Christ Came to Fulfill the Law: Matt. 5:17-20

Today, we continue to look at Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.  So far, we’ve covered what it means to be blessed by God, and what it looks like for believers to be salt and light to the world around them.  Next, we’ll examine the relationship Christ, and His followers, have with the law of God.

“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.”–Matt. 5:17-20

Go into any Christian bookstore and you’ll likely find a coffee mug (or any other object that can be engraved) with the words, “God is love” written on it.  We like to talk a lot about the love of God, and rightly so, for the truth that God loves sinful man changes everything.

But do we understand God’s love in light of God’s holiness?  Do we believe sometimes that God simply forgot about the commands of the law and forgave us out of His “love?”  Is there a tendency, I wonder, to think that God lowered the standard of the law so that we could be forgiven of our sin and be declared right before Him?

Jesus demolishes that thought with His words in these few verses.  Jesus fulfills the law of God perfectly.  Instead of God lowering the standards of the law, He sent His Son to obey the law perfectly in our place, as the promised Messiah, who fulfills the Old Testament prophets.  In the life of Christ, God makes it clear that no one is right before Him, no one is entering heaven without being perfect, without a blemish on their record.  But praise God that when we cannot do this on our own, He provided a Savior in whom we could place our faith to be made perfect before God.

The law of God does not “pass away” when Jesus comes–it gets fulfilled, and all those who trust in the perfection of Christ to be declared perfect before the Father are, by God’s grace, declared perfect by the Father.  This is good news! We get Christ’s record because He got ours.

So what then is our relationship to the law as followers of Christ?  Do we simply not care about it, because we’ve been saved?  Do we get to continue on in sin?  Are we, as Paul says, to “go on in sin that grace may abound?”  Let me echo Paul’s answer to that question: “By no means!”

Now, having been declared righteous in Christ, and brought under His Lordship, forgiven of our sins and adopted as children of God, we are to be who we are in Christ–holy, perfect and godly.  If we’ve been made alive in Christ, why would we go back to that which brought death?  That would be foolish! Jesus tells us that as citizens of the kingdom, as followers of the King, as believers in the gospel, we are to observe His commandments and teach them.  In other words, we are to obey the Savior.

The rabbis of the day distinguished between “light” commandments and “weighty” commandments.  Jesus makes it clear in Matt. 23:23-24 that He is against those who neglect the “weightier” matters of the law while thinking that their keeping of the “light” commandments will make up for their ugly hypocrisy.  However, Jesus makes it clear that obedience to Him is 100%.  He calls out those who would cherry-pick commands to obey or not obey.  While some are weightier than others, the commands of Christ are all worthy to be observed and kept.

The last verse can be somewhat confusing if read out of context: Why is Jesus telling His followers that they have to be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees?  They don’t seem terribly righteous when they shout, “Crucify Him!”  So is Jesus telling us that we don’t have to be too terribly righteous?  Or is He actually affirming that they’re pretty righteous, and we need to one-up them in order to be right with God?  Didn’t He make it clear that we’re declared righteous through faith, not works?

Jesus here is calling for a different kind of righteousness.  The Pharisees and scribes had an external righteousness that didn’t arise out of a heart that trusted and loved God.  They were like the older brother in Luke 15 who obeyed grudgingly and when he wasn’t awarded for his obedience, grumbled about how his dad was really stupid and unfair.

As Christ followers, we understand that when we came into a relationship with Jesus, we were declared righteous.  We were adopted as children of God, and God loves us as He loves Christ.  We now trust Him as our God, and desire to be who we are in Christ.  Our righteousness is not a fake, self-righteous external morality, but an internal, God-given righteousness that comes from the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.  We obey because it is who we are in Christ, because obedience is now our joy, and we hate our sin.

Praise God for this gospel that changes everything.

Lord, may we trust in your righteousness, and hold fast to your cross.  May we walk righteous because that’s who we are in you, Jesus.  May we share this gospel until you call us home or come back to get us.  May you be glorified forever.

God bless,

Neal E.

The Gift of Salvation

I do apologize for such a long absence to those who read my blog. I have been busy, with a lot of good things, but busy nonetheless. But I’m ready to start blogging more regularly, so let’s get started.

I wish it was Christmas time. It still feels like July in Alabama, and I’m ready for colder weather. But more than that, I’m ready for the season…because at this time of the year, if only at this time, we seem to understand the nature of gifts and grace and love. We see it, we show it…why? Because it’s Christmas..cheer up! No one’s sad on Christmas. At this time, we remember God’s “gift” to us–His Son Jesus.

But I have to wonder…do we understand this gift from 8-5 in the middle of June? Does it mean as much when we get trapped in the day-to-day struggles of life? Do we enjoy God’s gift in the middle of October when we’re stressed out with school? I know it’s easy for me to forget.

I’ve been thinking more and more lately about the gospel (never a bad thing to have on the mind) and it finally hit me as I was going through some material for evangelism training at our Baptist Campus Ministries–salvation is a gift.

Now I’ve known this for several years, but I think, for the first time, I’m seeing the beauty and the majesty in that truth.

Gifts are received and enjoyed. They are not worked for, paid back for, or left to sit on the counter. I’ll briefly discuss all three of these misunderstandings about gifts as it relates to God’s gift to us in Christ.

When my mom buys me a gift, whether it be the latest Madden game, a new pair of jeans or a cell phone, she never once asks me to earn it. If I earned it, it’s not a gift! If I earn it, it is the result of my work, not a gift.

“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.”–Romans 4:4

So if we work for our salvation, it is not a gift, but what is due us. The problem with this is that we can’t earn salvation. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We read God’s law and hear Jesus say that whoever has broken one law is guilty of trespass against the entire law. We are guilty before God, with no way to justify ourselves by our work.

Yet, God has given us a gift:

“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”–Romans 4:5

So..we don’t earn it. We believe and we receive. All we’re asked to do with a gift is to receive it with joy, thank the giver and enjoy the gift. That’s it. We don’t earn it.

And we don’t pay it back. How dare we think we have something to add to the righteousness of Christ? How dare we think we can make a better sacrifice than the death of the King of Kings? We cannot. We must not. If we do, we do so at our own eternal risk.

So we trust in Christ.

We also don’t leave the gift sitting on the counter. We don’t let our salvation become numb to us.

So how do we enjoy our salvation? We walk in it. If we have stopped trusting in our own righteousness and trusted in the righteousness of Christ for our salvation, we have been given righteousness (Romans 10:4–“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes.”).

Therefore, walk in righteousness! Don’t sin! Enjoy being righteous in Christ, and walk that out in this life. We will fail, and we’ll repent and turn back to Christ for forgiveness and rest in His perfection in the midst of our imperfections.

However, for those who trust and rest in Christ, we can confidently face temptation and sin and say, “I am righteous in Christ. I don’t have to do this. I enjoy following Christ and walking in His ways.” And we should grow in confidence in Him and walking in His righteousness throughout our lives.

We’ve been forgiven by trusting Christ to cover our sin and take them away through His cross. We’ve trusted Christ to apply His finished work to our lives so that we are no longer under the wrath of God, but under His grace. Our hearts have been changed in repentance and faith, to hate our sin and love God and to trust in Christ’s work.

Therefore, worship God! Therefore, forgive others! Therefore, pursue Christ to be more like Him and to have joy, not to earn acceptance! You already have it–in Him!

If you don’t have this gift, let me paint a picture of what Christ has done and what He offers.

Jesus is the Son of God, King of Kings, and eternally reigns on the throne. He needs nothing. He is completely satisfied and happy because He is holy, worshiped, adored and in a relationship with God the Father. We are dirty sinners, dead in our sins, not desiring God and choosing other things. But Jesus came, becoming a man, just like us. He lived a perfect life, completely obeying God, completely having joy in Him and Him alone, and then went to the cross having done nothing wrong. The King of Kings became the least of these so that He could take all of our sin, every single one, on Himself. He took the wrath of God and the death we deserved for our sin. He died. Then He rose again to show that for everyone who trusts in Him as the sacrifice for their sin, as their Savior, God no longer condemns them, but forgives them by covering their sin through the cross. So the offer is: Confess your need for Jesus. Turn against your sin to call Jesus Lord, trusting Him to take away the sin you now hate. Give Jesus your sin, trusting Him to cover it and take it away through the cross. Trust in Him to give you His righteousness. Walk now under the Lordship of Jesus Christ as you learn how to walk in the salvation you’ve been given.

The perfect King of Kings, Lord of all the universe, died to take all my sin, and gave this wretched dead man life and, more than that, righteousness before God. He led me to repent and trust in Him to give me new life and forgiveness. Now I’m accepted and seen as perfect in Christ! I don’t deserve this! And it’s still hard to believe. Sometimes I don’t feel that way. But my forgiveness and righteousness and salvation isn’t dependent on my feelings, but on Him in whom I put my faith. The object, not the strength, of our faith is what matters.

O Lord, may our repentance flow from a hatred of sin and a love for you. May we trust in your cross to cover every single one of our sins. That’s the only sacrifice we need. May we rest in your perfection to cover us before God. May we worship you and give you the highest praise. May we have confidence and assurance of our salvation because we are confident and assured of you and your resurrection. May we enjoy the great gift you give us. May we look forward to the day where we see you face to face, where the enemies of sin and Satan are no longer and our joy will be complete in you. May we love you more, Lord Jesus. Amen.