Matthew chapter 5 is our text, Matthew chapter 5, and we’re looking at verses 17 through 20, considering a section of the Scripture that we have titled “Christ and the Law.” And tonight we’re going to be looking at verse 19: The believer’s relation to the law – a tremendously important passage. Let me read it to you again, beginning in verse 17.
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
There is an old cliché that’s hung around since the ‘60s that kind of characterizes the spirit of this age. That cliché is, “Do your own thing.” How many times have you heard that? Freedom has been equated with doing what you want. Freedom has been equated with expressing yourself. And as a corollary to this kind of mentality of “do your own thing” has come an almost anti-law attitude, which we could call antinomian – that means anti-law.
There is almost a spirit of lawlessness that rides as a corollary to the concept of “do your own thing.” Don’t let anybody tell you what to do: not God, not the Bible, not the government, not your school, not your husband, your wife, your boss, or anyone else. This kind of antinomian ideal is reminiscent of a time in biblical history which provoked God’s vengeance, because the Bible says, “Everyone did that which was right in his own eyes,” which is nothing more than “do your own thing.” Same idea.
In our secular world, this antinomianism, this rebellion, this “do your own thing” mentality has really revealed itself in two areas that stretch into many other areas. But first of all, it has bred a sort of personal existentialism. An existentialism is a philosophy that says, “You’ve got to fill this moment with everything you want to cram into it, it’s all you’ve got. Live for the here and now. Forget the sweet by and by, and grab on to the here and now.” Existentialism says, “Do what you want now. Grab it while you can get it; take advantage of it now.” And so there has come out of this attitude a personal existentialism.
Secondly, it has also been the legacy of this particular antinomian “do your own thing” attitude that the function or the right of the state to legislate morality or to say what is right or wrong is gradually being removed from the state. In other words, the first thing that happens in an antinomian, existential philosophy is that everybody does that which is right in his own eyes; and the natural next step is that they don’t let anyone tell them what is right. And so you begin to see not only a personal existentialism, but a breakdown in government in terms of its function to try to keep a lid on morality.
And so what we hear today is, “Let everybody alone morally. If they want to be a homosexual, let them alone. If they want to have a bunch of wives, let them alone. If they commit all kinds of various personal crimes that are supposedly called “victimless crimes,” let them alone. “We don’t need any government legislating morality. We don’t need any God telling us what to do. We don’t need any antiquated, biblical Victorianism to put down some kind of suppressing palm on what men want.” And consequently, what you have in the natural decline of man is a speeding-up process when he attunes himself to this kind of thinking.
And even in the Church of Jesus Christ, there has been this same attitude. The church has been infiltrated by, in many cases, an immorality, and even an amorality. It has become tolerant of sexual activity. I heard of one church recently where a gentlemen who was an elder there and told me that they had some elders swapping wives, and they decided to do nothing about it in the church, because it might create some problems.
You’re very much aware of churches where homosexuals are being given certain rights, and on and on it goes; churches that are afraid to discipline people, because they feel it might make waves. And so even in the Church of Jesus Christ, a kind of removing of the authority of the Word of God, or of the power of the church to act in sin is slowly taking place.
There are other people who have an antinomian spirit based upon a false interpretation of the concept of justice or justification. They feel that since we have been justified by faith alone, since we have been made just by God, since He has declared us saved, and since the Bible says we are no longer under the law, now grace is so magnanimous, and grace is so full, and grace is so far-reaching, that we can do whatever we want and not even worry about it.
I know of one church in our country, and know of it very well, where they believe that the individual Christian is really two parts: you are the new creature, and the old man; and when you sin, it’s the old man. And so you expect that if you have the old man, he’s going to sin, so sin is just the old man doing his thing. It doesn’t do any good do discipline the old man, he’s rotten anyway, so don’t worry about it. So there’s no reason to discipline sin, there’s no reason to deal with sin; that’s just the old man; and it’s going to be around, so it’s going to do its thing anyway – which is nothing but a rebirth of philosophical dualism, and it is anti-biblical.
But there will always be people in society who want to kick over the traces, who want to throw out God, and want to throw out the Word of God, and the standards of God, and the law of God; and it’s amazing how that that even can become a problem in the church. There are people who have written books about grace, books about justification, books about the magnanimous forgiveness of God, who have traded on that forgiveness and lived dissolute, evil, sinful, and vile lives.
That’s not what the Bible teaches. The Bible never teaches that we are to be lawless. The Bible never teaches that we are to live against a divine standard. The Bible never teaches that grace frees us from responsibility to obey God’s laws. The Bible never teaches us that God has altered any of His standards morally; and that, in effect, is what Jesus is saying in this passage.
And so we pose the question tonight: “What is the Christian’s relation to the law of God?” We’ve been saved by faith. The Bible talks about being free from the law. But what does the Bible mean when it says we are still obligated to obey? What is the believer’s relationship to the law? Are we free from it, or are we not free from it?
Well, I really believe verse 19 is an excellent answer; look at it: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Now here our Lord gives us, in one verse, a very simple and direct answer.
I’ll remind you that our Lord is speaking about His attitude toward the Old Testament. The Jews of this time who were listening to Him were very curious about what He thought regarding the Old Testament. He was so new; He was so different. He was so unique; He was so unlike their system. He was so unlike the Judaism that was extant at the time. He was so different from what they were defining as religion that they wanted to know whether He had made a clean break with the past, whether He had overthrown the Mosaic law, whether He was setting aside the Old Testament. And so our Lord, in this passage, tells us His view of the Old Testament law.
And we told you, first of all, He reiterates the preeminence of it in verse 17, and then the permanence of it in verse 18, and then the pertinence of it in verse 19, and finally the purpose of it in verse 20. Now they were looking for a king, and He was a King, but they were looking for a political king who would bring an external kingdom; and He was a spiritual King who would bring an internal kingdom. So instead of talking about a new economy, instead of talking about a new politic, He kept talking about new character; that’s what He was talking about in the Beatitudes. Instead of changing the outside, He wanted to change the inside.
And here, He tells them that the key to a change on the inside, the key to qualifying to fulfill the responsibility to be in His kingdom is the Old Testament Word of God. “It still stands,” He says. “Righteousness is still defined on God’s terms. God hasn’t changed His mind.”
And so He lifts up the law of God. He says, “Do I believe in the Old Testament? Do I ever. In fact, I hold it higher than any of you ever thought of.” And so this passage is surely the single most wonderful New Testament passage on the exaltation of the Old Testament, God’s law.
Now remember that we talked about, in our first week’s study of this passage, the preeminence of the law in verse 17. And just to remind you, the Lord said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” And we talked to you about the fact that Jesus saw the law as preeminent. In other words, it ascended above anything else. It was far beyond the rabbinic traditions. It was far beyond anything that they were defining as religion on their own terms.
He exalts the law of God, and I told you, for three reasons. Number one: It was authored by God. It was the Law. It was affirmed by the prophets, He says – or the prophet there; and thirdly, it was accomplished by Christ. So it was authored by God, affirmed by the prophets, accomplished by Christ. Those three things give it its preeminence. And then our Lord moved to the permanence of the law. It was not only preeminent in that time, it is preeminent even now in its permanence.
Verse 18, He says, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall in no way pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” The Jews were looking for a more lax system, they were looking to drop the standards, and Jesus lifts the standard higher than the leaders of Israel had even done, and says, “It’ll stay and it’ll abide, till every single small letter is fulfilled.”
And then for tonight, we come to the pertinence of the law, verse 19. And here, the Lord says, “If the law is preeminent, and if the law is permanent, then the law lays a claim on your life, and on mine.” And, frankly, people, this is one of the most basic, definitive studies that a Christian could ever have. To comprehend and understand in your spiritual mind what is your responsibility to God’s divine law is a critical issue. It’s a critical issue, because it’ll determine whether you’re the least in the kingdom or the greatest in the kingdom; whether you come in by the hair of your chinny-chin-chin or whether you’re loaded down with rewards.
Now our Lord warns His hearers in verse 19, and He warns them about setting aside, or disannulling, even the least of God’s moral standards. And there are several reasons for it, and this is the outline I want you to follow.
First of all, He says the law is pertinent to us because of its character, because of its character. What do you mean by that? Look at the beginning of verse 19: “Whosoever therefore.” What’s the “therefore” there for? To take you backwards. “Therefore” – He says – “because it is preeminent,” – since God wrote it, the apostles affirmed it, and Christ fulfilled it, it’s preeminent – “and since it is permanent, therefore it is pertinent.”
Anything that is preeminent, that is, anything that stands above any other written truth in the history of the world, anything that is exalted as the very Word of God, anything that is upheld by God’s mouthpieces is the prophets, anything that is fulfilled by the very Christ Himself is preeminent. And because it is preeminent, and because it is permanent, therefore it is binding. God doesn’t put out whimsical things. The Bible doesn’t make suggestions, it gives commands – big difference. And so the first point is that we are responsible to listen to the law of God because of its character.
Secondly point, because of its consequence, because of its consequence. What you do with God’s moral law, and what I do with God’s moral law will bring upon our lives a direct effect. How we deal with God’s law will directly affect us. And you can see two categories: those who break the least command even and teach men to do it will be called least in the kingdom of Heaven. But those who do and teach the commandments will be called the greatest, or great, in the kingdom of heaven. In other words, by what you do with the law, you will be designated as the least or the greatest.
Let’s look, first of all, at the negative result, the negative consequence. We are to obey God’s law because of its character as permanent and preeminent, and because of its consequences. And the first one is negative, the concept of least. Verse 19 says that if you break this or teach others to do it, you are the least.
Now let me help you to understand this thought. The word “break” is a very interesting word. It’s the word luō. It’s a very, very common word in the Greek. It means “to loose,” “to release,” “to nullify,” or “to destroy.” And the idea here would be that if you loose yourself or release yourself from an obligation to obey God’s least command, you’ll be called the least in the kingdom. But it’s kind of interesting to see the word here because of the word that went earlier with it in verse 17.
For there it said, Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law.” And this is another form of that same word luō. Jesus said, “I did not come to loose the law; and if you do it, you’ll be considered the least in the kingdom,” only Jesus used a more intense word. Jesus used the same verb, only with a kata on the front, which intensifies it. And what He is saying is this – now watch it: “I did not come to utterly nullify, I did not come to utterly destroy, I did not come to utterly devastate and abrogate the law. But if you even loose one little part of it, you’ll be called the least in the kingdom.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “I did not come to destroy at all, but the temptation to the believer is going to be to fool around with parts of it, and set them aside when they don’t accommodate what we want to do.”
That’s a very common problem, you know. Very possible for a Christian to do that. It is impossible for Christ to set it aside, but it is possible for you to do it. Isn’t that interesting? It is possible for you and I, by disobedience, by ignorance, by misrepresentation, by manipulation for selfish reasons, to set the law of God aside and just do what you want – very possible. But if you’re doing it, let me tell you something, you’re doing something Jesus would never do. You have ceased to be Christlike when you sin.
Now notice that He says, “One of the least commandments, one of the very least commandments.” People might say, “Well, you think there are degrees?” Yes. Yes, I think there are some sins more severe than others. The Jews believed that. The Jews had divided the Old Testament and their laws into two categories: positive and negative. They said that there were 248 positive commands and 365 negative ones – one for every day of the year, totaling 613 commands. And they used to have big arguments, big debates, about which were the heavy ones and which were the light ones, which were the important ones and which were the less important, because they would be more concerned with concentrating on the more important ones.
Yes, there were some greater and some lesser in their minds, and no doubt in the mind of God. But Jesus is saying, “You take one of the very least of these, one of the very minor ones, and you flagrantly and openly set it aside and loose yourself from the obligation to that law, and you will be called the least in the kingdom.” Now Jesus was saying that He upheld every single part of God’s law in its proper place.
Now keep in mind that there were parts of the Old Testament law – ceremonial parts , and civil, and judicial parts – that would have fulfillment in Christ’s time. And when they were fulfilled, they ceased being binding on us. But at any point in redemptive history, whichever part of God’s law was for that time, whichever part was still binding in that time, no one had a right to loose, no one. And that’s why in Acts 20:27, the apostle Paul said to the Ephesian elders, “I have not failed to declare unto you the whole counsel of God.” Why? Because the whole counsel of God is binding.
You know, that’s why I love being in a church. That’s why I desire to be here, because I feel that I need to teach people the whole counsel of God, you know. I used to have ten suits and ten sermons and just move, you know, just keep moving. But you never get it all done. When you land in one place and pour your life into the Word of God, then you can teach the fullness of the counsel of God.
Now remember, there were some parts of the ceremonial law, and some parts of the civil or judicial law related to Israel that Christ would fulfill. In other words, when Christ set Israel aside and built His church, then the civil law related to the nation of Israel was set aside. When Christ died on the cross, the ceremonial law was set aside, the veil was rent in twain, the Holy of Holies was wide open, the sacrificial system came to a screeching halt. A few years later, the whole city of Jerusalem was wiped out, the temple was flattened, and there’d never been Jewish sacrifices since. So when Christ came, there were some things that were fulfilled – judicial, and civil, and ceremonial things. But the moral law of God hasn’t changed.
Now regarding the question, “Are there some commandments are more important than others?” just to give you a little insight, look at Matthew chapter 22 for a minute. And here you have what must be the tail end of such a discussion about what’s the most important part of the law of God.
The Pharisees and Sadducees are involved here. The Pharisees came, and one of them who was a lawyer, asked Jesus a question, testing Him, and saying, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” Now this indicates that this was their discussion. They wanted to know what the most important commandment was. “What are the heavies, you know? We want to keep those. It’s kind of hard to keep some of the little ones. But if you can just zero in on the big ones.”
And Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Well, there you see it, folks, the Lord Himself grading the commandments. Number one: Love the You’re your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Number two: Love your neighbor as yourself. And then three, four, five, six, seven, and on and on come under those. So even the Lord acknowledged that there was variety of intensity and degree of importance to the various commands. And so it’s possible that if there is a great command, there is also a lesser one.
In 23 of Matthew, and verse 23, look at this: “Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; for you pay tithe.” Now that was right, wasn’t it? Weren’t they supposed to pay tithe to the nation of Israel of all that they grew and all that they had? And He says, “All right, you pay your tithe of mint, and anise, and cumin, and minced little herbs.”
And anise is a plant, and cumin is a seed. Here they were, saying, you know, “There’s nine seeds for me, and one seed for God. And there’s nine little plants for me, and one for God. Nine little herbs for me, and one for God.” They were doing all the little, tiny, minuscule things. But He says, “You have omitted the weightier matters of the law.” Yes, it was important to tithe, but not nearly as important as justice, mercy, and faith, you see.
So in God’s law, there were degrees. There were greater commandments and there were lesser ones. And so that is just a footnote to help you to understand – going back now to Matthew chapter 5 – that it is possible to violate what the Lord would see as a less important command, a least important command, perhaps. But, beloved, lest you feel yourself off the hook for the little ones, Jesus said if you even loose your obligation from the least commandment and teach somebody else to do it, you’ll be called the least in the kingdom.
I think we’d all agree that murder was a worse sin than missing the Sabbath observance; but for a Jew in the Old Testament, that was serious. I think in our time today, we would say that murder is worse than failing to give to the Lord what is rightfully His in your giving one week or another. But to violate even the least of God’s standards is to take a place of lesser respect and honor and reward in the kingdom.
Now some say when it says “least in the kingdom” that this is what other people will think about you. Some commentators say, “You see, everybody will think you’re the least in the kingdom; you’ll get a bad reputation.” I don’t think that’s what it’s saying. I don’t think it’s least in a subjective sense, where somebody thinks you’re the least. I think it’s least in an objective sense. I think that if you break God’s commandments, God is going to make you least in His kingdom.
You know, I’m gratified about one thing; it doesn’t say He kicks you out. Aren’t you? Aren’t you glad that even when you fail and you loose yourself from God’s law, and you go right ahead and do what you want anyway, and you just turn your back on God, and you disobey Him as flagrantly and openly as you want, all you can do is be the least. But you’re still going to be – where? – in the Kingdom. But I feel it’s a place of blessing, a place of fruitfulness, a place of usefulness, and a place of reward.
And if you go around breaking God’s command, you won’t be necessarily be kicked out of His kingdom. That’s not the idea. But what’ll happen is you’ll become a person He can’t use, a person He can’t bless, a person He can’t reward. And I’ll tell you something. You say, “Well, you know, I’m just failing now. In the past, boy, I really racked it up, you know. I’ve been faithful for a long time; this is just a final fling,” see.
And that’s why John said, “Look to yourselves that you lose not the things that you have wrought, but that you receive a full reward.” You can spend the first half of your Christian life gaining it, and the second half giving it back up. And so the Bible says, “Even the least commandment, when violated, makes you the least individual.” You see, the reason is this: If you break any part of God’s law, you’ve broken the whole thing, right?
In James chapter 2, and verse 10, it says that. Just listen to it, it couldn’t be clearer: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” You offend in one point, and you show an irreverence for the whole law of God. Jesus is saying, “If you violate the principle at any point, then you’ve shown a disregard for the totality of the law of God, which is a disregard for the holiness of God.” And such a person would be the least.
Now there’s another possibility in this passage also, and that is that He’s talking to the scribes and Pharisees, and He includes them in the kingdom only in a visible sense. They’re phony. They’re the tares among the wheat, see. They’re the phonies; they’re not real at all. And what He’s saying to them is, “You people who take a physical place in the kingdom, you people who attach yourself to the kingdom externally and do not obey God’s laws are going to be the least in the kingdom.” The implication being ultimate judgment is going to put you out of the kingdom. You’ll be like John 15, branches cut off and cast into the fire.
You know, I don’t know specifically which one our Lord was referring to here; I don’t know anyone who does. I think both have a wonderful message for us to listen to. If He’s talking about the true citizens of the kingdom, as some commentators think He is, because He says “you” in verse 20, and then contrasts the “you” with the scribes and Pharisees, as if He’s talking about His disciples; and that what He’s really saying is, “You’ll be in the kingdom, but you’ll be the least blessed, the least useful, the least rewarded.” That’s a tremendous message for us.
Or on the other hand, if He’s engulfing all of the crowd, and He’s saying, “Well, you’re all sort of attached externally and visibly, but you’re going to be the least in this whole deal when the judgment comes down, and the least are going to be cast out.” Personally, I like the first interpretation better. Because of the pronoun “you,” I think He’s directing His talk more to those who’ve made a commitment.
Now if you think it’s serious – and, beloved, hang on to this one – if you think it’s serious to break God’s law, I think it’s more serious to teach somebody else to do that, to teach somebody else to do that. James also said in chapter 3, verse 1, “Stop being so many teachers, for theirs is the greater condemnation.” I tell young men all the time, “If God didn’t call you into the ministry, run a million miles away from it. You don’t want the responsibility.”
I can remember four years ago when I came as close to leaving the ministry as I ever will in my life, because I had this terrible inward feeling that I didn’t want the responsibility to stand up and give the Word of God, because I knew my own human frailty and weakness, and I didn’t want to be responsible for leading anybody astray.
“If you break the least of these commandments or teach anybody else to do it,” – and you can teach two ways, beloved. You can teach by what you say, and you can teach by – what? – what you do. And if the words aren’t right, and the example isn’t right, and you’re breaking the commandments, you’re just decreasing your place in His kingdom. As Isaiah 9:15 puts it, “The ancient and the honorable, he is the head; and the prophet that teaches lies, he is the tail,” Isaiah 9:15. If you’re going to teach, teach the truth or don’t teach. And if you’re in the kingdom, live it, don’t break it.
So though Christ did not come to literally and totally abolish the law, there are believers who, by their own self-will and sin, set it aside – something Christ Himself wouldn’t even do. And then they teach others to do it. You know, the Pharisees were guilty of that. So are many others.
So are many people today. And in Acts 20, Paul said, “The thing I fear when I leave is that grievous wolves shall come in, not sparing the flock; and of your own selves shall teachers rise, teaching perverse things.” The church has always been attacked by heretics on the outside and heretics on the inside. Oh, how they are condemned in Scripture. “No,” – He says – “you can’t set it aside.”
There is another consequence. We are to take the law of God as pertinent to us because of its character. God wrote it, the prophets affirmed it, and Christ fulfilled it. And, secondly, because of its consequence. Consequence number one: You break it, you’re the least. Consequence number two: You keep it, you’re the greatest. This is the positive side.
Look in the middle of verse 19, “Whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” And here again you see the two things: doing and teaching, precept and pattern, life-living and life-teaching, what you are and what you say. So He says, “All God’s laws are still in vogue; all His standards are still there.”
Now at the time Jesus was talking – let me give you a little history. At the time Jesus was talking, you see, Israel was still a nation. They were still a duly constituted nation, and were being offered the kingdom. And, consequently, they were still under civil law. They were still under the Old Testament judicial – I use judicial and civil synonymously. They were under the judicial or civil law of Israel, and they needed to keep every bit of it.
They were also still under the ceremonial law, right? They were also still involved in all the sacrifices, and all the feasts, and all the Sabbaths, and all the other things, because Christ hadn’t yet died, the church hadn’t yet been born. So at the time Jesus spoke, they were under the civil law, they were under the ceremonial law, and they were under the moral law, and it was all still binding on them; and nothing had changed for them.
Now for us, the civil law, the law that duly constituted Israel as a nation, has been fulfilled. Ceremonial law, the law that set up a sacrificial system and a priesthood, has all been fulfilled. We have a new priest, and a new sacrifice, and a new temple not made with hands. The only law left for us, really, is the moral law – isn’t it – the law that is the extension of God’s character, the law that is the extension of God’s nature. And, beloved, that is still binding on us.
In 1 Thessalonians chapter 2, verse 10, “You are witnesses, and God also,” – says Paul – “how holily, and justly, and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe; as you know how we exhorted, and encouraged, and charged every one of you, as a father does his children, that you would walk worthy of God who hath called you unto His own kingdom and glory.” In other words, Paul says, “You know we lived a holy, and a just, and an unblameable life among you, keeping God’s standards.” Nothing changed for the moral law of God.
First Thessalonians 4:7, “God has not called us to uncleanness, but unto holiness.” Nothing has changed. The moral law of God is still binding on us.
First Timothy 4:11, “These things command and teach. Be an example of the believer in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith, purity.” Nothing changes; keep God’s standards. “Thou, O man of God,” – 1 Timothy 6:11 – “flee these things. Follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness. Fight the good fight of faith.”
So the idea is that the ceremonial law, fulfilled in the cross; civil or judicial law fulfilled in the birth of the church; and Israel being set aside, and a new people carved out for God’s use. But the extension of God’s nature, and His moral and ethical law, is still the same, still the same. And so we are to obey it because of its character, because of its consequence.
I want to close with a third reason: Because of its clarification. Because of its clarification. You know, the apostle Paul looked forward to going to heaven, because he knew he’d receive a crown, didn’t he. He knew that awaiting him there was a crown of life. He knew that awaiting him there was a crown of righteousness. He knew that awaiting him there was a crown of rejoicing. He knew that awaiting him there was a runner’s crown. He knew that awaiting him there was an incorruptible crown. He knew of at least five crowns awaiting him in heaven. Why? Because he had not broken Gods law, not willfully and unrepentantly. But he had upheld God’s law, and he head taught others to keep God’s law.
And so we are to obey because of its character, and because of its consequence, and then because of its clarification. And what I mean by that is just this. People say, “Well, yes, verse 19 does say that; however, that was in the old dispensation. You see, that was in the past; and now, you see, that’s not in vogue. That’s before the cross.” And you would be surprised how many people say that.
“Well, it’s before the cross; we don’t have to worry about that. We can just sort of free-wheel it from here on in; and you can break a few here and there. After all, it’s just the old man doing his thing. And what are you going to do about it? Romans 7 is sin that is in me; I can’t do anything about it, I just got to let it do its thing. But me, the good me, the real me, I just really don’t, I just really don’t care to do that. I just don’t know how to handle that old nature. The Lord will have to deal with that in my resurrection body.”
Well, that’s a copout, because, you see, you can’t dispensationalize away Matthew chapter 5, verse 19 because of its clarification. What do you mean? Because it’s repeated through all the Epistles of the New Testament; that’s where it’s clarified. And that is a very important point. We can’t stop here, we’ve got to go on to the clarification.
Did the cross end our obligation to the law? Was it all finished at the cross? Not on your life; and the Epistles make this abundantly clear. And the Epistles teach two paradoxical truths. I’m going to give these to you, illustrate to you, and I want you to see these – tremendously important. These are paradoxical.
Principle number one that we find in the Epistles. By that I mean Paul’s, and James’, and Peter’s, and John’s, and Jude’s. And what they’re saying in the Epistles effectively is this: The Epistles teach that in some sense, the law has been fulfilled and is no longer binding. Hang on to that. They teach that in some sense, the law has been fulfilled and is no longer binding. That’s right; I’ll admit that.
First of all, the civil or judicial law. Well, we’ve already talked about. It was for a limited people, for a limited place, for a limited purpose, for a limited time. And that law which was given to Israel has passed away. For example – now watch this one: most of the law given to Israel judicially and civilly was to keep them separate from other nations, right? They had different dietary, they had different clothing laws, they had different rituals – all kinds of things. They had been given by God as a way to keep them apart.
Now you know the first thing is that happened when Christ created the church? It says in Ephesians 2:14, “For He is our peace, who has made both Jew and Gentile one, and hath broken down the middle wall of” – what? – “partition.” The first thing He did was break down the middle wall. What was the wall? It was the civil, judicial law that set Israel apart from the Gentile world, so that when God gave birth to the church, the wall came crashing down, and Jew and Gentile became one. No more dietary laws, no more cooking laws, no more kosher laws, it was all gone.
Acts chapter 10, Peter sees the sheet, and in the sheet are clean and unclean animals, and the Lord simply says, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat, and don’t you dare call unclean what God hath sanctified.” There is no more difference. There is no more civil differences. There is no more judicial identification of Israel as a separate entity. There will be a blending of Jew and Gentile in the church. The barrier was broken down.
And that very term in the Greek of breaking down the barrier is the same term used of the law in Colossians 2:14. So it was the law. In Colossians 2:14 it talks about the ordinances, or the law, that was against us. And there it’s talking about a moral element. But it was the civil, judicial law that separated. So the Epistles definitely teach that the civil law came to an end, the judicial law came to an end.
Now the ceremonial law. What about that? Well, the ceremonial law was for a limited time. Mark 15:38 says, “The veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom, and the ceremonial law was over.”
Listen to Colossians 2:16. In Colossians 2:16 it says, “Let no man judge you in your food, or in your drink, or in respect of a feast day,” – you don’t have to worry anymore about Passover, Feast of Lights, Feast of Weeks, Pentecost, all that – “or of a new moon, or of a Sabbath. Those are a shadow of things to come. But the body is Christ. And when the body comes, don’t mess with the shadow.” So what Paul is saying in Colossians 2:16 is that the ceremonial law came to an end.
In Ephesians 2:14, he says the civil law came to an end. And by the way, if you have any trouble on this ceremonial law thought, read the book of Hebrews. I won’t take the time now; but I found at least twenty verses that show that the ceremonial law is not binding on us. So the Epistles do teach that there is a sense in which the law is no longer binding on us, that is, in its civil or judicial sense as identified with Israel as a nation and in its ceremonies.
Now that leaves the moral area. Now do the Epistles teach that the moral law is no longer binding? Yes, in one sense. Now watch this; this is tremendous.
This is the sense, Colossians 2:14. When Christ died on the cross, it says here this is what happened: “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, He took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross.”
Now listen, God had a moral law – right? – and every time you broke that moral law, God wrote it down, and wrote it down, and wrote it down, until against you was a handwriting of broken laws. And then you know what God did with all of those? Put them on Jesus, nailed them to the cross, and He paid the penalty. That’s right.
Now in that sense, in that sense alone, the law isn’t binding on you. You know what sense it is? In the sense of the penalty of the law. You are not under the penalty of the law. Who paid the penalty for you? Christ. So you will not suffer the consequence of your sin in terms of ultimate penalty.
Same thing is said in Romans chapter 6, and verse 14 – and we could spend forever on this principle: “For sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law.” Now what does he mean? You never have to do anything anymore? You don’t have to live a moral life? You don’t have to obey God? No.
What he means is you are no longer under the power of the penalty of the law. It can’t kill you anymore; you can only die once – right? – that’s all, only once. And Christ died on the cross, and you, by faith, died in Him. That pays the penalty. And so in that sense, you are no longer under the law. That is, the law has no power to slay you. The law had a penalty: the wages of sin is death. Christ took the penalty.
Chapter 10, verse 4 of Romans puts it this way: “For Christ is the end of the law to everyone that believes.” In what sense? We never have to obey it? No. Only in the sense that He pays the penalty. And we’re no longer under its curse.
Same thing is said in the fifth chapter of Galatians, and the eighteenth verse: “But if you be led by the Spirit,” – that is if you are led by the function and the operation of the Spirit in your life – “you are not under the law.” If you possess the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God is moving in your life, you are giving evidence of having been born again, which means you have been taken out from under the curse of the law, penalty of the law. And in an additional sense, you literally can fulfill the law by the energy of the Holy Spirit.
Now this is something that is repeated many times in Galatians, and we don’t have the time to go through it. Verse 24 of Galatians 3 says, “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” In other words, we don’t need the law anymore to hit us, to whip us, to strap us, to beat on us, to done us in the head. We don’t need the law to ply its curse on us, because Christ has borne all of that. The law had a penalty: “Cursed is he that does not abide by all things written in the book of the law,” says Galatians 3:10. You were cursed; and here came Jesus and took your curse on Him. Now that’s the sense in which the moral law is no longer binding.
So what do we seen? The Epistles teach that, in some sense, we’re not under the law. Civilly? No. Ceremonially? No. Morally? Only in one sense: we’re not any longer under its penalty. And, frankly, folks, we don’t need to be under its power either, do we? We don’t need to be under its power, because if we walk in the Spirit, if we walk in the Spirit, we will freely energize, by God’s Spirit, fulfill the law in a positive way. And we don’t need to feel the guilt that comes when we violate that law.
Some people say that the gospel overthrows the law. No, it doesn’t. The gospel exalts the law, because don’t you ever forget: in order for Christ to save you, He had to fulfill the whole penalty of the law for every man who ever lived, right? Well, the person who is trusting Christ is no longer under the condemnation of the law.
Just look at Romans 7 for the last word on this point, and then we’ll give you the one last point. Romans 7, verse 1. This is so great. “Know you not, brethren – for I speak to them that know the law – how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?” Oh, this is terrific. The law has dominion over a man as long as he lives, and that’s all. When you die, that’s it. If you’re going to your funeral in the back of the hearse, and you’re in your pine box, and the guy’s going too fast, they’re not going to give you the ticket. The law has no power over you.
And then he gives an illustration in verse 2 for marriage: “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband be dead, she’s loosed from the law of her husband. So then if while her husband is alive, she marries another, she’s an adulteress;” – and she’s also a polygamist – “but if her husband is dead, she’s free from the law, so that she is no adulteress, even though she has married another man.” In other words, he says, “The law is only good till you die, and he gives an illustration. For example, marriage. The laws of marriage are binding until you’re dead. When you’re dead, they’re no longer binding. That’s all.
In verse 4 then, “Wherefore my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law” – how? – “by the body of Christ,” – and I believe he means the crucified body of Christ – “that you should be now dead to the law, married to another, even Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God,” see. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ and were united with Him in His death, then you died to the law in terms of its power and penalty, and you have risen in new life, no longer under the law in that sense. So verse 6 says, “We are now delivered from the law, delivered from the law.”
Now there are some people who’ll go crazy at this point, and they say, “You see, we don’t have to keep the law, we don’t have to keep the rules.” One guy said to me, “I never have to confess my sin; that’s all old stuff. I don’t have to worry about what I do; I’m in grace. I can just let it all go.”
No, because the Epistles also teach a second truth. This is the clarification. The Epistles teach that the law is still binding on the believers in some sense. Oh, yes, free in some sense; only in the sense of penalty, and the sense of its dominating power over you. But then the law is also binding in another sense.
For example, in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, and verse 21, it says, “Though not being without the law of God, but under the law of Christ.” Isn’t that great? When you become a Christian, you don’t become lawless, you’re under the law of Christ.
Now look back at Romans 7 for a minute. Somebody’s going to come to verse 6 and say, “We’re not under the law anymore. Fantastic. We can really live it up.” And that’s exactly what Paul figured they’d say. So he says this in verse 7: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. The law is not sin,” – and this is what he wants to say here – “the law only reveals sin. I had not known sin but by the law, because I wouldn’t have known I was coveting unless the law said, ‘Thou shalt not covet.’ Don’t blame the law for your sin. It isn’t the law that’s the problem, it’s you.”
I mean, if you’ve a clumsy servant who is a real clod, you’re never going to reveal it until you command him to do something, and you say, “Listen, would you go over and get that?” and he gets up out of the chair, knocks the chair over, runs into the lamp, breaks it, trips on the rug, and knocks over a vase, shatters the television set. You see, it wasn’t the command that was the problem, it was the clumsy oaf that tried to obey it.
Don’t blame God’s law if you can’t keep it; it isn’t the law’s fault, it’s you. And so that’s what Paul is saying, “Don’t blame the law. If the law couldn’t justify you, if by the deeds of the law no flesh could be justified, if you couldn’t save yourself by keeping God’s law, don’t blame God’s law, blame you; you just are a clumsy slave.” And so the law reveals sin.
Secondly, the law provokes sin, verse 8: “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of coveting; for apart from the law, sin is dead.” In other words, once there was a law, once God set a standard, it just made my sin obvious. It stimulated and aroused my sin. It just – it sort of stimulated me. You know how that goes? When God makes a rule, you just kind of wonder, “Why did You make that rule? There must be something interesting about that.” It’s like the sign that says “keep off the grass,” and you see the little kid going down the street and just stick his foot over, you know, just to defy the sign. Just make a law, and watch people work hard to try to break it. It’s just the way human nature goes. So the law provokes sin.
The law condemns sin, verse 9: “I was alive apart from the law once. I didn’t know God’s rules, so I thought I was fine. And then the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” In other words, “Once I found out about the law, it condemned me.” So, you see, what Paul is saying is, “The law is not sin, it just reveals it, provokes it, and condemns it.”
And summarizing in verse 12, this is what he says about God’s law. “God’s law is holy, and the commandment is holy, and just, and good.” See, the law is not the problem, you are.
You say, “Well, should we keep the law?” Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Paul says later on in this chapter that he wants to do God’s law so much, that he wants to keep God’s law. Look at verse 22: “I delight in the law of God after the inward man. But I see another in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and it is bringing me into captivity to the law of sin.”
Now what’s he saying? He’s saying, “I’m not under the law anymore, in terms of its penalty. I’m not under the law anymore in terms of its power to dominate my life, because I’ve been freed by the cross, and I’ve been given a greater power in the Holy Spirit. But I’ll tell you; that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to keep it anymore. Oh, I delight in God’s law, and I will keep God’s law. The law of God is good; the problem is me, see. The problem is me.”
Verse 24: “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Who’s going to get me out of this mess? It’s not God’s law, it’s me.” Then he says, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He says, in effect, “I know it’s in Christ that the answer comes, but I just don’t know what the answer is. And so with my mind, I serve the law of God; and with my flesh, the law of sin.” And he doesn’t give the solution till chapter 8, verse 4, when he learns to walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Now let me summarize. Listen carefully. What do the Epistles teach? The Epistles teach what I call the clarification of Matthew 5:19. And what is it? On the one hand, in some sense, the law passes away, is no longer binding ceremonially, civilly, and in the sense of its moral consequence, in the penalty.
But in another sense, the law is still binding, so that Paul can say, “I delight in the law of God.” So that the apostle Paul can say, in Romans 8:4, “So the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” He’s says, “I delight in it,” in chapter 7. He says, “I fulfill it,” in chapter 8. Beloved, that’s the message that the Lord was giving there.
Fulfill His law. Don’t break even the least of His commandments. Why? The law is preeminent; the law is permanent; the law is pertinent.
God, help us to be obedient Christians. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the least in the kingdom. Do you? What kind of an answer is that to one who has given all for me? Ask yourself that question. Let’s bow in prayer.
Lord, we’ve had a great time already tonight in singing and sharing, and our hearts have been wonderfully blessed so many ways. And I just ask You, Lord, to take these simple thoughts that maybe didn’t sum up all that needed to be said, and somehow apply them to our hearts, Lord, in at least this one way. Help us to know that You have done so much for us, You have given so much for us – dying on a cross, bearing our sin. In You, it was all fulfilled. And then You’ve given us the power to walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, so that we too could fulfill Your law. How incredible, Father, that apart from Jesus Christ we could never keep it, no matter how hard we tried. But because of Jesus Christ, He keeps it in us by His Spirit as we yield.
We don’t want to be libertines, and we don’t want to be legalists; we just want to be law-abiding believers who take what is rightfully ours to obey; and with the spirit of obedience that cherishes the privilege say yes to Your commands. And for that, we give You praise, that we should have such a privilege to be counted even worthy to hear Your voice, let alone obey it, in Christ’s name. Amen.
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