I had an interesting conversation with someone who took offence (or perhaps only a little umbrage) at my suggestion that in this new life in the Spirit, “the Ten Commandments become the Ten Descriptions.”
He asked me to get back to him, so I’m picking up the thread of the idea at Romans 8:4. “So that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4)
It needs a little unpacking: some take this to mean that Christ fulfilled the law for us when he obeyed it perfectly and died as the perfect sacrifice on our behalf. In him we are perfect with his perfection and in him we are pardoned by his blood.
Now I believe that all that is true, but it’s not what the verse is underscoring. Paul is not saying that the requirements were fulfilled for us but in us. That’s a whole different thought, that Paul takes up in Romans 5:19, but here he’s focusing on how we walk in the Spirit.
So how do we walk in the Spirit? And how does it relate to living a righteous law-based life
A friend of mine was giving testimony the other day and said this: “I’m not claiming to live like Jesus perfectly of course, but learning to put myself aside more and more to live for him. That I can do.”
So my question is: Have “the Ten Commandments really become the Ten Descriptions” in a Spirit-directed life? How do we fulfil the requirement of the law? And specifically how can any of my “walking” by the Spirit – which is always imperfect in this life – be said to fulfil God’s law which is holy and just and good.
Since when does God’s holy law and divine standard become “Just try your best”?
First, we fulfil the law by loving people. Look at Romans 13:
“Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law. For this, “you shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.”
Galatians 5 takes up the same idea:
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” … But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh… If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”
It need hardly be said that our fulfilling the law in loving others is not the ground of our justification. The ground of justification is the obedience and blood-shedding of Christ alone, appropriated through faith alone before any other acts are performed. Our fulfilling the law is the fruit and evidence of being justified by faith.
Romans 3:24,25 is explicit: “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed.”
Second, this fulfilling of the law in loving others is rendered not in our own strength but by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
“So that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:4)
This is all, all of it, “according to the Spirit.”
How can my imperfect obedience and love fulfil the perfect law of God?”
Well, my imperfect love is, nevertheless, real God-dependent, Spirit-enabled, Christ-exalting love that is based on my justification and not a means to it. And therefore it is the new direction that the law was aiming at and what the new covenant promised.
In short, love as the fruit of faith which exalts Christ is what the law was aiming at in the first place!
And, of course, my imperfect love is the first fruits of a final perfection that Christ will complete in me at his appearing. Romans 8:4 does not say that the entire fulfilment of the law happens in us now. But our walk by the Spirit begins right now and so does our fulfilment of the law. “That, I can do.”
Finally, my walk of imperfect love is only possible because of Christ’s perfect love-walk! The acceptability of my life to all eternity will always depend on the perfection of Jesus offered in my place. My imperfect love now and my perfect love later will always be the fruit of faith that looks to Jesus my only perfection. In the end the law is fulfilled in me imperfectly because it was fulfilled in him perfectly. And my imperfection is a pointer to his perfection, and that pointing is the aim of the law.
“Wherever you look in Scripture look to Jesus.
Let every passage tell you something of his Father and his Spirit and thus himself.
Make it your aim in all your use of the Scriptures to see and savour more of Christ.
Be on a treasure hunt to satisfy your soul more and more in him.
In this way the Spirit of Christ will be at work to transform you into his image.
The aim of the law will be fulfilled more and more in your life.
And you will magnify Christ in your life until he comes to complete the work he has begun.” (John Piper)