In Romans 3:20 Paul said that no one could be justified before God by the law. From that verse I have often heard that the reason the law could not justify was because no one could keep the law perfectly and even one infraction was enough to alienate us from God. The implication was that if one could keep the law perfectly, perhaps like Jesus, then one could, in fact, obtain righteousness by law keeping.
As I have noted before, the sinless perfection of Jesus before the Law of Moses is seriously questionable, so I don’t think even Jesus was righteous on the basis of perfect law observance. The law granted the Jewish religious leaders the authority to declare who was a lawbreaker and their decisions were declared irrefutable and their sentences mandatory.
This idea that the law was only deficient as a source of righteousness because of human failings is in need of serious reconsideration. There is ample evidence that the law itself was imperfect, specifically in its insistence on human judgment and human enforcement. Humans obviously are routine failures in making good civil judgments and properly enforcing civil laws. The same thing is true of religious law. Some may insist that the religious judgments of the Jewish religious leaders were divinely guided, but the biblical narrative does not remotely confirm any such contention. Jewish religious leadership was consistent in only one thing, failure in the eyes of God.
Jesus came onto the scene and firmly established what the law really said. No one is righteous before the law and therefore morally, ethically, and religiously every last human being is equal before God. The then prevalent Jewish notion that they were somehow special in righteousness was blown away by his powerful words.
Jesus further said that he came to fulfill the law and not to destroy it. How did he fulfill the law- by establishing this absolute equally before the law and by summarizing all the legal prescriptions into the one essential element- love. What about the law remained after Christ? Whatever remained could not be any pretense that righteousness came by obedience or any form of human effort or accomplishment Neither could it be the self righteous law induced compulsion to judgment and punish one’s fellow human beings for not being good enough. These aspects of the law were soundly rejected by Jesus.
So what could be left of the law on this side of the cross- the use of the law as a personal moral guide, to be applied individually to one’s own life without any attempt to force that personal guidance on another person. Thus Jesus could fulfill, retain, and yet destroy by first confirming and then redirecting the focus on how the law was used or applied.