Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.
~ Elvina M. Hall; 1865
Imagine this scenario with me. A man who owes the creditors a huge sum of money is dragged before the court. He admits that even if all his property were sold, it wouldn’t be enough to clear all his debt. Suddenly, a ‘good Samaritan’ offers to settle all the debt to the last penny. If it were you, what would be your reaction? Now imagine further, if instead of accepting the good Samaritan’s benevolent offer, this debtor rejects it; choosing rather to make up for his debt by suffering a lifetime of hard labour in prison.
Who would do such a thing? Sounds outrageous doesn’t it? Yet in the passage from Romans 10 above, Paul suggests the actions of the Jews amounted to just that. They, to whom God gave the Law had spurned God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and rejected His offer of salvation through faith. In his description, Paul writes, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Romans 10:3). The phrase “seeking to establish their own righteousness” (in the authorized translation, “going about to establish their own righteousness”) connotes a strenuous effort to establish one’s own righteousness instead of relying on God’s.
The Law and Man’s Inability
God gave the Law to man with this caveat “…the person who does the commandments shall live by them.” (Romans 10:5b). Which means one could attain righteousness and eternal life by fully obeying the law without faulting at any point (Deuteronomy 30:15-20, James 2:10). In our fallen state, God’s verdict is that no one could keep the law no matter how hard we try. The Jews were therefore wrong in thinking that they could work out their own righteousness before a holy and perfect God. God requires sinless perfection. Jesus in Matthew 5:20-48 clearly teaches that the benchmark is not 99% but a 100%.
It is therefore tragic that anyone would try to attain righteousness by their own effort and good works. Many today go to great lengths to be good, fast, pray and obey the 10 commandments — all in an attempt to save themselves. God demands perfect obedience with all of one’s heart, mind, soul and strength, and one ought to continue doing so unfailingly in order to maintain righteousness (Matt 22:36-38; Rom 10:5). The plain truth is that none of us is equal to such a task.
The law points to the fact that we need God’s help in order to be saved. It shows us how inadequate we are in terms of fulfilling God’s Law; yet offers us no remedy. On this, John Bunyan writes, “To be under the law as it is a Covenant of Works, is to be bound, upon pain of eternal damnation, to fulfil, and that completely and continually, every particular point of the Ten Commandments, by doing them.“¹
Paul, recounting his own experience wrote:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:15-16, 18, 24-25a ESV).
John Bunyan further comments,
So long as people are ignorant of the nature of the law, and of their being under it – that is, under the curse and condemning power of it, by reason of their sin against it – so long they will be careless, and negligent as to the inquiring after the true knowledge of the Gospel.”²
If we truly understood what the law required of us in order to be saved, we’ll come flying to the foot of the Cross.
The Good News: Christ, The End of the Law
Jesus, as the last Adam, was the only one who was able to wholly and completely obey God’s Law. This is what Paul meant by saying Christ is the end of the Law. Not that He abolished it; but rather because He fulfilled all its righteous requirements. But He is the end of the Law only to those who believe in Him. To these, the law is no longer binding in justifying sinners before Christ. Through faith in the finished work of Christ, sinners are freed from the guilt of the Law and from God’s wrath. Christ’s life of sinless obedience and His death on the cross fully satisfied God’s wrath against sin for all who believe in Him.
God therefore offers righteousness to all who believe in Christ alone, free of charge. This does not require any strenuous effort from us — only faith in Christ and what He has done on our behalf.
There’s no need to strenuously seek to establish your own righteousness. Jesus paid it all — all the debt we owed God for disobeying His Holy Law and its repercussions; eternal death. This is the reason for the Cross. Celebrate this season with understanding. If you haven’t already, come to saving faith in Christ now; He is willing and ready to save you.
1: John Bunyan, The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded