“If it is true, that a perfect righteousness is set before us in the Law, it follows, that the complete observance of it is perfect righteousness in the sight of God.”
-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion II.7.iii
How might we come to assume that righteousness is malleable or shifted according to time and place? What can be learned from scripture but the consistency of the character and will of God throughout scripture, throughout time, a driving force undergirding redemption? That God is who he is, he wills righteousness and goodness of his creatures, and works to bring them to that beautiful state in communion with himself is clear. Thus, if the ideal of righteousness itself is changed, all is lost, or at least confused. Therefore it is Biblically necessary that our word for Christ’s impact on the moral law be ‘fulfillment’ or ‘culmination.’ If then, the righteousness desired by God of man has been presented from the beginning, was made unattainable by the reign of sin, then Christ is the way made to the age-old goal. This way is the new covenant; this way is the fulfillment of the old law.
How, though? Christ fulfills the law through obedience to it and is its fulfillment in his being. He himself does not sin, thus even as human he avoided being under the condemnation of the law (for only those who trespass the law fall under its condemnation). If then, those who are united to Christ are united to him in his death, and resurrection, then the benefits of that victory are theirs. The death Christ died thus was not a debt demanded of him, and so could be for others, as a propitiation for their transgression of the law. His resurrection for them is life new now, fully realized later.
What is this new life now? A Christian, one reconciled to God by being united to Christ, is no longer “under the law” for in fact their appropriate debt to the law for failure to uphold it has been paid through Christ. The righteousness in which they are able to live is a righteousness achieved in Christ’s obedience to the law. Their new life is one free to continue in obedience to the law by faith, which is righteousness, now freely able to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the will of God for his creation, come to fruition: that his people live in faithful obedience to his will, reconciled to himself.
Thus, then, shall we live.