We live in God’s world. We live before Him and for Him. And we all know it. Even gentiles who lack the benefit of the written law recognize their accountability to God as His image bearers, as those who have the law “written on their hearts” (Rom. 2:15). Before God’s Ten Commandments were inscribed on tablets, His law instructed the human heart. Self-consciousness consists of a divinely designed conscience that, deep down, knows the basics of God's moral law (1:18–20).
In considering our moral accountability, we encounter no stodgy legal code but the personal God. “For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder’ ” (James 2:11, emphasis added). The written law codifies the personal mandates of the Creator. Christ renders greater clarity to God’s mandates, as He, who feasted on the will of His Father (John 4:34), mines the full depth and scope of the law’s demands on us (see Matt. 5–7). Westminster Confession of Faith 19.1 summarizes these demands crisply: “personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience” in thought, word, deed, motive, and goal.
These fertile demands of the law stand in stark contrast to the death-securing decadence of man throughout human history. Each iteration of biblical revelation heightens man’s doom: “The Scripture imprisoned everything under sin” (Gal. 3:22). But the plunging spiral of rebellion is countered by the building anticipation in the progression of the Old Testament, which assures a coming Son who will once for all perfectly keep the law of God.
This long-awaited Son, as the Gospels uniformly attest, is none other than Jesus of Nazareth. Born under the law (Gal. 4:4), the Son of God alone obeyed it fully. By observing its deepest demands, He perfectly fulfilled the law of His Father (Matt. 5:17, 48). Yet this perfect Son, rather than entering life, dies. How, with the unswerving biblical promise of life by obedience to God’s law, can this perfect Son die?
Here lies the treasure of the holy gospel—its grace, glory, and calling unto righteousness. The perfect Lawgiver became the perfect Lawkeeper, yet suffered the law’s curse as lawbreaker because of the willfully personal, entire, exact, and perpetual disobedience of His people. Our covenant Head, the Lord Christ, suffered, bled, and died for us. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
In keeping with the law, the Son obeyed His Father’s moral bidding to secure His Father’s purpose: redeeming and consecrating His elect people. Flawless fidelity to the law and full subjection to the law’s punitive sanctions qualified Him as the Mediator and Deliverer of God’s people. He lived, died, and then rose again that His people might live. Vindicated by the Father at His resurrection from the dead, the Savior gives His church His own holy, life-giving resurrection power (Eph. 1:15–23). By His Spirit, Christ ensures that we will “be holy and blameless before him” (v. 4) and live as “the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD” (Isa. 62:12), the people in whom God’s Word dwells richly (Col. 3:16).
the law and ceremony
But what of the religious ceremonies God gave His Old Testament people? If the law is our holy guide, should we still have an altar in our church, a priest to provide daily sacrifices, a calendar preserving feasts and festivals?