We talk a lot here about the need to preach Law and Gospel in equal measure. Too many churches preach Law with a mere mention of Gospel taken as Given or a start-point. If you’ve been tracking some of the sermons and lectures we’ve shared lately (Dr Rod Rosenbladt and Tullian Tchividjian), we have been drawing attention to the need to remain focused on the Gospel of Jesus Christ without ignoring the Law and without placing born-again Christians back under the burden of the Law. Rod Rosenbladt did a great job in his sermon of accepting responsibility on behalf of the Church for allowing bad Law preaching to beat-down Christians into sad or mad Broken Christians. It come down to preaching all the Do’s and Don’ts of Godliness (Law), the 5 steps to perfection in [topic] based on [Law], and we’ve allowed the Gospel of Grace to go unspoken or left as a “given”. We all have to deal with this creep into legalism, even within the less orthodox traditions with a slightly diminished view of Scripture that look for “new” and “fresh” words of inspiration/revelation. Whether Lutheran, Calvinist, or Wesleyan the drift into the legalism of works-based righteousness is ever-present.
Be Perfect, as Your Heavenly Father is Perfect
Not every preacher who slips into the error of legalism does so intentionally. I’m willing to guess that the vast majority are well-intentioned and struggling with the paradox of being both sinner and saint as born-again believers. Let us begin with where this passage is preached. It comes from the Sermon on the Mount, particularly Matthew 5:48. As we’ve been studying the Gospel According to Matthew in our Gospel Wednesday segments, it should be fresh in our minds what Christ was preaching… He was preaching the Law from Chapter 5 through Chapter 7. Since we’ve so recently gone through this sermon in detail, allow me to work through portions to illustrate what is going on for this
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 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. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus came to fulfill, not abolish, the Law and the Prophets. He goes on from here to address major areas of the Law and actually elevates the Law. He actually makes the case that no one is capable of fulfilling the Law satisfactorily. Notice here, that even the scribes and Pharisees will never enter the kingdom of heaven by their law keeping. This is Law, not Gospel. Now, before we get to the last segment on the Law of Love, let us first remember that the command to Love God and Love Neighbor is a commandment of the Law (not Gospel).
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 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. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Does that make Love evil? No! But we’ll get to that. For now, let’s close out chapter 5.
Matthew 5:43-48 (ESV) | Love Your Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Is this the Gospel? No. Jesus is preaching the Law. The Law is not measured by our standards, but by the standard of the Holiness of God. And ONLY Jesus Christ could fulfill the Law.
11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.
15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him,
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”
18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever.’”
22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.
23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
10 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
So, we see that perfection was attained on our behalf by Jesus Christ. His perfect blood atones for our Sin. His works secure our righteousness by way of a Promise. Jesus fulfilled the Law that no one else could fulfill.
Our Right-Standing Before God is by Faith not Works
5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
So the Law is of no Value?
No. The value of the Law, the purpose for the Law remains the same, its purpose is to reveal and expose sin. The remedy for the sin exposed by the Law is repentance at the foot of the cross and receiving forgiveness for our sin, in Jesus Name, because of His Finished Work on the Cross.
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 7:7-12 (ESV) | The Law and Sin
7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Simultaneously Sinner and Saint
The problem is trying to resolve the paradox of being set free from sin by faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross and continuing to live out our earthly lives in fallen, sinful flesh.
Romans 7:13-25 (ESV)
13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. 14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
A day will come, when our healing from sin will be complete. That day, is the Great Day of the Resurrection. Whether by our deaths or by the Return of Jesus Christ for His Church, our flesh will be put away, and the sin with it. And those of us who by faith are found in Christ Jesus… His blood having been shed for our sin, His righteousness and perfection imputed to us by Grace through Faith, we will be made alive in Him. Never again slaves to sin and death, never again in fallen, weak flesh. Praise be to God for His Grace and Mercy.
We do not overcome the flesh by trying harder in the flesh. The righteousness of the Law is not attained by observing the Law, it can only be obtained by faith in the One who is Righteous. In fact, if there is one thing we should “do” is die to the flesh, die to sin, and repent. Humble confession and repentance before a Righteous and Holy God, with Jesus Christ as our intercessor, our substitute, our Savior. I pray that the Church repents of its treatment of the Gospel as merely a “reset” or “a one-time thing” rather than a life-long understanding of “It Is Finished”.
Romans 15:13 (ESV) 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
In Christ Jesus,