So, to the Jews of His day, to be a Jew meant to be one of God’s chosen people. Everyone else was on the outside, cut off from God. Most Jews back then felt superior to and looked down on everyone who wasn’t a Jew. Yet, once His ministry began, the first places He went to were a city of the Samaritans and then to Syria – both places of Gentile populations. And His disciples watched in confusion as these Gentile peoples readily accepted His word. They were astounded when He told them that anybody could now be a “Jew” – the way they thought of it. The idea of salvation for everyone was such a mind-bend to them that Paul, years later, in an effort to help his Jewish brothers get it, said that the church Jesus founded on Pentecost, after His resurrection, was the Israel of God. The church had replaced Israel. He wasn’t working with them anymore in a covenant way. He was working with anybody that would follow Him. And that wasn’t all Jesus said that freaked out His disciples.
In the beginning of His ministry, Jesus wanted them all to know that, while He did not follow the traditions that we call Judaism today, He was in no way doing away with the law of God, contained is what we today call the Old Testament. Let’s look at it – right out of His mouth – Matthew 5:17.
Matthew 5:17 – Do not think I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. Now that term, back then and today, the part of your Bible that we call the Old Testament – from Genesis to the very end – right up to where the New Testament starts. He said: I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill them.
Okay, right here, let’s stop and think about that word fulfill. Some say that word means that He lived it perfectly so we don’t have to. But is just an interpretation. That’s somebody’s idea. Because He didn’t say that. And there isn’t any evidence that supports that either. He had just said that He would not abolish the law, meaning that it’s still on the books – literally. So the word fulfill cannot mean that He did away with our need to keep it. It means what He did actually – which was to observe it perfectly, as an example for us. Then He adds this – just to close the book on it:
V-18-20 – For truly I say unto you, “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” So, is all accomplished? No. Are we in the new heaven and the new earth? No, we’re not. 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.
So, not only was He not doing away with the laws in the Old Testament, He was elevating that law, that Moses brought down from the mountain on two tablets of stone, to their full spiritual intent. “God is love,” John said. And Jesus said the entire Old Testament hangs on the love of God and the love of neighbor. So that’s what He’s elevated it to. Now, we not only have to refrain from killing somebody. We have to refrain from hating them. That’s the heart of the New Testament – the New Covenant.
So, the disciples didn’t know what to do with this. Notice the passage. This is kind of funny, if you think about it – Matthew 19:3.
Matthew 19:3-10 – The Pharisees came up to Him and tested Him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” And He answered, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God has joined together, let not man separate.” And they said to Him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and send her away?” And He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” And I say to you – so now – anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits adultery. So when His disciples heard this elevation of the law, they said to Him, “If such is the case of a man and his wife, it’s better not to get married! It’s impossible to live that way!” So they were starting to get the point – that no human could perfectly keep the law of God the way Jesus was teaching it.
Now, you know, Paul said – and he was a Pharisee – that he grew up perfect obeying the law. And what he meant was, he kept the letter of it. He hadn’t killed anybody. He hadn’t gone through a divorce. He kept the letter of the law. So this was all new to them. They always thought that being a covenant-keeping Jew was all they needed to be considered a person of God. So now they’re starting to worry. He’s accepting Gentiles. And He’s made it impossible to keep the law.
There was one Jew, however, who was way out in front of the pack, so to speak. And that was John the Baptist. When Jesus came to him for baptism, He said to His disciples – you can read it in John 1:29:
John 1:29 – The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
So the Jews of that time felt so oppressed by the Romans, and were so hopeful that all the prophecies about Christ would mean that He would come and free them from Roman rule, they had allowed their own desires to cause them to misunderstand the prophecies about the first coming of Christ. They thought He was going to come as a military leader to free them from Rome. John knew better. He understood that Jesus’ true mission was bigger than that. He was coming to defeat the devil. He was coming to free us all from the devil’s clutches. He was coming to free every person of every age from their sins, which brought every person under the death penalty. And He would do this by dying in place for everyone.
The one person who didn’t deserve to die, was willing to die for all of us who deserved to die. God calls this state – where we deserve to die – where we, because of weakness, break God’s law, but are set free because of Christ’s death – grace. That’s what grace is. It’s undeserved pardon. It’s God’s forgiveness. It’s God’s protection.
Now, this concept was slow to sink in. And 2,000 years later, it’s still is. Some people think that, because Jesus died to free us from our sins, we don’t need to keep the law anymore. In fact, there’s a major denomination that teaches that. Sin all you want, be forgiven, go sin some more. Is that what God had in mind? Is that what Christ’s sacrifice was for? So, for a long time, in Christianity, the struggle, the issue, the discussion, the disagreement was law or grace. One side said we still have to keep the law, because it’s by obedience to it we’re saved. Then others on the other side said, “We’re saved by grace, so law-keeping is not needed.” So that’s what we’re going to look at today.
So why did I take so much time to explain the way people were thinking in Jesus day? Because the New Testament writings are explaining it to people of that time, who thought that way. And, if we hope to understand what they wrote, we have to understand what was going on in the minds of the people to whom they were writing.
Let’s think about what the law of God is first. And let’s think about what it was before Moses. When we say, “God’s law,” most people think of the Ten Commandments. They were given to Moses after Israel left the slavery of Egypt. That happened about 1,500 years before Christ came. Does it seem likely that there was no law of God before that time? Well, seeming unlikely is not proof. So here’s an easy way – an unbreakable way biblically – to prove that there was a law of God in effect before Moses that the people knew about. To understand it, we have to first understand a word in the Bible. It’s in 1 John 3:4:
1 John 3:4 – Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness.
Now, that word in the Greek – for lawlessness – is anomia. You heard – at least, I have heard – people talk about an antinomian doctrine. That means it’s against the law of God. That word was translated by an English phrase in the King James because there is no word to describe what they were saying. Well, there is, but they chose to use this because they thought it made it plainer – and actually, it does, I think. It’s translated into English in the King James – anomia – “transgression of the law,” or “breaking the law.” So, what is a sin? A sin is the violation of God’s law. And more than that, it’s living that way.
So, wherever we see the word sin in the Bible, there is a law, in effect, to break. So, where is the first place sin is mentioned in the Bible? Well, it’s right in the beginning. It’s Genesis 4:7, where God tells Cain that sin crouches at the door. What law did he break? Well, the big one – murder. He also coveted, but the big one was murder. What that means is, no matter what any human being says, there was a law of God in effect from the very beginning of human life and that we were obligated to follow it – to obey it. Before Moses, before there were Ten Commandments written on stone, people knew they should not kill each other. We find it in Moses’ law, but it was in effect way before then.
Now John tells us, as we read more in this passage, that the devil sinned from the beginning. So, since he’s eternal, that would indicate that God’s laws also ruled the spirit realm well in advance of human life. So that would be another indication that there was a law of God in effect. He sinned, so that means he broke the law of God from the beginning.
Let’s look at Jesus’ comment about the nature of God’s law.
Matthew 22:34 – But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. They got in a huddle. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him, “Teacher, what is the great commandment in the law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend – or hang – all the Law and the Prophets.
The entire Old Testament can be summed up in those two commandments – love God and love His kids. So they define a relationship with God for us. With God, they have always been the standard for human behavior – as long as there has been people. And when God created a nation, He codified that law into Ten Commandments – a legal document that they agreed to. And, in agreeing to it, they were entering into a covenant with God that went beyond the previous covenant with Abraham. To them, what we call the Old Covenant today was a new covenant to them, because it superseded the Abrahamic Covenant. Now, for us, that covenant is called the Old Covenant, because there’s another now that Christ set up. The one with Christ – the New Covenant, we call it – superseded the covenant of Moses and the Abrahamic Covenant.
When God chose Abraham to begin a family that He would work with, that law was present and a part of a covenant that God made with him. And that covenant was sealed with circumcision. In the law of Moses, circumcision was kept, because all the people in that nation were also related to Abraham.
When the church started, the Jewish members – who still didn’t understand all this – they didn’t get it – thought circumcision should continue on. But the apostles understood that the church – the Israel of God – was not just about Abraham’s covenant, it’s wasn’t just about Moses, nor was it about people that were genetically related to Abraham. So circumcision wasn’t a part of the New Covenant. There’s nowhere it’s commanded there.
So, there were some logical changes – just like when Moses came, there were changes in the law that had been forever, including circumcision. And the law was now written down on stone tablets. And when Christ came, circumcision wasn’t a part of the covenant, because it wasn’t just for the people of the Abrahamic Covenant. So that’s a logical change. And there were some. But these few changes that were made are all laid out in the New Testament for us. Amplifications – like the one Jesus mentioned – are clear. Elements of the Old Covenant – that are not a part of the New, like circumcision and temple practice – are clear, as well.
So, we’ll talk more about this in future presentations in this series, but let’s say a few words the Law of Moses – a set of laws for the nations – not just a family anymore, but like a nation. And you know we have law books and law books and law books today that are filled with statutes and laws that we have to obey. And they’re written down. God was working with a nation. Included in the Old Covenant were a set of statutes about how to run the religious part of the nation. That included the tabernacle, and later the temple and temple worship. It included the priesthood, comprised of the family of Aaron, and a set of rules about washings and sacrifices. And also, there were a significant number of statutes which delineated behavior in the nation of Israel – laws about farming, land rest, how you should harvest your fields – to leave some at the corners for people that were poor – animal care, care for servants, real estate, divorce – that sort of thing – the kind of laws we have, actually. Only God’s were much simpler and much better. If we’d go back to that, things would be a lot better now. So, okay. We don’t have that anymore. We don’t have a nation.
It’s the whole world and just people in each nation. So, when Jesus came, He started called people to His ministry, and He sat His disciples down one day, and started explaining the new agreement that God was making with the whole world. It was a New Covenant. And He’s told us that if a person surrenders to Him, if we surrender ourselves to God, then become a follower of God, and we are baptized and have hands laid on us, and Jesus and the Father come live in us by the Holy Spirit, then we’re in agreement with and following the New Covenant.
What new things were different about that? Well, since Jesus Christ is our sacrifice and our High Priest, the sacrifices under the Old Covenant and Aaronic priesthood are not necessary to observe anymore. It’s a good thing, because there’s no temple. So, we don’t have to do that. And don’t take my word for it. We’re going to go through this later when we get to Paul in Hebrews. And He explains in Hebrews that these former sacrifices really, while we don’t do them now, they’re not done away with. They’re just set aside now until Christ returns.
So, while all the statutes related to running the nation are all founded on the law of God, they’re not a part of the New Covenant. But once Christ returns to install a one-world-government, these laws, too, will be observed again. Everything else is still in place – the Sabbath, the holy days, the food laws. Jesus and the New Testament church observed all these things, and did for at least 350 years after Christ died. And somebody told me a few weeks ago that they could prove that that’s true up to 500 years after He died – maybe even longer than 350. So, how long has our country been a nation? 200 and something. So, if it’s 500 – twice as long as our country has been around. So, what happened? What happened? Let me ask first: Why is that important? Well, Jude explains it. In Jude :3, he said:
Jude 1:3 – Beloved – He’s talking to the church – although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation – you know, this is what I’d really like to be talking about – I found it necessary to write, instead, to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once delivered to the saints. Now he was maybe 50 years out from Christ’s death at this point. The biblical position on that is, that everything they did we should do. When he talks about faith, he’s not talking about just our faith in God as individuals. He’s talking about the body of beliefs – the faith – that they observed.
So what is that faith? Well, we can see Jesus, and later the church, living it out in the New Testament history. They began to keep the law in its elevated form, just as Jesus lived it for them. New Testament Christians have God the Father and Jesus Christ living in them. So how do you think they would live in us? Would they be murderers and rapists and people that are promiscuous? No! They would obey the law that is God! And Paul said – Hebrews 10:16:
Hebrews 10:16 – This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord. Okay. So this is what he’s doing with His people. I will put My law into their hearts and write them on their minds. And as God is doing this in the minds of all believers, as Jesus and the Father live in us by the Spirit, He forgives our sins. Because He knows that we’re not perfected yet and we’re going to make mistakes.
A lot of times, we sin and don’t even know it. And sometimes we know it, but we’re just too weak. So, He covers us. He’s got us covered there. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to go and sin. Paul said that Esau traded his birthright for a pot of red beans, and then later he tried to repent, as he sought it carefully with tears, but was not able to find it. And that’s because he intended to do it all along and repent later. That doesn’t work very well. And later he says…no, this is John:
1 John 3:8 – Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil – which is to cause us all to become slaves to sin. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil. Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
So, the reason Jesus came was to defeat the devil – we said that – who has captured us all to do his will – to do sin. By sin, the devil has us all right where he wants us – under the death penalty of the law. But, as we read, Jesus came to save us. And that’s God’s grace. So, let’s talk about that now.
Almost immediately, when the Jewish portion of the church were trying to wrap their heads around forgiveness of sin, trouble began to pop up. So let’s continue reading what Jude said:
Jude 1:4 – For certain people have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were designated for this condemnation – ungodly people – who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality – that means, sexual immorality – and deny our only Master and Lord, Christ Jesus.
So right away, some people began to pervert the grace of God to deny our Master – and that is, to stop following His lead. Now, why do you think they did that? Because following God is hard and sinning whenever you want to is easy. And they were thinking about tithes and offerings. It was about money. They were following the money. They changed the rules to make the church big so that they could have more money.
Here comes the keynote scripture of this whole sermon. Are you ready for it? Paul says, in Romans 6:1:
Romans 6:1-4 – What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may abound? That’s the issue, right, between these two groups. Here’s his answer: By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Our commitment to God is to follow Him, and He didn’t sin. Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death – going into the water is symbolic of that. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
So, there it is. No matter what else Paul says, we know that he does not believe that, because of grace, we no longer need to obey God’s law. And, if it sounds like he does anywhere else, we can chalk that up to misunderstanding by translators or to a misunderstanding on our part – or the part of those that believe that anyway. Even Peter said that some of the things Paul wrote were hard to be understood. But verse 4 of Romans 6 is not one of them. Paul believed it an utter contradiction to claim forgiveness of sins without first a total commitment to obey God’s law, just like Jesus committed to it. Of course, He probably had a lot to do with writing it.
So, a Christian is supposed to be a new person. And the new part is that they don’t live in sin anymore. They tried to obey God’s law. And when they make a mistake, then they’re forgiven. The Christian is supposed to be a new person. That’s part of the whole deal. A person who strives to keep the New Covenant with God is obeying the spirit of God’s law. And when he inevitably fails out of weakness or ignorance, he comes under the forgiving grace of God.
Now, let’s look at one other thing that he said. It’s in Romans 12:1. He says:
Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you, therefore brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice – holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Now, that word spiritual, in the King James, is translated reasonable. And, if you look in Louw & Nida, which is one of the very best lexicons for it’s definitions, we find that word can mean rational.
So, it makes sense that, if we’re going to accept Christ’s sacrifice, we’re going to sacrifice our lives for Him, like He sacrificed His life for us, and that we’re going to strive to live like He did and follow His example. That’s what makes sense – for sane people. Right? That’s what it’s saying.
What would we rationally do, then, in response to Christ’s perfect sacrifice – perfect life? We’d say, “Oh good. Now we don’t have to live like He lived, because anything we want to do now will be forgiven, and let’s throw off the law!” It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Now, if you want to talk about irrational thinking, that’s nuts! So, no, we follow His example and try to be perfect like He was. And when after our best intentions fail to observe the law as He did, then His death covers our failures. But the thing that allows us to come under That promise for forgiveness is our commitment to live sin-free. Remember, God has us under contract. And He’s perfecting us, making us perfect, just like Jesus was. He covers our weaknesses by Christ’s sacrifice and builds Godly character in us, as we strive to live like Christ lived – a perfect image of God – by obeying the law that is itself the nature of God Himself.
So we’re about to run out of time here, but let me say this. If you have any doubts that the law of God is no longer necessary to keep, read James, Peter, John and Jude, and then read Paul. That’s the order in which the Bible was first assembled. And, if you want to follow Jesus bad enough, you’ll understand it. It’s as clear as the diiingg of a bell. God is love. The law extends God out into the universe. The law is love. God is drawing us to be in His family, so we’ve got to be like Him, if that’s going to happen. Would He want us to live any other way but by the law, which is His own essence? It’s a no-brainer! So, there you have it – not law or grace, but law and grace.
So, we’ve got a lot more to discuss on this topic in this series about the Law of God, and we hope you can stay with us while we do that. The next presentation is going to be out soon.