The Lawmaker was made under the law for the salvation of law-breakers.
“They think they’re above the law!” How many times have we said it of Washington and local politicians. “They make the law for others, but don’t keep it themselves.” “It’s one law for her and it’s another law for us!”
But we don’t need to go far from home to see the same tendency. We make laws for our children about media use or driving speed, but we don’t keep our own law and don’t sanction ourselves either. We all have a tendency to make laws for others that we put ourselves above.
But there is one Lawmaker, who, though he really was above the law, yet came under it far more than anyone else did (Galatians 4:4)
The Lawmaker made the law
Christ made the moral law which is summarized in the ten commandments. These were perfect permanent laws for personal morality.
He made the ceremonial laws for sacrifices, worship, cleanliness, diet, etc. These were perfect temporary laws for a certain phase of true religion.
He also made the civil or judicial law for the regulation and ordering of Israel. These were perfect temporary laws for the Old Testament nation of Israel
Given that Christ’s mind and heart were behind the law, we can’t love the Lawmaker and hate the law
The Lawmaker administered the law
Christ did not just make the law and walk away, but presided over its implementation and administration. He saw law-breaking and punished it in individuals, families, tribes, nations. He also saw law-keeping and rewarded it. He sent prophets to call to obedience and announce warnings and judgments for disobedience.
This is not just a past tense administration. Christ is still administering the law, using it to convict of sin, restrain sin, and guide the expression of gratitude.
The Lawmaker submitted to the law
Amazingly, this Lawmaker who made the law and administered the law, also came under the law. This submission was:
With a head full of knowledge. Sometimes we can sign up for something without realizing all the small print and conditions. As its maker and administrator, Christ knew the law inside and out. He knew its extensive precepts and its excruciating penalties. He knew all that law was, all it entailed, all that had to be done, all that had to be suffered. No one was ever such a legal expert as Christ was. He knew more law that all the authors of the millions of books in Harvard’s Law library.
With a will full of freedom. When Paul says that Christ “was made” or “was born” under the law, we might be tempted to think that this was a passive experience, that this was something that happened to him rather than something he actively chose to do. Nothing could be further from the truth. We must understand this language as saying that Christ made himself or put himself under the law. Try to imagine voluntarily putting yourself under the laws that you make for your dog or your cat, and you just begin to grasp the incredible willingness of Christ in this act
With a heart full of love. He did this out of love for the law and out of love for the law-breakers. What a strange combination! He loved the law so much he wanted to magnify it and make it honorable. He loved law-breakers so much that he put himself in their place to keep the law they could not keep and suffer the penalties they could not suffer.
The Lawmaker suffered the law’s penalties
Theologians often distinguish between the active and passive obedience of Christ. The active obedience refers primarily to Christ’s actively obeying the law’s precepts and the passive obedience refers to his suffering the law’s penalties. There are some dangers with this distinction but as long as they are not separated and as long as they are viewed as present together throughout Christ’s life, then it is a useful distinction.
Christ’s passive obedience began as soon as he was conceived in Mary’s womb. As soon as he was made of a woman, he was made under the law and subject to its curses. Not that he deserved this penalty, but rather he took the penalty his people deserved. Their liability to punishment was transferred entirely and completely to Christ, for him to suffer in all its width, length, and depth. The Lawmaker and Lawkeeper was treated as the law-breaker to save the law-breakers.
The Lawmaker obeyed the law’s precepts
“Great, that’s my disobedience dealt with!” Wait, not so fast. What about the requirement of perfect obedience? You still owe that. You’re out of the hole, but how do you climb the mountain? Christ’s passive obedience paid your debt, but you still have no assets. You’ve gone from overdrawn to zero balance, but you need to offer God a righteousness. “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).
That’s where Christ’s active obedience saves the day and your soul. His perfect obedience was no less necessary than his perfect suffering. So much so, that we can say that Christ’s suffering was not enough for our salvation. Christ died for our sins and lived for our righteousness. If it’s sometimes hard to believe that Christ died for our sins, it’s sometimes even harder to believe that he lived a perfect life in such an imperfect world. Not one sin committed and, even more amazing, no duty omitted.
This Changes Everything
This changes the way we view the law. It is no longer a threat, a terror, a cause for fear, or an awful impossibility. When we look to Sinai, we don’t hear thunder, see lightning, or feel trembling. We see a sunny scene of tranquility and peace because we see no penalty to suffer and no obligation left to obey (as a means of salvation).
This changes how we view Christ. Believer, he didn’t only die for you but lived for you. We not only see our salvation in the last few chapters of the Gospels but from his conception onwards. Every chapter that records his perfect words and deeds records the righteousness he transfers to us.
This changes the way we view death. Even if we managed to live without ever doing what we shouldn’t do, it still leaves so many things we should do not done. How can we lie on our deathbeds with any peace if we don’t have a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees? Gresham Machen’s deathbed provides the answer. In his last telegram to his Westminster colleague, John Murray, he wrote: “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”