Requiem for the Law
One of the most intriguing pieces of classical music remains Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Requiem Mass in D minor,” not only for its exquisite musical composition, typical of that of Mozart, but also for the legend and myth surrounding the piece. Mozart’s “Requiem” is, perhaps, his most infamous work, primarily because the original composition was left unfinished. The great composer died of an illness before the piece was completed, which has led to some modern composers and musicologists to attempt to finish it with their own musical interpretations and methodologies. But, I don’t wish to speak to you about Mozart’s “Requiem,” an unfinished work, but rather, I wish to relay to you a finished work, a final requiem — that being, “The Requiem for the Law.”
Throughout most Christian circles, much is said about the law, and what it is and what’s applicable to 21st century Americans and what’s not, and how it’s compatible with New Testament Christianity. At the outset, it’s important for us to distinguish between the Law, and the law, or God’s Moral Law and God’s Ceremonial Law. The former is that which is perpetuated in his Word and what’s written on our hearts. (Jer. 31:33) Morality is something that each human being is born with, and it all comes from a Divine Designer of it. What’s right and what’s wrong, what’s moral and what’s immoral, is never defined by a society or culture or a generation; it’s always defined by God. The latter is the Law of Moses, the rites and ceremonies and sacrifices to which Israel was to adhere based upon God’s covenant with Moses. It’s this law that’s been given the requiem, “once for all.”
The Hinge of Faith
The more I study it, the more I’m sure that Romans 8:1 is the hinge upon which the Christian life swings. Martin Luther is quoted as saying, “The gospel cannot be preached and heard enough, for it cannot be grasped well enough.” This is why he encouraged Christians to preach the gospel to themselves everyday. Each new morning should bring with it a fresh reminder of the banner under which we stand, a banner which reads: “It is finished” — “There is therefore now no condemnation.” (John 19:30; Rom. 8:1) That’s the groundwork and foundation upon which we stand, a gospel of “No Condemnation!” It’s the fulcrum of the Book of Romans and it serves at the basis for our entire lives. What better news can there be than the good news of “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”? Indeed, none. It’s this gospel that should be in persistent and continual remembrance for us.
“We need to remind ourselves continually of the basis of our acceptance,” writes Derek Thomas, “it is entirely because of what Christ has done for us. Thus, faith in Christ is not a onetime event; we must live by faith each day.” (13) We must unceasingly preach to ourselves this gospel, because it’s far too easy to forget the truth upon which we stand. Too often, the needle of our hearts drifts back onto ourselves, and we begin to think and dwell upon and obsess over what must be done, instead of the One who already did it. This, and many things else, is what Paul’s getting after in his letter: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:2–4)
This, essentially, is the requiem for the law, the last song of the bonds of which we are no more enslaved. “The law of the Spirit of life” (that is, the gospel) has come and has set us free! It has awakened our minds and opened our eyes to the wretchedness of ourselves and the beauty of our Savior. The gospel has come, established and secured by the Son, enacting the way of salvation “by grace, through faith.”
The Gospel is the law which reveals the way of salvation by Christ . . . It speaks of pardon and adoption, of acceptance and sanctification, as all flowing to the soul through faith in his dear Son. It represents God as extending his hand of mercy to the vilest sinner, welcoming the penitent wanderer back to his home, and once more taking the contrite rebel to his heart. (Winslow, 26)
What the Law Can’t Do
The Holy Spirit, effected to us by the gospel of Jesus Christ, breaks the power of sin. The chains of bondage to sin are forever severed because of the finished work of the Son. (Isa. 9:4–7; Gal. 5:1; Rom. 6:22–23) Apart from this good news, we must realize that we’re nothing, absolutely nothing. We have nothing in ourselves that could ever merit salvation. We are dead. (Eph. 2:1–3) We know nothing of life, for apart from the Spirit — outside the gospel — there is no life, no true life. If you’re not in Christ, you’re standing in a state of “Eternal Condemnation” because of your sin (John 3:18); the direct opposite of the blessing and relief found in Jesus for the Christ-follower. But, the redeemed have been made alive in the Second Adam. (1 Cor. 15:45; Rom. 5:12–21) They’ve been freed, liberated from the slavish rule of sin, once for all. (Heb. 10:10) They’ve been given abundant life through the Son and the Spirit, to the glory of the Father. (John 10:10) Indeed, we must constantly preach this gospel to ourselves every day. We must remind ourselves that apart from God’s grace, we’re nothing.
Any attempts to alter our state, to right our standing, to change ourselves, to save ourselves, are futile, completely and utterly worthless. “It is impossible that any man who is in sin and death can ever have anything whatsoever of life until God intervenes.” (Barnhouse, 7) Life outside the gospel is no life at all. There’s no life outside of God’s grace. Until we give up hope in ourselves, we have no hope.
All this is what “the law could not do.” (Rom. 8:3) The law is powerless when it comes to the matter of salvation. It possesses zero ability to change us or justify us or make us holy. The law will never make a man righteous because it has no power to create, it can only prescribe. (Acts. 13:39; Gal. 4:9) No, the law is simply a shadow of Christ (Heb. 10:1), a harbinger for the Second Adam and the True Fulfiller of its demands. The law has no ability to make anyone good; it can only show us what goodness looks like. “The law has no power to place the sinner in a justified state,” declares Octavius Winslow. “Nor has it the power to give life . . . Holy in its nature, it is yet incapable of making the sinner holy. Righteous in its precepts, it yet cannot justify the ungodly.” (Winslow, 29–30)
Shadows & Dust
In the Mosaic Law, the Israelites were required to make daily offerings and sacrifices. These “animal atonements” served as mere symbols and types of the true atonement that was to come. They represented the payment for sin, but they never accomplished it. Just like the argument of the apostle, if the law could’ve made any man perfect (which, indeed, is what is prescribed), then the sacrifices and offerings would’ve ceased. (Heb. 10:1–4) There would’ve been no more need for them if they were truly effectual. (Heb. 10:2) But the necessity for continual offerings and continual adherence to law evidences the continual presence of sin. And a permanent sacrifice is required for permanent sin.
The law is the surgeon’s knife which cuts out the proud flesh that the wound may heal. The law by itself only sweeps and raises the dust, but the gospel sprinkles clean water upon the dust, and all is well in the chamber of the soul. The law kills, the gospel makes alive; the law strips, and then Jesus Christ comes in and robes the soul in beauty and glory. (Spurgeon, 17)
I like the following illustration from Dr. Donald G. Barnhouse:
It is as impossible for the law to make any man holy as it is impossible for a ten-foot pole to make a man ten feet tall. A ten-foot pole can do nothing but be a ten-foot pole, and show up the shortness of the man who stands beside it, and the law can do nothing but be the law and show up the sin of the man who stands beside it. The moment either of them tries to do anything about changing a man they are found to be helpless. (8)
That’s the law: a good and holy measuring stick to show us how far short we are of ever measuring up to what God’s demands are. (Matt. 5:48) It serves as a mirror, showing us who we really are. (James 1:23–25) A mirror tells no lies. The law of God is not like those carnival mirrors that distort and belie our true state. The law reflects the authentic you, the bona fide you, who’s a sinner, with no hope. But in its reflection, we not only see ourselves as we truly are, but we see the light of Someone else. And that’s the only hope that the law provides: in pointing you to the One who is your hope, Jesus Christ.
Full & Final Fulfillment
The Son of God came to fully and finally fulfill the law — to bring an end to our enslavement to sin and ourselves. He came to summon the age of grace to all who believe in his name. He came to conquer death, hell, and the grave. He came on a mission to do something about sin. He came to conduct the requiem of the law, and usher in the New Covenant of the gospel. The cross was Jesus’s mission; it served as his battlefield upon which the ultimate triumph would be won. Christ met and succeeded the law’s demands in every respect, thereby securing “no condemnation.” That’s where your hope and stay lies, Christian, in Christ, the champion of grace and the victor of “no condemnation,” for all who are in him. And there’s the key:
There is hope for you in Jesus, there is forgiveness for you in Jesus, there is acceptance for you in Jesus, there is rest for you in Jesus, there is a heaven of bliss and glory awaiting you — all in Jesus, the law’s great fulfiller. (Winslow, 50)
Are you in Christ, dear reader? If not, you’re not really living. Until the gospel of illimitable grace invades and overthrows your heart, you are, indeed, dead. I pray, all whose eyes happen to fall upon this page to seriously ask themselves: “Has the requiem for the law sounded in my heart? Has the Herald of Grace taken the throne of my soul?” Reader, are you in Christ?
Donald G. Barnhouse, Expositions of Bible Doctrines Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, Vol. 3, Part 3 (Philadelphia: The Evangelical Foundation, 1963).
Charles Spurgeon, Christ’s Glorious Achievements: What Jesus Has Done for You (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2003).
Derek W. H. Thomas, How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2011).
Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus: As Unfolded in the Eighth Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1991).