Christianity And The Law
(Christ And The Law)
What sort of attitude did Jesus have toward the law of God? This is the question we must ask of ourselves as we study the law of God and its relevance to mankind today. If Jesus disregarded God’s law, we can do the same. If Jesus abolished God’s law, we can consider it to be irrelevant. On the other hand, if Jesus respected, fulfilled, and established God’s law, we must honor and obey God’s law. Let us see what the Biblical record will show us.
Christ Established The Law
As Christ preached His Sermon on The Mount, He stated to the people, “ Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:17-20) What did Jesus mean by this statement? Did Jesus mean that, when He fulfilled the law, it would be forever useless and irrelevant, or did Jesus mean to say that His fulfilling of the law caused its authority to stand firmly? First of all, we must found our understanding of this issue upon Jesus’ first phrase in this passage. The reason we must found our understanding of this issue upon this first phrase of Jesus is because, in this passage, Jesus is plainly stating what people should not think about His attitude and actions toward the law of God. We must not think that Jesus came to destroy, demolish, or dissolve the law of God. He explicitly stated to us that we should not think that. Jesus did not come for this purpose. Anything else that is said about the validity of the law of God must be based upon this plain statement by Jesus. This being so, we can at least see that Jesus intends for the law to stand as it did for many years before His earthly ministry.
Jesus’ words concerning the law were very simple and very plain. After He told us that He had no intentions of destroying the law, He stated that He had come for the purpose of fulfilling the law. To fulfill the law meant more than simple obedience to all of God’s commands. To fulfill means to consummate, render perfect, ratify, or carry through to completion. This definition informs us that Jesus had a very high view of God’s law. In fact, since in the Old Testament the moral law of God was considered to be absolute, we can safely affirm that Jesus held the same view. If the reader will notice, however, there is one thing that Jesus stated that cannot be said by any other man. Jesus stated that He would fulfill the law. No other man could ever make that statement, no matter how good he might be. Why? Because no human has the authority to make or establish laws for all mankind for all ages. The only one who could carry the law to its intended end, perfect and ratify it would be the one who was the lawgiver – God. Jesus was stating that there was more work for the law to accomplish, and He would be the one to cause that work to be finished. Christ affirmed that the law would not go away, but would be upheld and perfected by Him.
Next Jesus affirmed the absolute authority of the law of God. That is, the law of God will continue to be authoritative with no reduction or change to that authority until it has served its purpose. “Verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matt 5:18) When we read of “jots and tittles” we are being given a description of the most minute parts of the alphabetical and grammatical structure of the Hebrew language. It would be roughly equivalent to saying that an “i” and a “.” would not pass away from the word of God. In other words, even in the smallest of particulars, the law of God would not be dissolved. Not one thing that would affect the meaning , understanding, and authority of God’s law would be allowed to pass away until the law was fulfilled. It seems that Jesus believed that the law of God was fully inspired and would be preserved by God, not only in the meaning, but in the writings/manuscripts as well. That is not to say that we have the original manuscripts with us today, but it is to say that God has preserved His word as He promised. In fact, Jesus told us that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” (Luke 16:17)
Jesus believed that the law was of absolute moral authority. He stated, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:19) While Jesus taught that not one of God’s moral commandments would cease to be authoritative (see also John 10:35b), He knew that there would always be those who deemed themselves of sufficient wisdom, etc. to determine that certain commands were no longer in force. He plainly told us that those who would seek to lessen the authority of the law of God in the lives of men would be considered of very little importance in the kingdom of Heaven. On the contrary, those who would uphold the absolute authority of God’s law for themselves and others would be counted great in the kingdom of Heaven. Why is this so? Simply because God honors those who honor Him, and those who despise Him will be lightly esteemed (See 1Sam 2:30). One may ask how the honor of God is relevant to the law. It is relevant because God is the absolute authority who authorized the law. To obey the word of God is to obey God Himself.
Jesus Taught The Law As Being Spiritual in Nature
While Jesus upheld the authority of the law, He also reminded men that the law is spiritual in nature. Notice His statement concerning the Pharisees and the law: “ I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:20) What did Jesus mean by this statement? To understand this statement, we must know the nature of Pharisaical righteousness. The Pharisee’s righteousness was external only. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matt 23:23-28) The whole focus of Pharisaic living was to appear righteous. So long as they had the outward form of the law upheld in their lives, they felt themselves to be very righteous. Jesus stated, in opposition to this fallacious notion, that one’s righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. Righteousness is much more than external forms. In fact, while rebuking the Pharisees, Jesus told them that the weighter things of the law were things of the heart; things such as judgment, mercy, and faith. He also told the Pharisees that they should first have the inside – their hearts – cleaned before they could truly clean up and have external righteousness. Why is this so? Because the law is spiritual and ministers primarily to the heart of man.
One day a man who was very learned in the law of God asked Jesus which was the great commandment in the law. We know that the questioning person was testing Christ and hoping to cause Him trouble. Perhaps the scribe thought that Jesus would prefer one specific command above another and the scribe could accuse Him of either being too harsh on one issue, or being to soft on another issue. Whatever the case may have been, Jesus upset the proverbial apple cart by saying: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40) In other words, the issue with the law was not an issue of external commands, and some being of greater importance. The heart of the law is spiritual in that the law calls for us to love God with all that is within us and with all that we are. We are then to spread that love for God by loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love is not a material thing. Love is spiritual, and the law leads us to love. To obey the law is to love God and to love our neighbor. That is indeed spiritual.
Jesus Fulfilled The Law
While Jesus established the law by upholding its authority, He also fulfilled the law by meeting its every righteous demand. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1-4) It takes little observation to notice, however, that the law, though morally perfect, was not complete. Something was lacking. The law could not be God’s final word to man because the law could not save. The law ministered condemnation to men by causing them to realize their sinful condition. Jesus, the Word of God, however, ministered salvation to men by fulfilling the law even by suffering the judgment of the law in His own body as a substitute for us. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17) Jesus brought grace and truth to a world full of sinners who were condemned by the law. It is any wonder, then, that He told the Jews, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39) The law that the Jews felt gave them life was actually testifying to them that Jesus was going to come to bring salvation, thus fulfilling the law.
Since the law could not be God’s final word to man, we must view Jesus and His Word as God’s final word to man. Why? Because the law was absolute morally. Jesus fulfills the law by saving us. What more can God say to us? We have the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (See Jude 1:3). What need have we for additional revelation? None, after all, when we consider that Jesus declared the Father to us (see John 1:18), we have the fullness of revelation. This means that Jesus’ fulfilling the law, and giving us the truth He promised (John 15:26;16:12-15) finalizes God’s Word to mankind. For this we have much to be thankful, because we know where God’s Word is found, and are stable and secure due to the knowledge that we do not have to search for God’s Words, nor keep having to learn more and more due to an influx of additional words from God.
“Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” (2 Cor 9:15)