Jesus and the Law

Matthew 5:17–20

Don’t misunderstand why I have come—it isn’t to cancel the laws of Moses and the warnings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them and to make them all come true. With all the earnestness I have I say: Every law in the Book will continue until its purpose is achieved. And so if anyone breaks the least commandment and teaches others to, he shall be the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But those who teach God’s laws and obey them shall be great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

“But I warn you—unless your goodness is greater than that of the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders, you can’t get into the Kingdom of Heaven at all!”

If Jesus did not come to destroy the Law, does that mean all the Old Testament laws still apply to us today? In the Old Testament, there were three categories of law: ceremonial, civil, and moral. The ceremonial law related specifically to Israel’s worship. Its primary purpose was to point forward to Jesus Christ. The civil law applied to daily living in Israel. The moral law (such as the Ten Commandments) is the direct command of God, and it still requires strict obedience from God’s people.

Greater Righteousness

The Pharisees were exacting and scrupulous in their attempts to follow their laws. So how can Jesus reasonably call us to a greater righteousness than theirs? The Pharisees’ weakness was that they were content to obey the laws outwardly without allowing God to change their hearts (or attitudes). Jesus was saying, therefore, that the quality of our goodness should be greater than that of the Pharisees. They looked pious, but they were far from the Kingdom of God. God judges our hearts as well as our works, for it is in the heart that our real allegiance lies. Jesus was saying that his listeners needed a different kind of righteousness altogether (love and obedience), not just a more intense version of the Pharisees’ righteousness (legal compliance). Our righteousness must (1) come from what God does in us, not what we can do by ourselves; (2) be God-centered, not self-centered; (3) be based on reverence for God, not approval from people; and (4) go beyond keeping the Law to living by the principles behind the Law.

James C. Galvin

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

%d bloggers like this: