I’d meant to just write one post about the Sermon on the Mount. Now here we are three weeks later with a third post on this study. And the first two only got through chapter five! I’m marveling at how much depth there is in such a familiar passage of scripture.
In the first part of this sermon, Jesus focuses on what God expects from those He’s in a relationship with. And it’s not always something that makes sense to human beings. The Beatitudes cover actions and character traits that don’t seem particularly positive from a human perspective, yet Jesus describes them as “blessed.” Then He starts talking about how law-keeping will change under the New Covenant. Walking in the spirit raises the bar higher, aiming for being like God rather than just living by the letter of His law. We end up keeping the law as we live in the spirit. And Jesus sticks with this theme of God’s expectations verses man’s ideas as He continues the sermon.
Jesus tells His hearers not to “do merciful deeds,” pray, or fast “as the hypocrites do” (Matt. 6:1-18, WEB). Those things are good — even essential — but they need to come from the right heart. The word hupokrites (G5273) means a stage actor or player who assumes a character’s role. So if you call someone who’s not on stage a hupokrites, you’re accusing them of playing a role in their lives. These people are living a performance, pretending to follow God while having other motives.
Hypocrites pretend to follow God so they can show-off to other people. But if we do that, Jesus warns “you have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 6:1, WEB). The hypocrites do things for human praise and when they get it “they have received their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16, WEB). If your only motive is impressing people, then that’s all you’ll get out of your righteous play-acting. Continue reading
When we start talking about the relationship between God’s law and New Testament Christians, everyone wants to jump right into Paul’s writings. It’s easy to pluck verses from his epistles out of context and use them to argue the law has been abolished and you don’t have to keep the commandments. But is that really the best explanation for passages like Romans 7 and Colossians 2 in light of the rest of the Bible?
I’ve written quite a bit about Romans but never Colossians, even though some commenters have asked. But a short time ago I was re-reading Paul’s letter to Colossae and felt a nudge in my spirit, “study this,” as I read 2:8:
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (KJV)
This verse provides context for what’s to follow. Paul’s going to be talking about the difference between following traditions invented by men and following Christ. He’s not just talking about whether or not the Old Testament law matters since Jesus came in the flesh. There’s another factor in play.
Jesus’ Take On God’s Law
Before going any farther in Paul’s writings, let’s look at what Jesus says. During His ministry, Jesus and His disciples were accused of things like Sabbath breaking, defiling Himself with sinners’ company, and unclean hygienic practices. We know that Jesus lived a sinless life and never broke His Father’s commands. But He did reject the additions humans made. Continue reading
If we say we’re followers of Jesus Christ, there are certain things we should, nay, we must do. As we talked about last week, there are observable markers of being someone who follows God — things we should be able to notice when we examine ourselves. Those things are inseparably connected with Christ’s presence in us.
There is plenty of freedom within the perfect law of liberty, but there are absolutes as well. God is highly personal and He’ll work with you on a personal level. That does not, however, mean He has different requirements for how different people follow and worship Him. He’s also a just God who is not inconsistent in His commandments, laws, and expectations. We might have different understandings of what God expects, but as we grow toward God we should also be growing in unity as we understand His mind more fully. There isn’t one law for you and one law for me. There’s just God telling us all to walk in His ways.
Love + Obedience + Indwelling
John begins both his gospel and his first epistle with a focus on Jesus Christ’s role as the Word of life. Then, in the epistle, he focuses on how we can have fellowship with this great Being and His Father. We must “walk in the light as He is in the light,” “confess our sins” so He’ll forgive us, and then keep His commandments (1 John 1:5-2:3). We cannot claim to know God unless we’ve keeping His word and walking as Jesus walked (1 John 2:4-6). God wants us to be part of His family and that means becoming like Him (1 John 3:1-2). Continue reading
One of the biggest problems in modern Christianity is an extreme either-or mentality. We lack balance, straying from one ditch to the other. Consider the Christian’s relationship with the Law. Some will say we must keep the whole law slavishly and seek part of our salvation in it (legalism), while others reject it entirely and say God doesn’t care if we keep His commands as long as we have Jesus (license). Both views miss the point.
Most arguments that the Law isn’t relevant today start with Paul. But Paul’s letters contain things “hard to understand” which people who aren’t well-grounded in the entirety of scripture can “twist to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). When we’re going to study a complex subject like this, we have to start somewhere more straight-forward. I can think of nowhere better than words directly from Jesus’ own lips.
Using The Law Rightly
When Jesus came to this earth, He didn’t tell people He was done with the Law. Instead, He said, “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). This word, pleroo (G4137), means to fill to the fullest extent. Or, as Thayer’s says, “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfillment.” Continue reading
Newly converted Christians (and even many of us who’ve been in the church for years) often struggle with God’s expectations for them, especially when reading the Old Testament. And I’ll admit, the Law can look really daunting. The Jews traditionally say there are 613 commandments, or mitzvot, in the Torah. Because there’s no temple or priesthood anymore, some have estimated only about 270 of these laws are still applicable today.
Reading the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” might feel overwhelming (“How could I ever keep track of them all?”), or sound unfair (“These don’t make sense; is God setting me up to fail?”), or seem stifling (“Why would He dictate my behavior in this area?”). To get around this, many modern Christians have rejected the Law completely and adopted the mentality that once you accept Jesus Christ as your savior there’s nothing else you need to do in order to be called a Christian.
This belief is mistaken. Jesus told people, “if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). He also said He did not come “to destroy the Law or the Prophets” (Matt. 5:17) and that those who love Him will keep His commandments (John 14:15). Jesus thought the Law was not only relevant but also vitally important, and if we claim to follow Jesus we have to agree with Him. But how do we reconcile 613 (even “only” 270) commandments with Jesus’s statement that “My yoke is easy and My burden is light”? (Matt. 11:30). Where is the love and grace of our Savior in the strict rules of the Law? Continue reading
There are a few verses in the New Testament that tell us we “are not under the law” (Rom. 6:15; Gal. 5:18). Though some use this as permission to act however you want so long as you’ve confessed Jesus, most Christians realize that God’s commandments are still in effect. Jesus did not “come to destroy the Law or the Prophets … but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17), and Paul said his own writings “establish the law” rather than repeal it (Rom. 3:31).
So why do these passages tell us we’re not under the law? I’ve heard many explanations, and touched on some myself, but none of them really answered the question of why Paul would use this phrase. They focused more on trying to say “that’s not really what he meant” than on trying to figure out why Paul chose these words to argue his point. Recently, though, I came across the best analysis of the phrase “not under the law” that I’ve ever seen. It was just a short passage in a little book called Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing by Catholic writer Christopher West.
Bondage to Sin
West writes about our desires — that we can either deny them and go on a “starvation diet,” indulge them in this life like “fast food,” or direct them toward God and partake in His “banquet gospel.” When addressing the idea of freedom in relation to desire, he says,
The Apostle Paul writes that those who “are led by the Spirit .. are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18). They’re free from the law — not free to break it (that’s license); they’re free to fulfill it because they don’t desire to break it. Christ didn’t come into this world to shove laws down our throats. He came into the world to align the desires of our hearts with the divine design so we would no longer need the laws (140)