Fulfill All Righteousness

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.


  1. Clark Goble says:

    If repentance (and thereby baptism) is less about particular sins and instead is understood as turning to God and away from sin then Jesus is the exemplar here. I think part of the issue is how we view repentance. We see it as repenting of an individual sin rather than from our sins. 2 Nephi 31 is always interesting here.

  2. I’d argue that what Christ models ritually is submission more than repentance. I”m boringly traditional enough to think Christ is never called to repentance as we are, but Christ is called to submission (as we are, too). If I put “submission” in place of repentance in your last paragraph, it rings truer to me.But it’s also true that I don’t fully get to the life of shared responsibility without divesting myself (through Christ) of my culpability.

    His growing grace for grace doesn’t start with repentance, as ours must. Our turning to God, or growing grace for grace, involves some aspect of repentance that Christ’s doesn’t. He doesn’t need a savior or redeemer. We do.

    It also strikes me that the submission beyond justification–the growing grace for grace of sanctification–is a turning to Christ that is built on, but still differs from repentance. Both are ways of submitting and (as your post would put it) submitting in love.

  3. Anne Palmieri says:

    Beautiful! Thank you. The fulfillment of all righteousness then, is love!

  4. Chrissy Gavin says:

    I definitely have felt the love of God for me and for others in my life. But I would like to point out that God doesn’t repent…so I don’t agree with your statement that no one repents more (or better) than God. He doesn’t repent, only we do.

  5. Chrissy Gavin says:

    Sorry, it posted before I wanted to. Christ was baptized not for repentance but because it was a commandment. And was fulfilling all righteousness. He was not repenting. I know that Christ was the only begotten of the Father. His will was and is the Father’s will.

  6. nateoman says:

    It strikes me as presumptuous to say that in the Christian life I am to take on collective responsibility for sins of which I am not culpable. (If this is what you are saying. Perhaps not? It is obscure to me.) That stance, to me, seems to confuse sinner and Savior, imagining that the former may take on the role of the latter.

    Which means, I think, that I agree with Kieth, which he may find distressing.

  7. “Only love can fulfill the law” — yes, thanks. But this is not the way (most) Mormons talk, being so heavily invested in satisfaction or substitution models of atonement.

  8. Is “ritually performing repentance” the same thing as repenting? It doesn’t feel like it. It feels more like submission as described by CG. Then again would not the greatest repentance be submission of ones will in all things to God? Lots to think about.

  9. Clark Goble says:

    Nate, if there can be national sins or community sins then if I am a member of that community surely in some sense I am a part of those sins – even if perhaps I oppose the actions of the community. I raise this as this sort of communal responsibility seems a common feature within the Old Testament. It’s interesting how many narratives have the one small righteous family “rescued” in various ways from the communal condemnation. (Think Lot or even Lehi)

  10. Clark Goble says:

    Christian, while clearly the satisfaction and substitution models are popular, isn’t the most popular view the “healing” view where Christ comes to have a kind of omniscience of feeling what we feel so he can heal us? The whole theology popular in Mormonism (even if perhaps a bit dodgy textually) of Christ in gethsemane is about this healing atonement.

    Admittedly no one has data on this, but I think gethsemane tends to be emphasized the most in Mormon thought.

  11. Clark, fair point regarding the healing view. I don’t know. If I had to judge from random bits of evidence and experience, I’d say that I hear “healing” most often as a challenge or contrast to satisfaction, which makes me think that satisfaction is the base norm and healing the exception, kind of the gnosis. But I really don’t know.
    For purposes of the OP, it probably doesn’t matter. Every model of Christ as physician, as judge, as advocate, as interceder, as substitute, has two problems that come to mind. One is that such models have buried within them the hint that I can do some myself. Heal myself. Don’t sin. Do penance. Fix it. Second, such models make Christ distant and different in a way that tempts me to avoid the responsibility that I understand in taking His name. In a phrase, why should I mourn with those that mourn if that’s His job?
    [Yes there are seeds of self-contradiction here. Yes there are replies and reconciliations. Yes there is probably no perfect model, but each has something to teach and something to avoid.]

  12. R Spencer Robinson says:

    Here is another perspective. I will attempt to be plain. 2 Nephi 25:4. Hopefully I will not be perceived as contentious.

    Implicit in repentance is the existence of sin. Jesus Christ had no sin. Therefore, he could not repent.

    Thus, to me, stating that “no one repents more (or better) than God is a form of blasphemy. It imputes sin to God.

    As I understand it, the fulfillment of all righteousness was a reference to obedience by complying with the mandate to receive an essential ordinance. Christ participated in the ordinance out of obedience, not out of a need for its power to cleanse. Of that he had no need.

    Obedience remains the first law of heaven. It is the law upon which all blessings are predicated. D&C 130:20–21; Deuteronomy 11:8, 26–27. It is better than sacrifice. See 1 Samuel 15:22

    The statement that love cannot be commanded seems contrary to statements made by Jesus Christ. According the Matthew 22, the first and great commandment is “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”

    The second is like unto it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

    We are commanded to love.

    Obedience is more than outward compliance. It is also inward compliance. Both our actions and our motives must be right. Otherwise, we are not truly obedient. I suggest a review of Elder Oaks talk, “Why Do We Serve?” delivered in October of 1984 General Conference.

    True repentance is not a means of assuaging (making an unpleasant feeling less intense) personal culpability. It is accepting the atonement’s power to remove sin and its pain completely and to replace it with joy. Alma the Younger’s experience provides an example.

    When we accept and apply the atonement of Jesus Christ, there is no longer a lawful burden of culpability. Even the Lord remembers our sins no more. D&C 58:42, Jeremiah 31:34.

    I do not understand what is meant by a broader and deeper yoke of shared responsibility.

  13. I confess that I don’t understand these comments that say Jesus could not repent because he did not sin. By the same reasoning he should not have been baptized either, because he had no sins to remit. The whole point of Jesus’s words to John is to correct the notion that Jesus’s lack of sin meant that he should not repent and be baptized. I guess Clark is right that it probably has to do with how we understand repentance.

    I don’t think we can draw such a sharp distinction between baptism and repentance, as though they are two separate things. Baptism is not something you do after repentance is complete and finished; it is how we witness to God our willingness to repent–that is, to turn to a life of obedience. If Jesus’s was baptized, then of course he repented–that’s what baptism means. No, that does not imply that Jesus sinned, any more than the fact that he was baptized means that he sinned.

  14. I guess I don’t see much of a real qualitative difference between repentance and submission, per Keith’s comment. Repentance is nothing less than submitting our well to God’s will, submitting our human nature to the spirit. Jesus’s repentance, then, is nothing less than what Abinadi describes in Mosiah 15.

    Yes, the old testament says that God is not a man that he should repent. But the New testament shows us that God did in fact become a man, so at least the premise of that verse is no longer true. And that perhaps gets at the heart of why Jesus repented–not because he had sins or guilt, but because true repentance means submitting our human nature to the spirit, and is therefore a necessary part of what it means to be human, if we ever want to experience atonement with God.

    Or, you could also say that Jesus repented inn the sense that though he had no sin, he took our sins upon him and repented of them. That is problematic for a few reasons, but it is, at the very least, consistent with the idea of substitution and vicarious atonement.

  15. Clark Goble says:

    JKC, I think both views are there. I can understand those who balk at using the term repentance due to the obvious connotation of sin. I don’t mind the term so long as we’re clear how we’re using it. i.e. this seems much more a debate about semantics and rhetorical effect.

    Christian, I confess I’ve not seen healing as opposing satisfaction. But again there are numerous different metaphors of the atonement. Contra some I tend to think most of them give an needed perspective so long as they aren’t pushed too far. I’m not sure all models have the problem of “can I do it myself.” All of them seem premised on the fact I can’t. Perhaps you mean I can do *something* along this line. If so, then I agree. But that seems to me a feature not a bug.

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