Though God’s law never passes away, and all must be fulfilled, Jesus came to fulfill the law for us (Romans 8:3-4). Only in Him can the righteous requirement of the law be fulfilled. That’s what the gospel is all about—the reality that Jesus lived the life we can’t live and offered to trade places with us, becoming our sin so we might become His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). This was a huge issue in the early church, because many of the Jews who came to faith were convinced they still needed to keep either the whole law or some measure of the law. In Acts 15, we see this episode of the church’s early life play out. Peter realizes that they’ve made a mistake in trying to teach new converts to keep the law, saying, “…why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (Acts 15:10-11).
Paul then walks through this with the church of Galatia, giving us a stronger sense of what God’s heart is for us on this issue. It would be beneficial to read the whole letter or at least Galatians 3 onwards, but Paul’s conclusion is this: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Galatians 3:10-11). He then says, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 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 3:24-26).
Paul walks through this more as the book continues, in chapter 4 actually getting upset with the Galatians for observing days and months and seasons and years. And though that part might seem a little unclear, Paul goes into the same issue with the Colossian church with more clarity, saying Jesus’s finished work canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands by nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14-15), and he goes on to say in the next verse, “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17). The very next chapter goes on to make clear what sort of holy lifestyle God’s people are called to, so this message from Paul is not a message of license to sin, it’s simply a message of freedom in Christ from the law to serve God out of a renewed spirit rather than pressure to meet requirements.