My daughter recently sent me this graphic illustrating one of the “go to” Scriptures of those Christians who have turned to keeping the law of Moses, Matthew 5:17-19. It’s one of those passages that rightfully causes believers to pause, because it seems to describe our obligation as followers of Messiah Yeshua Jesus. Because Jesus has been with the Father since the beginning as part of the godhead, he crafted the law of Moses. Therefore, shouldn’t we keep His law as a central aspect of following Jesus. The verse says, “…one jot or tittle will not pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
That word “fulfilled” is a subtle one in that it carries the connotations of both affirming and completing. Advocates of the law emphasize the affirming of the law as continuing under Jesus’ authority. However, they fail to notice the conditional aspect of Jesus’ statement. If he wanted to convey permanence, Jesus would have simply said it is forever. Instead he says that the law continues until it is fulfilled. Jesus also tells us in a verse before this quoted one that he came to fulfill the law. In other words, the condition has been met. The New Testament pervasively and consistently teaches that Christ fulfilled the law and that fulfilling it ended it.
In case this remains unclear, consider the words of Jesus’ hand-picked apostle, Paul, as he compared the law of Moses to the new way of living by the Spirit.
“Even today when the proclamations of that old, bankrupt government (the law) are read out, they (the Jews) can’t see through it. Only Christ can get rid of the veil so they can see for themselves that there’s nothing there. Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are–face to face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation (the law) is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it!” – 2 Corinthians 3:15-17
Paul is not making up some new and strange teaching here. He is simply clarifying what Jesus meant. As one who crafted the law of Moses, Jesus was uniquely qualified to render it obsolete. The law had failed to make men right with God, and that’s why Jesus had to come to earth to create a new way apart from the law. Paul nails down this truth when he writes in Galatians 2:21, “..if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died needlessly.”
Since this is so obviously true, why do some followers of Christ choose to follow the law of Moses? There is a mystique about following the law of Moses that only the most sincere believers would work that hard. The practice feeds man’s pride and gives him a sense of accomplishing through his own effort. The truth is that following a set of rules is easier than trying to live by the Spirit. Whereas living by the law requires only that you follow a checklist of activities, living by the Spirit requires that you remain constantly attuned to the Holy Spirit. Spirit-living challenges you moment by moment to consider your actions and thoughts in comparison to the Lord’s intentions. Spirit-living requires that we surrender our will to the Holy Spirit. Spirit-living puts us in a place where we have to figure out what to do rather than just do what’s on a list.
What I respect about advocates of the law is that they earnestly desire a more meaningful walk with the Lord. They have rightly seen much of public Christianity as shallow and abused. That underlying frustration is the fault of all who profess themselves to be Christians but fail to live like bondservants of Christ. It’s a challenge to church leaders who don’t seem to be leading their congregations anywhere in particular. A friend posed this question to me last night. Are we just hanging on? It’s a profound question with lots of dimensions. Are we “saved” and merely called to hang around as the world winds down? Or do we have a mission?