteousness.
4 Israel’s covenantal relation to God and reliance on law keeping do not add up to salvation, since only in and through God’s Messiah is salvation possible (cf. Jn 14:6; Ac 4:12). For this reason, Paul points away from the law and instead to Christ as the way to righteousness for Israel, just as for the Gentiles. The proof that Israel was out of line with respect to the will of God, to the extent of rebelling against him, lies in the fact that when he sent his Son as the bringer of a salvation in full accord with the divine righteousness, the nation rejected him. The same kind of revolution in thinking that was necessary for Paul is required for his people.
Considerable debate has focused on the interpretation of v. 4, especially on the intended meaning of the word the NIV translates as “end” (most translations use this word and thus preserve the ambiguity of Paul’s statement; contrast NJB, “the Law has found its fulfilment in Christ”). Just as in English we speak of “the end of the matter” and use the expression “to the end that”—the one expression meaning conclusion or termination, and the other, purpose or goal—the Greek word telos (GK 5465) allows the same dual possibility. Commentators have been seriously divided about which way to take telos in Paul’s statement, though the majority seem to favor the conclusion that Paul here speaks of the termination of the law (e.g., Käsemann, Dodd, Michel, Sanday and Headlam, Nygren, Stuhlmacher, Schreiner). The decisive factor that favors “termination” rather than “purpose” as the main idea is the contrast in 9:30–32 between the law and God’s righteousness (cf. 10:5–6). Though the law is righteous in its requirements, it fails as an instrument of justification (cf. 8:3–4). Paul’s contention regarding the Jews (v. 3) is not the incompleteness of their position, which needed the coming of Christ to perfect it, but the basic incorrectness of it, because it entailed an effort to establish righteousness by human effort rather than by acceptance of the divine gift. Also favorable to this understanding is the fact that the law had a certain course to run in God’s economy (see esp. Gal 3:19–25; cf. Lk 16:16), and now with the coming of Christ, the law, having fulfilled its job, has come to an end. The law has been terminated both in a salvation-historical sense and in a soteriological sense (cf. 3:21). Adolf Schlatter (Romans: The Righteousness of God [Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1995], 213) writes, “God’s righteousness has become manifest in that Christ is the end of the law and thus he also is the end of all of the individual’s own righteousness. For the believer righteousness is brought about precisely because Christ acts apart from the law and takes its place as the individual’s Lord.”
At the same time, the second meaning has some plausibility here, since there is also a sense in which (1) Christ is himself the goal of the law as its fulfillment, and (2) Christ has not brought the law to an end but rather to its goal (examples of those who favor this interpretation include Barth, Cranfield, Fitzmyer, Byrne, and Badenas [see note at 10:4]). If we think of the goal of the law as righteousness and the fact that Paul has argued that the gospel upholds the law because Christians will produce the righteousness of which the law spoke (e.g., 8:4), then we can see how the passage can easily be taken in this way. It also fits with Paul’s teaching about the law as the child-leader to bring human beings to Christ (Gal 3:24).
In fact, surprisingly, both concepts—termination and goal—seem to fit our passage rather well; it is, therefore, tempting to conclude that both ideas are true, namely, that in Christ the law has in one sense been brought to its termination, but in another sense the law has arrived at its intended purpose. A number of commentators who favor the idea of termination also see the possibility of truth in the fulfillment idea (e.g., Barrett, Bruce, Achtemeier, Dunn, Moo, Edwards).
Paul adds a certain qualification to the statement about Christ as “the end of the law so that there may be righteousness.” He is that “for everyone who believes.” This seems to imply that the law is still applicable to those who do not believe: “Those who have not yet passed from the being-in-the-Law to the being-in-Christ, and those who allow themselves to be misled into exchanging the being-in-Christ for the being-under-the-Law, are under the Law and are made to feel its power” (A. Schweitzer, The Mysticism of Paul the Apostle [New York: Holt, 1931], 189).
Christ: The Fulfillment of the Law
Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
I have learned many lessons in more than twenty years of Bible study and preaching, and one of the lessons is that things that seem simple often are not. Our text is an example. Romans 10:4 seems to be a very simple verse. After all, what could be more straightforward than the words “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes”? The verse has only seventeen words, less in Greek (nine words), and all but three of the English words have only one syllable.
Yet Romans 10:4 is a difficult verse to interpret.
And here is the interesting thing: It is the simple words (not the polysyllabics) that are the problem.
The two most problematic words are “end” and “law.”
In his excellent commentary on Romans, the great Princeton Theological Seminary scholar Charles Hodge probably reduced the possible meanings of “end” as much as can reasonably be done, but he still speaks of three possible interpretations: (1) “the object to which any thing leads,” (2) the “completion or fulfillment” of something, or (3) an “end or termination.” In terms of our text, if the first meaning is the right one, the verse means that Jesus is that to which the law points so that, if it is properly used, the law will carry the one using it to him. If the second meaning is correct, the idea is that Jesus has himself perfectly fulfilled the law. If the third meaning is chosen, the verse means that Jesus has brought the dispensation of law to an end by dying for sin, rising again, and inaugurating the Christian Era. Obviously, something can be said for each interpretation.
Then, if you add to these difficulties the possible meanings of “law”—the law of Moses, a principle of conduct, the ceremonial law, or moral law—you can see how the difficulties of interpreting this verse proliferate.
How should we proceed?
I am convinced that in this case the most helpful procedure is not to argue the merits of the various possibilities, but to back off from the text itself and instead ask, “How does Jesus Christ fulfill the law?” He does it in a variety of ways. After we have explored those answers, we can then come back to the text, interpret it, and apply it practically.
To Fulfill All Righteousness
The first way in which Jesus fulfilled the law, and thus became the end of the law, is that he kept it perfectly himself. In books written about Jesus’ work, theologians usually distinguish between what they call Christ’s “active” and “passive” obedience. Jesus’ passive obedience refers to his willingness to accept death in conformity to his Father’s will, according to Philippians 2:8:
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Christ’s active obedience refers to the way he carefully and deliberately kept the law of Moses in all respects.
This has several dimensions. It is usually said that Jesus fulfilled the moral law by obeying it perfectly; he was a perfect man. He fulfilled the types and ceremonies of the law by being the reality to which they pointed and by accomplishing in his death what they symbolized; thus, he was himself the perfect sacrifice for sins to which the daily sacrifices and the great sacrifices on the Day of Atonement pointed. Jesus fulfilled the prophecies by living them out to the letter.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred explicitly to two of these areas (and probably the third) when he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17).
In the story of Jesus’ baptism, according to Matthew, there is a sentence that has bearing on Jesus’ fulfillment of the law. John the Baptist had been alerted by God as to who Jesus was. So, when Jesus came to John to be baptized, John demurred, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt. 3:14). John had been teaching about the Messiah’s work in baptizing with the Holy Spirit in contrast to his own merely preparatory water baptism. So he meant that he needed to receive a baptism of the Holy Spirit from Jesus, rather than Jesus receiving any benefit from him.
But Jesus responded, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15).
This has been a puzzling statement to many people, since John’s was a baptism for repentance and Jesus had committed no sin for which he needed to repent. But the reason for it seems clear enough.
On the one hand, since baptism signifies identification, it was by his baptism that Jesus willingly identified himself with all the other Israelites who were responding to John’s preaching by turning from their sin to faith in the Messiah. That is, it was a symbol of the union of Jesus with the believer, a doctrine basic to Paul’s theology. We looked at this earlier in these studies.
On the other hand, since Jesus speaks of fulfilling “all righteousness,” it is clear that he also considered this act to be part of his conscious obedience to all that God required. Through John, God had commanded his believing people to be baptized. So Jesus was baptized.
However, the word that I think is most important in the exchange between Jesus and John the Baptist is “all.” For by it Jesus was declaring his intention to fulfill all that God had required. He did this so well that his enemies were unable to accuse him of any wrongdoing, as much as they would have liked to. And God himself affirmed Jesus’ perfect obedience to the law by declaring, just two verses later, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). This divine evaluation was repeated at the time of the transfiguration (see Matt. 17:5 and parallels).
It was because Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly that he was able to be our substitute in dying for us on the cross, truly “a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19).
This is the first part of the meaning of Paul’s statement in Romans 10:4. It teaches that Christ is “the end of the law” in the sense that he fulfilled or satisfied the demands of the law completely.
Christ Our Righteousness
The second way Jesus became the end of the law is that he fulfilled the law on our behalf, so that now he is not only the source but is himself the righteousness of all who are joined to him by faith. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:30 and 2 Corinthians 5:21: “Christ Jesus … has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption,” and “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
This is what justification is about, and it is what Paul seems chiefly to be talking about in this section of Romans 9 and 10.
We know what Paul teaches about righteousness, of course. But if we can lay that knowledge aside for a moment and go back to look at the end of Romans 9 and the verses that come before our text in Romans 10, we can see at a glance that a major question is unanswered. Paul has contrasted a righteousness that is “by works” with a righteousness that is “by faith” (Rom. 9:32). He has defined the righteousness he is talking about as “God’s righteousness,” showing that it comes “from God” as opposed to righteousness that comes from ourselves (Rom. 10:3). But he has not said in so many words where this righteousness that is “by faith” can be found. Or, to put it in other terms, if righteousness is to be received “by faith” and faith has content, as it must if it is true faith, what is faith’s object?
Those questions are answered by verse 4, which introduces the name of Christ for the first time since the opening paragraph of Romans 9. Jesus is faith’s object. He is the one in whom is located the righteousness we need to be saved.
This justification, by which we stand or fall in the sight of the holy God, involves two corresponding transactions. On the one hand, if we are believers, our sin has been transferred to Jesus Christ and was punished in him when he died in our place on the cross. That is why we sing:
My sin—O the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
On the other hand, his righteousness was transferred to us, with the result that we are now counted as being righteous in him.
Jesus, thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
’Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.
Both belong to justification, and both are true for anyone who has turned from sin and committed his or her life to Jesus Christ. It is what Paul has been writing about in much of the earlier portion of Romans and is reiterating in this passage.
So justification is another meaning of our text: “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
Free at Last
Thus far we have been thinking of the word end as “fulfillment,” or the “culmination” to which something tends. But “end” also sometimes means “termination,” and this, too, is involved in Paul’s statement. It teaches that Christ has ended the law as a system by which we are supposed to attain to righteousness. Or, to put it in other language, he has freed us from the law’s bondage.
I have to be very careful how I say this, because nothing in this study is more apt to be misunderstood—and that from either of two perspectives.
First, I do not mean, as one commentator has written, that “Christ put a stop to the law as a means of salvation.” The reason it cannot mean this is that the law never was a means of salvation. Paul has spoken of the true purpose of the law in Romans 7, showing that the law was given to reveal the nature and extent of our sin and to point us to Jesus Christ as the only place salvation can be found. So, whatever “the end of the law” means, it clearly does not mean that Christ terminated it as a way of getting saved.
But neither does it mean the end of any continuing value for the law, for the law is part of Scripture, and “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). In fact, in Romans 3 Paul asked, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith?” and answered, “Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (v. 31). In Romans 7 he said, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (v. 12).
The best way of understanding this point is by something the apostle Peter said at the Council of Jerusalem described in Acts 15. Representatives of the expanding church had gathered in Jerusalem to decide the question of whether or not the Gentiles needed to submit to the law of Moses, which the Jewish church at that time upheld. It involved the ceremonial laws of Israel as well as the moral law, and the focal point of the debate was circumcision. Was it necessary for Gentile males to be circumcised to be Christians?
As you know, the council decided that it was not necessary. But the reason I refer to this debate is for something Peter said in the midst of it. He argued that God had saved the Gentiles without their becoming Jews, giving the Holy Spirit to them just as to Jewish converts. “Now then,” he said, “why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). The “yoke” was the law. So Peter was admitting that the law had been a burden for the Jews in the past and was arguing that it should not be imposed on the Gentiles, since even the Jews had been unable to sustain that harsh burden.
Does that mean that he was encouraging lawlessness, then? Not at all. He was encouraging righteousness, which is my next point. The council’s decree reiterated some of the law’s moral absolutes, but Peter was acknowledging that righteousness is not attained by legalism. That is, you do not become a better follower of Jesus Christ or a more holy person by adhering to a list of rules. The moral end of the law is attained by Christians, but it is attained by a different principle. It is by the life of Jesus Christ within the believer.
We need to remember that an entire book of the New Testament, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, was written to combat the notion that Christians are to make their lives better or advance their discipleship by legalism. The Galatians were not saved by keeping the law but through faith, as Paul repeatedly points out. Therefore, why should they fall back into legalism? They should continue as they had started out. The main point of Galatians is summarized at the start of chapter 5: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).
Righteousness in Us
This leads to my final point, because, whenever we speak of Jesus, the law, and righteousness, we need to say that Jesus has as his ultimate goal in saving us that we are to be a holy people. I need to add that I do not believe that is what this verse teaches. I think it is primarily teaching about justification—from the context and because Paul says that Jesus is the end of the law “so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” A righteousness for us is a righteousness imparted to us by God for Christ’s sake. That is what Paul says.
But Paul also could have said, “… so that there may be righteousness in [or practiced by] everyone who believes,” which would mean an actual righteousness to be attained by us.
How can I say this?
It is because Paul says it himself:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:1–4, emphasis added
We are neither justified nor sanctified by the law. But those who are justified will also be progressively sanctified by the Spirit of Christ who lives within them, and this means that they will inevitably and increasingly live righteous lives. If they do not, they are not Christians.
I said at the start of this study that I wanted to return to some practical applications of our text, and I do that now. There are many, but I want to mention three.
- Christ is everything. It is hard for us to imagine how important the law of Moses was for Jewish people living in Paul’s day. The law is important for Jews today, of course, even though tradition has tended to replace a thorough knowledge of it. But it was more so then. The law was the very essence of Jewish religion. Yet Paul, who was himself a Jew, is telling us that Christ is the culmination, fulfillment, and (in a sense) termination of the law. For he “is the end of the law.” It is a way of saying that everything that matters in salvation and religion is in him.
One commentator writes, “Instead of the temple it is to be Christ; instead of Moses, Christ; instead of Aaron, Christ; instead of the law, Christ; instead of ceremonies, Christ; instead of worship localized in a building, there is to be the eternal, omnipotent Christ.” It is impossible to exalt the nature and place of the Lord Jesus Christ too much.
- If I am in Christ, I will never be condemned for breaking the law or be rejected by God. How could I be, since Jesus has fulfilled the law on my behalf and has borne the punishment due to me for breaking it? He has become my righteousness.
- To be “in him” I must believe on him. For the verse also tells me, “Christ is the end of the law … for everyone who believes.” For everyone? Yes, but for everyone who believes. The promise is universal and specific.
In one of his books, Harry Ironside tells of a young woman he led to the Lord on one occasion. She had received a Christian upbringing, but she had thrown her heritage to the wind and had lived a worldly life. Now she was dying of tuberculosis and had sent for Ironside. She had been given three weeks to live. “Do you think there is any hope for a sinner like me?” she asked when she saw Ironside.
Ironside led her through the gospel, coming at last to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
“Are you included in that ‘whoever’?” he asked the woman.
By this point she was ready to commit herself to Christ and did so, and Ironside assured her that if she was truly in Christ there was no condemnation for her, even though she had lived a sinful life and was coming to Jesus at what was apparently the very end of it. John 3:18 said: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already.…”
A month or so later, after Ironside had finished his meetings in that area and had gone elsewhere, he was told of her passing. Her minister had been with her. “Can you hear me?” he had asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?” he continued.
“What does he say about you?”
“Not condemned,” she replied. And then, uttering her last words, “If you see Mr. Ironside, tell him it’s all right.”
It is all right, and will be. “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
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