What is the Righteousness of the Law?
The righteousness of the law refers to the kind of righteousness that is described in the Ten Commandments and is the first thing that many people tend to be brought into contact with when they are new to the Bible.
However, the righteousness of the law is not the reality of the righteousness that God wants us to have, but rather it points us to that reality, which is Christ. The righteousness of the law is a shadow, while Christ is the reality.
The Law is described as holy, good, and spiritual, but it runs into a problem with humans who are sinful and carnal. The righteous requirement of the law was not lifted when Jesus came and preached the Sermon on the Mount. The standard is seemingly raised even higher than the Law given through Moses (because it exposes the inward motivations of the heart). Many Christians will say, “we’re not teaching the law, we’re teaching the commandments of Christ.” They are referring to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. This is actually the law of Moses, focused on the 9th commandment, “thou shalt not covet” which means “you shall not even have the desire in the first place!” For example, if you hate in your heart, you’ve committed murder. If you lust in your heart, you’ve committed adultery. This was a rebuke to the religious leadership that thought the law justified them, or that they were somehow “keeping” the law, when they hadn’t even come close. The sinners already understood this, the religious leaders needed the lesson.
The Reality of Righteousness
The righteous requirements of the law should point us to Christ. Christ is the reality, while the Law is a shadow. Although the Law is holy, good, and spiritual, it has no ability to correct the problem of sin, it can only expose it. In fact it was given for that purpose, so that men would know that they are in desperate need of salvation. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and Saduccees, you shall by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). This does not imply that if you could be more scrupulously righteous you would have a chance, it is supposed to cause you to despair of qualifying yourself for the Kingdom. The secret is that Christ is the righteousness that is greater than that of the Pharisees and the Saducees. He is Jesus Christ the righteousness, and in Him there is no sin. He is the qualification for entrance into the kingdom, because No one can come to the Father but by Him. He gave His life for us, and shed His blood for us, to become our very righteousness. 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “of God are you in Christ, who is made unto us wisdom from God, righteousness, sanctification and redemption.” Colossians tells us that because we have received redemption and the forgiveness of sins in Him, we have been transferred out of the authority of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13-14). This is based on His qualifying of us, which is called “justification.” Justification is how God declares a sinner like me qualified to become a son and an heir, and it is based on the redemptive work of Christ, who is said to be the manifestation of God’s righteousness, put on display in His work on the cross (Romans 3:24-26). God is righteous in forgiving me and making me an heir because Jesus paid the debt I could never pay. Sinners, tax collectors, adulterous women, thieves and lepers understood this, but Jesus brought the law to the Pharisees hoping they might see their need too (Matthew 9:10-13)!
The Purpose of the Law
The Law is like a magnifying glass or microscope for sin. Its purpose is to expose sin and bring humans to a realization of what is in their nature. Ultimately, God’s desire is to bring them to a deep turn to faith in Christ.
- Romans 3:20
- Romans 7:12
- Romans 7:14
- Matthew 5:17-20
- Romans 8:3-4
- Galatians 3:24
- Romans 7:7
- Galatians 3:19-22
- Romans 10:4