Redemption plays an integral part in the work of Christ. One aspect of the redemption of Christ relates to the law. In his important book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray offers helpful and necessary qualifications as to what the inspired authors mean when they speak of this. He says, “It does not say that we are redeemed from the law. That would not be an accurate description and the Scripture refrains from such an expression. We are not redeemed from the obligation to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and strength and mind and our neighbor as ourselves” (p. 45). Even as Christians we have an obligation to do—our motives and our ability are transformed by the gospel—but the formula of the covenant of grace is “Live and Do This.” So what does Scripture mean when it relates redemption to the law of God:
- Redemption from the Curse of the Law: Civil society teaches us that if you break the law there are certain penalties. If I get pulled over for speeding, I will most likely have a fine. The law of God, which predates any civil laws, is the same. We see this in Genesis 2:17, the one who eats from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil will surely die. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written” (Galatians 3:10). It’s this curse, this punishment, this death that Christ has redeemed his own from, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). He has done so to the furthest extent—exhausting the curse so no curse remains for his people.
- Redemption from the Ceremonial Law: It is common in Reformed doctrine to distinguish between the moral, ceremonial, and civil laws (for an excellent defense of this three-fold division see Philip Ross, From the Finger of God). There ceremonial laws never once secured salvation for the people of God. Salvation has always been by grace through faith. Paul proves his doctrine of justification by faith alone by appealing to Abraham and David in Romans 4. But through Moses God gave the church certain ordinances and ceremonies that they were to follow, but he did so as children who were under age and under tutors until the appointed time of the Father (see Galatians 4:2). In Christ these ceremonies were fulfilled as he was the substance of the shadow (Colossians 2:17). As Paul says, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:25-26).
- Redemption from the Law of Works: “Christ has redeemed us from the necessity of keeping the law as a condition and acceptance to God” (p. 45). Without this redemption we would all need to keep the works of the law to be justified. The first covenant, the covenant of works, was “Do this and live.” Life was only to be had by perfect obedience to the demands of the law. But Christ did what none of us—now fallen in sin—can do, and that’s to keep the law perfectly. He was born under the law to redeem those under the law (Galatians 4:4-5).
Without maintaining these particular nuances we run the danger of going to one extreme or the other. On the one hand we have legalism, which demands obedience for acceptance with God. On the other is antinomianism which says Christians are free from the obligation of the law. Both are dangerous, and both undermine the true gospel of Jesus Christ, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).