Calvin Fridays: Law and Life

Ten Commandments by A.Losenko (?)

It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labour lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal. In short, mercy has swallowed up all misery, and goodness all misfortune… If we are able to boast with the apostle, saying, O hell, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? it is because by the Spirit of Christ promised to the elect, we live no longer, but Christ lives in us; and we are by the same Spirit seated among those who are in heaven, so that for us the world is no more, even while our conversation is in it; but we are content in all things, whether country, place, condition, clothing, meat, and all such things. And we are comforted in tribulation, joyful in sorrow, glorying under vituperation, abounding in poverty, warmed in our nakedness, patient amongst evils, living in death.

– John Calvin, Christ the End of the Law

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”- Romans 5:20-21. 

One of the primary functions of the Law given to Moses is to reveal sin. The Law, in its holy commandments, fundamentally shows us that we are not able. Our hearts refuse to worship the One God. We naturally and relentlessly turn to anything and everything to worship besides the very One that deserves it. We fashion idols of the most vain types. We worship our bodies, the opinions of others, our comfort and security. We bow down before our money and our vacations, desperately desiring from them a measure of security and hope. We refuse to rest during the week. Strict Sabbatarians or not, we refuse to rest in the God of Rest during the week. We fill our schedules up to the brim and overflow with activities that distract us and take us away from sitting and resting in Him, from examining our hearts and listening to His word. We are not able, and indeed refuse, to honor our parents and all those who have been placed over us in authority. We tear them down in the dark corners of our offices and schools. We hate, lust, covet, steal, and lie consistently in our hearts. We are “filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice…full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness.” We “are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” Though we know we do these horrible things, we not only openly do them, but “give approval to those who practice them,” (Romans 8:29-32). The Law stands as a written testimony to our wickedness, and it codifies our rebellion. In its presence, sin is piled upon sin and death upon death. The Law buries us under obligations that we do not have the strength or will to uphold. It is true that the Law fulfills other functions, but this one is central. In short, the Law points a holy finger in our direction and says, “Guilty.”

Christ is the End of the Law. He is the End not because He has abolished the Law, but because He has fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17). If we give up our attempts at autonomous life, holiness, and joy, we will find at the end of ourselves the One who can give us life, can give us holiness, and can give us joy. His grace trumps our sin again and again. Though He fulfilled the Law in its demands, for His people to be acquitted, He had to die in their place. So He did. Christ stood in the place of Christians and allowed the holy finger of the Law to fall on Him. Christ’s verdict was “guilty” at the cross. He was guilty of idolatry, guilty of busyness and unrest in God, guilty of carving images and idols out of God’s gifts, guilty of adultery, guilty of lying, guilty of stealing, guilty of coveting, and guilty of all sin that His people had committed, were committing, and would commit. He was guilty not because He had sinned, but because he allowed our sin to be transferred to His account. For He “was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed,” (Isaiah 53:5). At His resurrection, therefore, the proclamation resounds, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12). The burden of the Law can be lifted only in Him, for He alone has fulfilled it. Forgiveness can only be had in Him, for He alone has been judged “guilty” on His people’s behalf. If we do not fly to Him for relief we will remain buried under the Law’s crushing weight. If we do not fly to Him for forgiveness, we will continue to incur guilt on ourselves for our attempted rebellion. Naturally, the Law reigns over the sons of Adam. It accuses them, burdens them, and condemns them. But through the supernatural work of Christ, the sons of God are reigned by transforming grace. Our accusations are disolved in Christ. Our burdens are lifted by the yoke of the cross. Our condemnation has fallen upon the Son of God. The grace of Christ, through the righteousness of Christ, sustains us, prods us and trains us “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:12-13). We proclaim with John Newton,

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

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