In their haste to assure people that God is love, many evangelicals go a little too far — and may not even mean to do that. In worst cases, they imply that Jesus came to show a “new way” that contradicts what God said before. Despite our intentions, this doesn’t help the Gospel.
Part of this is because people don’t teach, or learn, well about the changes between Covenants. That involves more than saying, as an acquaintance of mine wrote the other day:
“You have heard that it was said…”
Where was it said? In the Old Testament
“…You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
My online acquaintance then referenced Psalm 139:20-22 as supposedly one example of the wrong kind of hate-your-enemy thinking that went on before Jesus Christ arrived on Earth to change our thinking.
But in the New Testament Jesus changes that and says what we need to do now, for the New has come.
I think I understand what my friend was trying to say. But this could bring even more confusion than clarity. Any hearer, whether Christian or non-Christian, would be forced to conclude that Jesus came along and contradicted a real portion of God’s Law!1
Though I’m sure you didn’t mean to be this way, this is incorrect. If you think harder about it I’m sure you’ll see what I mean. Was the Psalmist wrong to think such thoughts? Was Jesus saying the Law had previously said that “you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy”? If so, where is that passage of the Law? And if God did give that commandment, is Jesus saying God was wrong?
Many people wrongly conclude that Jesus’ “new way” just overrules the Law. Not so. Christians who downplay the Law, and its real and current role in the world, are at risk of trying to be more “spiritual” than Jesus.
1. Jesus doesn’t just release people from the Law’s burden. He increases it, by reminding us that true violations are in our hearts, not in our deeds! Only He Himself can remove its burden.
2. Jesus does not oppose the Law. He opposes false views of it. He decries the often-willing ignorance of some people, in particular religious hypocrites. Such people refuse to see that the Law pointed to Him as the One Who relieves its burden for those who repent and believe Him.
3. And Jesus did not come to overthrow the unfair, too-hard Law. He came to fulfill it.
1. Jesus fulfills, not abolishes, the Law.“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.” [Matthew 5:17]
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.
3. We should not downplay the Law.“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”
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.
That comes from a series I wrote for YeHaveHeard.com called God’s Law and Jesus’ love. Would you consider reading that, so you can help Christians not imply that God’s Law is the bad stuff, and now we have “a new way” that makes the Law no longer important?
When Jesus said “you have heard that it was said,” he is not quoting Scripture. Whenever He does quote Scripture, He is much clearer about it. Instead, He is quoting a popular phrase of the day — a “law” that people may have made up, based on the real Law. And He says that His way is higher than that of the made-up Law.
Read Mark 7, and you’ll see that He does the same thing with the Pharisees. He does not offer “a new way” that is less harsh than the Law. He makes it clear that God’s standard is still the actual Law and the hearts of people. Otherwise, why in the world would people need His mercy and His death on the cross? People may believe (horribly!) that “God’s love” means they don’t need to repent of their sins and believe Jesus alone is the way they can be saved.
Meanwhile, I’ve collected the four-part God’s Law and Jesus’ love miniseries into a complete article, available here. Again I’m seeing how a seemingly small error (“Jesus came to change what God said”) can give rise to even worse mistakes — the worst of which is universalism.