Under Grace and not Law – What Does It Mean?
Under Grace and not Law – What Does It Mean?
I am always amused when I hear the remark, “We are no longer under law but under grace,” implying that the law does not serve any function or very little. Conveniently, the expression is used to support the argument that the Seventh-day Sabbath is no longer binding upon Christians. Additionally, it is argued that the Old Testament is irrelevant and that we should follow and adhere to the New Testament. However, I ask, “Is that really so?” “Is the law still relevant?” “To be a Christian, does it mean that we shun the Old Testament?” “Is there any connection to the spirit of lawlessness pervading our society?”
Taking a Look at the Sermon on the Mount
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly stated in Matthew 5:17, "Do not think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (NKJV). Consistent with the Greek translation, the context refers to the first five books of Moses and not just God’s law, which is referenced by Jesus in verse 19. Jesus taught by referring to the writings of Moses and the prophets that essentially the Old Testament is relevant and no less inspired, and that it was not His agenda to destroy it. Instead, He came “to fulfill,” which means to make full; to explain, or to magnify as will be seen from verse 21. In other words, Jesus came to liberate His law, giving it its full meaning and application.
Fulfilling the Law
Giving six examples between verses 21 and 48, Jesus clarified the relevance of the law and its application. For the purpose of this article, I refer to three of them.
The first one, recorded in Matthew 5:21–26, speaks to murder. Referring to the prevailing thought of the day, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’” However, Jesus explained, “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council” (Matthew 5:21-22, NKJV).
Jesus fulfilled this law by giving its full meaning, explaining that murder begins in the heart. The word “anger,” which comes from the Greek word “orge,” refers to anger that is long-lived and that which a person “nurses, cherishes and refuses to let die,” resulting in or seeking revenge. Isn’t it interesting that the other Greek word for anger, “thumos,” implying “a momentary anger that flares up and dies,” is not used? Yet, the Pharisees and Scribes felt that it was fine to harbor hatred as long as no murder was committed externally.
Do we not see a connection with violent crime and a spirit of hatred, anger and revenge today? It would seem that persons would rather vent their anger in pushing a knife into someone’s chest, or pulling the trigger. Conflict resolution seems foreign to many in our society.
Secondly, Jesus addresses adultery in Matthew 5:27-30 stating, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28, NKJV). Again, Jesus in regard to His law taught that adultery begins in the heart. For the Pharisees and Scribes, adultery was committed when the actual act was carried out, but not so with Jesus. It starts in the heart. The Old Testament writer, Job, understood this as seen in Job 31:1: “I have made a covenant with my eyes; Why then should I look upon a young woman?"
Thirdly, Jesus, in Matthew 5:43-48, gave attention to love for one’s enemy. Pharisees and Scribes misquoted Leviticus 19:18 to say that it was alright to love one’s neighbors and hate one’s enemies. However, Jesus fulfilled the law on love by pointing out,"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44, NKJV). In Christ’s day, this teaching was foreign, and today it is certainly not popular.
Reasoning from the above three examples, the meaning of “fulfilled” is clear. Jesus, instead of abolishing His law, gave it the prominence it deserved. So shouldn’t we, His followers, do likewise? To do so does not make us legalistic, as we ought to know that “By grace we are saved.” However, as noted in Romans 3:31, grace does mean that we disregard God’s law; instead, we “uphold the law.”
Summing It Up
Given the aforementioned, I submit that if we took the teaching of Jesus seriously, it could serve to reduce hatred, anger, murder, dishonesty and marital infidelity, etc. I would think that those who loosely use the expression, “We are no longer under law but under grace,” may wish to reconsider the expression. It can suggest irresponsibility. While Christians are under grace, they show a healthy relationship to God’s will, always remembering the purpose of the law, which is to point out sin and hopefully lead to Christ. No wonder Christ said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." More than anyone Christ gave the law its rightful place.
Gerhard Pfandl, (1)
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