When I began attending church in the 1970s, most people wore “Sunday clothes” to the worship service. Men wore suit jackets and neckties, and women wore dresses. Today most people dress much more casually for church. Changes like this can be hard for some to accept, especially when traditions become an integral part of our church culture. Imagine what it was like for the Jewish people whose lives had been shaped by the Mosaic law for generations to hear Paul say that Gentiles could be saved without the law!
The underlying question of much of the book of Romans is “What happened to the law?” In a way, Paul’s answer is, “Nothing.” God gave the law, but He never intended the law to be a way of earning salvation. Those who hoped to establish their righteous standing before God by keeping the law of Moses misunderstood its message. They were zealous for God but “not based on knowledge” (v. 2). Instead of submitting to God’s righteousness, they attempted to establish their own merit (v. 3).
Jesus Christ was the “culmination” of the law (v. 4). The Greek word that the NIV renders culmination can mean end or goal. The goal of the law was to show our need for the gift of righteousness that comes through Christ. No matter how hard we may try, we cannot perfectly follow God’s Law. For those who understand this, Christ’s righteousness is the end of all attempts to earn God’s favor through human effort. This is why the gospel is not a method but a message of salvation. Those who hear and believe are saved (vv. 13–15).