Leading Question: “What does Paul mean when he says in Romans 10:4 that Christ is the end of the law?
Introduction to the Issue: It is possible that the question raised by the title/topic of this week’s lesson, “Christ the End of the Law,” could be easily resolved simply as a matter of translation. Just change the word “end” to “goal” (NASB) or “culmination” (NIV) and the matter is solved. End of discussion. We can all go home early.
But such an approach is not likely to end the discussion. Indeed, it might turn a smoldering fire into a raging inferno, so strong are the feelings on the topic. At root in the discussion is whether or not we are optimistic or pessimistic on the question of the possibility of human obedience to law. While, in Adventistm, both sides in the discussion would affirm an unchanging decalogue, one side is much more willing to see additional laws as adaptations to particular situations while the other side is more inclined to experience laws as fixed by divine decrees. In actual practice, most “moderate” spokespersons for both positions come out almost in the same place. But at the theoretical level, the divide is more vivid.
Enlivening the discussion in Adventist circles is the awareness that some “grace” communities see Paul’s “end of the law” phraseology as doing away with that part of the decalogue that affirms the Sabbath. Some former Adventists (e. g. Dale Ratzlaff) have taken the firm position that the Sabbath command now has no reference at all to time (see Sabbath in Christ, 345).
Within Adventism, a community that affirms law, the courtroom perspective can loom very large. Note how the heading for each day’s lesson highlights such a view.
Where Sin Abounded (Romans 5:20: Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.)
Law and Grace (cf. Romans 6:15: “Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!”)
O Wretched Man (Romans 7:24)
The Goal of the Law (Romans 10:4) = “end” of the law
The Disciplinarian (Gal. 3:23-24)
Crucial question: Why does law feel like such a burden? Certainly the tension is heightened by certain forms of perfectionist thinking. In Adventism, two quotes from Ellen White accentuate the issue:
Living in God’s Presence without a Mediator. “Those who are living upon the earth when the intercession of Christ shall cease in the sanctuary above are to stand in the sight of a holy God without a mediator. Their robes must be spotless, their characters must be purified from sin by the blood of sprinkling. Through the grace of God and their own diligent effort they must be conquerors in the battle with evil.” – GC 425
Character of Christ Perfectly Reproduced in His People. “When the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come. Christ is waiting with longing desire for the manifestation of Himself in His church. When the character of Christ shall be perfectly reproduced in His people, then He will come to claim them as His own.” – COL 69
Short answers to these troubling quotations would run something like this: In the light of John 16:25-27, one can see the prospect of standing in God’s presence without a mediator as a promise, not as a threat. And if one can view the character of Christ as being perfectly reproduced in his people as a corporate entity, not as individuals, then the problem of an impossible perfectionism vanishes.
It’s not likely, however, that we will ever totally resolve the tension between the impulse to rely on God’s grace while not tending to the business of holy living and the impulse to earn our salvation through good works. But if we can help each other in our respective weaknesses, the church can indeed become a showcase of effective grace to the universe.
Key passages in Scripture clearly reveal that a life lived in grace does not have to make the law of none effect. The juxtaposition of Galatians 5:18 to 5:19-21 makes that quite clear. In 5:18 Paul exclaims: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” But then he immediately gives a laundry list of sins that are “obvious” as works of the flesh:
19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Clearly Paul is no libertarian. But when one is led by the Spirit, the law is written on the heart and one is no longer aware of law as a burden. Returning to Romans 10:4, we can readily concur that Christ is “the culmination of the law for righteous” (NIV). That does not set the law aside, but fills it full of new meaning and the law is no longer a burden.