Over the past few weeks, we have been looking at how elements of the ‘Law’ relates to Jesus’ ministry. To wrap up our discussion, we turn back to the place where we began, looking at a key passage that quotes Jesus.
In Matthew 5:17-20 (NLT), Jesus tells us:
17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
20 “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!
The key in this verse that I want to bring out is that Jesus is talking about “God’s Law”. Tradition holds that because God spoke the Ten Commandments directly to the Israelites, that these ten instructions make up God’s Law while the rest of the commandments that He gave were through Moses and therefore “Moses’ Law”. Moses’ Law went away, while God’s Law never does.
I hope you have seen from some of our recent discussions that this logic doesn’t work, because:
- God gave Moses the law that we are calling “Moses’ Law”. If it still originated with God, then it should be included in “God’s Laws”.
- We have seen God’s character revealed in laws given by Moses. If we see God’s character in these other laws, then God must be behind these laws as well.
- Jesus came to die for our sins. He sacrificed Himself, as our “Passover Lamb”, to allow us the opportunity to choose a different road – one that leads us into a restored relationship with God. Jesus’ sacrifice is universally significant, which is more than a “Law of Moses” could ever offer.
I have heard it said that the Jewish Law is summarized in the Ten Commandments, and that the Ten Commandments are summarized by the two commandments (love God & love others). These two commandments are then united and summarized by a single idea: ‘Love’. Since God is ‘Love’, and Jesus (who is God and a perfect image of God) is also ‘Love’, then in Jesus’ life we should see God’s idea of Love.
I know of no better place to summarize Jesus’ life than with His own words:
17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him [Jesus]. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for He has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:17-19).
One phrase jumps out at me as I read this. “The oppressed will be set free”. This is distinguished from captives being released. I believe we are all captives to Satan and sin until Jesus sets us free, however even deeper than that is freedom from oppression. The two big oppressors in Jesus’ time were the Roman empire with political power over Israel, and religious rules given by the religious leaders living in Israel.
Jesus offers freedom from both of these oppressors.
How you might ask? By changing our lives and our hearts and giving us a new perspective with His Spirit.
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” (Galatians 5:22-23). We are free from the “Law” when we have the Spirit in us because there are no laws governing these characteristics of our attitude. Mix all these ‘fruits of the Spirit’ and we get sacrificial service as Jesus showed us.
Jesus loved everyone (yes, even the Pharisees), but He would not bend God’s Truth for anyone. God cares for those who are hurting, and He challenges those who need to grow. Both Love and Law (or Grace and Truth), are required in our lives for us to grow into what God wants us to be.
Returning to the overarching idea of ‘love’, many people hold to the idea that love has replaced the law. While this isn’t their direct words, this is the implication: ‘If we are loving, we don’t have to obey the law’. This cannot be true because God’s Love is at the core of God’s Law.
Instead, looking at God’s definition of Love, we see that instead of summarizing it, He expands it at each stage. God is Love. He has expands His Love with the two commands: Love God and Love others. He expands it further in the Ten Commandments. The rest of Jewish Law explains the Ten Commandments even more helping us see the full intent of God’s Law. Through Jesus’ life, we see an example of what living to the standard set by God’s Law (both the letter of the law and the Spirit behind the law) is like.
Jesus could never abolish God’s Law because God’s character never changes. God’s Law is a reflection of His character. However, Jesus offers ‘freedom’ from the law by changing us. He promises to change our attitude and our actions so we become intentionally focused and generous towards others’ needs—so generous that no law would rightly oppose our actions. We are free from the Law, but it is not because the Law is gone. If the Law disappeared, then there could be no sin.
Instead, we are free because God’s Holy Spirit is living within us and our new desires are spent showing the fruits of the spirit towards others. We are living so far away from the line between keeping the law and breaking the law that it would seem like the law doesn’t exist. This is what Jesus promises to us.
I am still learning and growing, and believe me, God is still working to bring me to this place, but this is what I have learned so far on my journey of understanding these concepts.
P.S. What are your thoughts? Join the conversation below!