This past Sunday, I attended Lifehouse Church. A verse came up that goes something like this -- it's Romans 13:10, by the way: "Love does no harm to its neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law." Pretty straightforward, right? I've heard this verse before. I love it, but this time, I read it differently. It says so much, but there are at least two ways in which it can be read. In the past, I've always read it as a definition of how to love -- do this, do that, blah, blah, blah, and you will have hard evidence of love inside you coming out -- and it is perfectly okay for it to be read like that. It has every implication of that... but this is not the only way it can be read.
In the context of Romans 12-15, a much greater force is at work, which can be seen as a huge contrast with the vibe one gets from the beginning of the letter. At first, Paul the apostle begins to speak to the Romans about the judgment they passed on fellow believers who were giving in to sin. Then he talked to them about how the concept of grace and forgiveness works, along with the concept of God's greater plan, for about 11 chapters in all.
By this time, he gotten to something that he always gets to: love. The kicker is, however, is that, unlike the beginning of the chapter, instead of addressing the letter of the law first, which is what the Romans were really pushing, he addresses the law by its relationship to love. Think about those words again: "... whoever loves others has fulfilled the law." (Don't mistuderstand me: doing things in the name of love does not necessarily make those things love.) In other words, he is saying that when you begin to love, you will begin to fulfill the law.
I think that's one of the things that is power behind Christ's forgiveness of the adulteress who was sentenced to death by stoning. He loved her, and even though He did not approve her of her adultery, He did not condemn her, but stood to defend her person, delievered a call-out to the blood-thirsty public, and simply told her to stop doing the things she was doing that caused her to come into condemnation, to stop condemning herself as we all do when we sin, when we reject His love. Never once did He say we couldn't come to Him. Never once did He say we were not loved. Never once did He condemn us. He simply said, "Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me." He really empowered us by telling us to "go and sin no more" because we do all have a choice to love or not to love.
The issue with the adulteress's accusers was that they believed in the law, but they lived without love, and that is what separated them from Christ, in addition to the fact that He was the only one there without sin, who was the only one capable of caasting a stone yet chose against it because it is in His blood to love... and that is the other context in which you can read Romans 13:10 -- not only do you prove your love through fulfilling the law, but the more you learn that you are loved, the more you learn to love, and the more you begin to live out that love and therefore fulfill the law. (It's actually kind of interesting, if you think about it, that Christ is God (John 1), that He came "not to destroy... but to fulfill" the law (Matthew 5), that God is identified by the apostle John as love Himself (1 John), and that "love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10), so by extension, Jesus not only fulfilled the law through His death and resurrection, but continues to fulfill it through us when we love.)
So the next time you find yourself in condemnation, the next time you find yourself messing up but not meaning to, just remember this if you remember nothing: Jesus loves you. He isn't condemning you, so why should you? He never said we could ever do what He did, live a perfect life, or anything like that, but He did say that we can live a better life if we follow Him. We can't save ourselves. It doesn't ride on our shoulders. Saving us was His cross. Our cross is faith. Faith will teach us to love, and love fulfills the law. :)