Out in the wilderness, John cries: repent! And so people come to be baptized. And then (surprise!) Jesus also answers John’s call.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented. (Matthew 3:13-15)
Jesus fulfills all righteousness by ritually performing repentance even when he’s not culpable. He enacts a willingness to be responsible even when he’s not guilty. With this gesture of repentance, Jesus shoulders a responsibility that exceeds what can be demanded by the law or defined by guilt.
This is what love looks like.
It’s obvious, of course, that the law cannot be fulfilled by way of obedience because the end of the law is love. Only love can fulfill the law. And love, unlike obedience, can’t be demanded.
In this same way, it’s also obvious that only repentance can fulfill all righteousness—even if, repenting, one is not culpable. Love exercises responsibility beyond the bounds of culpability.
Jesus’ baptism exemplifies this Christian posture. Jesus is God revealed: life, penitent but guiltless.
No one repents more (or better) than God.
Christian life, individually and institutionally, looks the same. Christian life is repentance performed as a way of life—not as a gesture meant to assuage personal culpability, but as a kind of love that has put down the lawful burden of culpability to bear instead, with Jesus, that broader and deeper yoke of shared responsibility.