Jim Wilson is the retired director of Community Christian Ministries in Moscow, Idaho. He will be posting regularly, so check back in soon!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Relaxing the Law

"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall 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 RSV)

Jesus taught that there are three eternal destinies:

1) Least in the kingdom
2) Great in the kingdom
3) Never in the kingdom

In the rest of Matthew 5, Jesus taught how He fulfilled the law. He fulfilled it by going back to the motives of the hearthatred, lust, and love. This has to do with the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is never less than the letter; it is always more. The Pharisees were living the letter only and would not make it into the kingdom. Others who objected to the letter of the law and relaxed it would be least in the kingdom.

Christians today think that there are only two choices: keeping the letter and relaxing the letter. The United States abounds with legalist doers and teachers. It also abounds with those who react to legalism, i.e. relaxed doers and teachers. The choice between “not in the kingdom” and “least in the kingdom” seems a poor one to me.

Is there a third option? Yes: “whoever keeps them and teaches others to do so.” Here is one of Jesus’ examples: “You have heard that it was said: ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ I, however, say to you that anyone who looks at a woman with an impure intention has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28 RSV). Being great in the kingdom means following seriously, from the heart, the fulfilled law as taught by Jesus in Matthew 5-7 and the rest of the Gospels.

It is very easy to become a “relaxer” of the law. The majority of Christians do it. First we look at the letter of the law, “You shall not commit adultery,” and say, “To observe that would be Old Testament legalism.”

Then we look at the fulfilled law: “Anyone who looks at a woman with an impure intention has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” and say, “That is nice, but it is idealism. If I tried to obey that I would be riddled with guilt constantly.”

By relaxing both the letter of the law and the higher motive, we leave the door wide open for violating the moral law in both thoughts and action. This is why an increasing number of Christians find themselves in serious sexual sin. The person who has been redeemed by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus should have no difficulty believing His teaching and getting power from Him to obey that teaching.

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