Did Jesus come only to teach love and not God’s Law? Is it true to say “Christianity is not about rules, but relationships”? What did Jesus Himself say about it? (Continued from last week …)
What’s the Word?
One very relevant passage to explore 1 is from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.” 2 Many wrongly think Jesus only offers better ways to live, or moral encouragements for all who listen. But although His words may sound soft-spoken, the realities are much harsher.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5: 17-20
Wow. Let’s be sure we don’t miss the profound truths buried in that paragraph. Nothing than less than an attempt at exegesis (my best, anyway) seems due here …
1. Jesus fulfills, not abolishes, the Law.
Lest anyone think Jesus came to offer anything different from the Law, He directly denied it. “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” He said. I wonder: if I had been Jesus (scary thought), and I had wanted to tell people for sure that the true Law was not dead and gone or unnecessary for anyone in the present day, how would I have communicated this more clearly?
If Jesus actually did abolish the effects of the Law, here He was lying or obscuring the truth.
2. The Law won’t end until the world ends.
Might someone think that has already happened — that at some point before now, the Law’s effects have passed as He predicted? No, Jesus’ context makes clear what “all is accomplished” means: the time when “heaven and earth pass away.”
I just looked out my window. Earth is still here, so I presume Heaven is too. He hasn’t yet redeemed, remodeled and combined them (Revelation 21).
Therefore I presume the Law’s iotas and dots are still un-passed.
3. We should not downplay the Law.
These seem like very strong words: those who try to downplay the Law and its truths aren’t just misguided, naïve or doctrinally wrong, but they “will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
That just makes me want to wipe my brow and pray I won’t be too cavalier about the Law!
God’s standards are just as holy today as they were back then. Jesus hasn’t lowered the standard; here, He has just made it higher and more strict than ever. If He hadn’t made it clear here and elsewhere that He Himself was the fulfillment of that standard, and died and rose again to prove it, people might still be calling Him a “legalist” today.
4. If we follow the Law’s commandments, we will be called great.
I’d much rather be placed in this group. And why is that? So we can be called “great in the kingdom of heaven.” Christians ought not do as I once thought deep down, that the best and most “spiritual” Christianity is disinterested devotion to religious duties. Rather, I should want to want the best reward He can give — Himself — in the Kingdom when it comes here directly.
5. Want Christ’s Kingdom? Then out-obey the Pharisees.
We might not see Jesus’ impact here without comparing it with a direct-opposite view: a “cheap grace” that assumes we don’t need to consider God’s holiness, only His love.
But here, Jesus doesn’t mention a word about God’s love. He talks about His great love at other times, and it’s absolutely essential to remember that as we seek to know Jesus and all of His character. But here, His focus is His Father’s holiness and the Law. Its standard was in effect then, and remains in effect today for those who don’t believe Him.
6. Christians are not under the Law, because of Christ’s coming and personal faith.
Years later, Christians in the Galatian church were being told opposite ideas of the Law, by very “spiritual” teachers who claimed the Christians were still under its requirements. But Paul wrote:
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 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: 23-26
So Paul makes things even clearer to Christians: they are no longer captive to the Law. But the essential ingredients for the status change are Christ’s coming, what He did, and personal faith that brings forgiveness of sins and adoption as God’s sons.
Next week: if it’s true that Jesus did not oppose the Law, but came squarely on its side, why then was He so often fighting with the Pharisees? Weren’t they all about the Law when He wanted them to understand His grace and love? What do you think?