God’s Law: Established in Christ

Jesus did many things in His earthly ministry.  But one thing He did not do was set aside the moral law of God.  The Pharisees and scribes had set aside God’s law (in favor of their own traditions), thereby “emptying” the law of any value (Matthew 15:3–6).  And Jesus rebuked them for it (Matthew 15:7–9).  It is ironic that some Christians think that Jesus came to abolish (abrogate, set aside, or do away with) the law, when Jesus specifically said that He did not come to abolish the law.  This statement is given in reference to God’s law, in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-8:29), where Christ described the standards for appropriate behavior and attitude of the heart (i.e. morality).  In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

Perhaps some people are inclined to say, “Well, if Jesus fulfilled the law, then we don’t have to obey it anymore.”  But this misses the meaning of the word “fulfill.”  The Greek word translated “fulfill” in this verse is “pleroo.”  This word means “to confirm in full measure”, or to “establish” or “re-establish.”  It has the sense of filling up a cup: in this case, the cup of God’s law that had been “emptied” by the Pharisees and scribes.  Jesus was undoing what the Pharisees and scribes were doing.  They were abrogating the law of God; Jesus came to re-establish it.

Even without consulting a Greek lexicon, it should be very obvious that the word “fulfill” as it is used in Matthew 5:17 cannot possibly mean “abolish”, or anything that implies a setting-aside of the law of God.  For if it did then Jesus would be contradicting Himself.  If “fulfill” means “abolish” then Jesus is essentially saying, “I did not come to abolish but to abolish”—which would make no logical sense.

In fact, it should be clear that “fulfill” must in some sense be the opposite of “abolish” since Jesus contrasts one with the other.  For example, fill in the following sentence: “I did not come to make peace, but rather to make _____.”  A good answer would be “war” or some similar term of division since such a term contrasts with peace.  A bad answer would be “pancakes”, because that doesn’t contrast with peace.  Even though that answer would be grammatically possible, it wouldn’t fit the context.  Of course the worst possible answer would be “peace”, because then the sentence would be self-contradictory.  Therefore, when Jesus says that He “did not come to abolish [the law] but to fulfill,” it is clear that in fulfilling the law He is doing something that sharply contrasts with abolishing the law.  Christ came to establish the law in full measure.  In the beatitudes, Christ gives a fuller explanation of the moral law, showing that it goes beyond the shallow, minimalistic, and externalized view of the Pharisees.

In the next verse (Matthew 5:18) Jesus goes on to say, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”  He is emphasizing His previous statement by pointing out the permanence of the moral law of God.  Not even the smallest letter (In Hebrew this is a “jot”) or even a fraction of a letter (a “stroke” or “tittle”) of the law of God will pass away until heaven and earth do!  In putting it this way, Jesus is indicating that God’s law is more permanent than the universe!  The Greek phrase “until all is accomplished” literally means “until all has come to pass.”  It’s another way of emphasizing that God’s law will outlast human history.

Jesus gives us the “bottom line” in the next verse.  Having already indicated that He did not come to annul (set-aside) the law of God, that the law of God will outlast heaven and earth, Christ goes on to say that there are consequences for setting aside one of God’s standing laws.  In Matthew 5:19 Jesus states, “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”  As we have seen previously, God Himself may add to or subtract from His law.  And many of the Old Testament ceremonial laws are examples of something that God Himself tells us are not binding on believers in the New Testament.  The Law-Giver may do this.  But we dare not set aside a law of God, lest we be considered very “small” in the kingdom of heaven.

This verse should motivate us to be very careful if we tell others that they don’t need to obey a particular biblical law.  We had better be certain it’s a law that God Himself has set aside in later revelation.  The result of setting aside a law of God (one that God Himself has not set aside) and teaching others to do the same is an eternal one; being considered “least” in the kingdom of heaven.  You might think that the person who teaches others to keep all the standing laws of God would then be considered “great” in the kingdom of heaven.  But that’s not quite what God’s Word teaches.  Jesus tells us that those who teach and keep them shall be considered great.  It’s easy enough to teach God’s laws, but we can all do better when it comes to obedience.

18 Responses to God’s Law: Established in Christ

  1. cdp says:

    We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.
    1 Timothy 1:8-10

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      Quite right. If we were all perfectly righteous in our thoughts and actions, we would not need the law of God. We would instinctively do what is good. But when our father Adam rebelled against God, the human race became rebels and lawbreakers. So the law is for us until we become perfectly sinless (not only in principle, but in practice).

  2. What are your views on commentary such as “The 10 commandments were meant to chase a man to Calvary but no further” I know that Ray Comfort uses a technique they call “the way of the master” to breakdown the pride of people using the commandments. Example would be when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan women at the well. He used the 7th commandment and asked her to go get her husband.. It leaves said person with no excuse. I love your stuff Dr. Lisle keep it coming 🙂

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      Well, I can’t fully agree with the statement as written, though I suppose I would have to see the full context to know for certain. But the first part is right. The Ten Commandments (and not just them – ALL the standing laws in the Bible) do indeed have the purpose of humiliating man so that he may know he needs salvation (Romans 3:20, 7:7). So it is perfectly appropriate to use the Ten Commandments as a way of showing people that they are sinners.

      It is the “but no further” part that I believe is unbiblical. The Law of God continues to serve a purpose even after salvation; it has a role in sanctification. When people receive Christ as Savior, they are forgiven instantly; however, they do not instantly behave perfectly. Christians continue to sin occasionally even after salvation. The Law of God directs the behavior of the Christian; it shows him or her the will of God. And as the Holy Spirit enables, the law helps the believer to avoid sin, and to become more Christlike in practice (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

      The law also has a purpose in restraining evil in society… but that is for a later blog entry. 🙂

  3. Anthony Perez says:

    I have done some personal research on this both in the bible and in conversations with others. The bible is very clear that we keep his commandments and if we don’t we are called liars and the truth is not in us 1John 2:4. People tend to lean on love your neighbor as yourself as 1 of 2 commandments we have to obey. Paul uses the moral law in Rom 13:8-10 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if [there be] any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love [is] the fulfilling of the law. I see here the 7th, 6th, 8th, 9th and 10th commandments given to Moses by God. I have called churches and ministries to ask them what sin is and I don’t get a clear answer. When I start to mention 1John3:4 as sin being the transgression of the law and Rom 3:20 …For by the law is the knowledge of sin. I start to mention the 10 commandments and people get defensive. These people I interviewed say that Jesus saved them from damnation because of their sin, but start to say they’re dead to the law and don’t need that. We are dead to the law which means we are not under a curse, but Christ became a curse for us Gal 3:13. Rev 14:12 Here is the patience of the saints: here [are] they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. And if that doesn’t convince you that the 10 commandments still stand Rev 22:14 Blessed [are] they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city. Thanks for posting this Dr. Lisle!

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      Well said Anthony! Thanks for posting this.

    • Aaron Womack says:

      Amen Anthony! Well said indeed.

    • Nick L. says:

      Excellent response, Anthony. As you said, the issue of sin is often downplayed in many modern Christian circles. Many are now proponents of a simple “feel-good gospel” centered on the premise that “God is love, and nothing else matters.” While God is love, that does not eliminate our responsibility to act righteously. Really, salvation means nothing in a world without sin.

      An interesting application of this can be seen in Christ’s interaction with Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus questioned Christ’s teachings regarding spiritual rebirth, and Christ pointed Nicodemus to the Old Testament story of the brazen serpent (see John 3:14 and the originl story in Numbers 21). When the children of Isreal looked up at the brass serpent that Moses erected, they were healed. But why did they need to look upon the serpent in the first place? Because they were afflicted by the snakes on the ground! They first had to recognize the fact that they were in trouble before they would see the necessity of looking to the brass serpent for healing. In like manner, we will not be compelled to look to the cross for salvation until we first recognize our own ailment (sin) and our need for salvation.

      This is one of the many unfortunate consequences of belief in evolution. Because evolution ultimately does away with a moral code, it also does away with moral reprehensibility and culpability. In a world free of blame and wrongdoing, where is there the need for a Savior?

      Nick L.

  4. Charles says:

    God bless you friend. You spoke the truth.

  5. Alberto Delgado says:

    The end of all law moral & ceremonial

    Rom 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet . ( moral Law #7 )

    Rom 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. ( so when does sin have dominion over you ???)

    Rom 7:6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. ( is he talking about part of the law ??? )

    2Co 3:7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: (both moral & ceremonial came in the tablets )

    Jas 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all(. ( was the law split here???)

    Tit 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,

    Tit 2:12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; (so who is it that teaches us?? is it the law =condemnation?? or His grace??)

    Rom 2:16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (not by the law = sin) (He took away law and sin with his blood= cannot be justifided or found guity with a system that has been replaced ?)

  6. Alberto Delgado says:

    The Law
    The way I try to explain this is, Adam was created like a bride with two husbands to choose from. One was the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Law) which demanded Adam’s perfection, the other choice was the Tree of Life, which also demanded perfection but the perfection it demanded was His own, this was Christ. All things were created through Christ, imperfect of themselves but perfect in Him. Perfection was imputed. The devil was cunning, while Christ was courting the Bride to be (Adam), the devil deceived Eve. Adam married the Law to save Eve. The Law demanded Adam’s perfection and found none causing Adam’s death. Imperfection/sin was found in Adam. The second Adam, Christ, came to rescue us from our first husband (the Law) by dying to that husband as a man, and now freeing us to marry unto Him. Thereby, we are now found perfect in Him, with no sin. Therefore, now while on this earth our sinless soul and spirit struggles with our sinful/weak flesh till our bodies are redeemed. Our identity now is one with Christ in God the Father, perfect as He is perfect.
    Grace and Peace,
    Albert
    Ps. Sin is a breakage of the law were there is no law there is no sin !

  7. Alberto Delgado says:

    Brother Lisle , I found your blog and put in some input as you see hope you don’t mind !
    God’s use of the law
    . God gave more Laws to the Hebrews to get them ready for the Messiah. The Law was to be used as a mirror and to stir up the sin inside the Jews so they would know their need for Christ, and to take the Good News to the world. The written Law exposed sin Roman 7:13; Galatians 3:22-29 the Law was their schoolmaster; Gal 3:17 And this I say, that the commandments, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the Law, which was 430 years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.The Jews were given more of the law because they needed to know more about their imperfection than the gentiles so now they will know their need for Christ and to show it to the world. The knowledge of the Law is like a police and a judge. The knowledge of law required by a judge is greater than that required of a policeman, yet it is still the same law. And, so it is with the Law that came in through Adam and Moses. It is the same Law but with different levels of knowledge.

    • Dr. Lisle says:

      Hi Alberto. Yes, it’s fine for you to post your input. Thanks for that. I think most of the issues you raised, and questions you asked are answered either directly, or indirectly in the other articles of this series. And I plan to write more in this series to further elaborate. My main point in this series is to refute the notion that many Christians have: that we no longer need to be concerned with obedience to the law.

      Just because we are no longer under the curse of the law doesn’t mean we are now free to sin. Paul specifically deals with this in Romans 6:1-2, 15. Our obedience to the law of God is not an attempt to earn salvation (which is given to us freely by God’s grace received through faith), but is rather a way of showing gratitude for salvation. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)

      • Alberto Delgado says:

        Hi Dr. Lisle, yes we should not give occasion to the flesh (sin, that some times could look like good works also). The commandments that Christ says to keep (which were from the beginning) are not the Old Testament Laws (613 Laws) but to the obedience of faith to the New Covenant. In other words, to trust in His work, and enter into His rest, and to Love one another. The Law was nailed to the cross and God never removed it from there for any reason including guidance. That is why we have the Holy Spirit which is greater than the Law and does not need the Law, and will not fail us like the Law did because of our weak and sinful flesh. Anyways, one of the things that I was trying to explain is that there are two types of sin mentioned in the Bible. Sin as a verb and Sin as a noun. We have been removed from Sin the noun through our rebirth in Christ and we have the power over Sin the verb in the flesh through the Holy Spirit and not through the Law, because the Law actually entices the flesh to sin. You will never find in the New Covenant where the Law is used to tame the flesh. It could be used to bring the unsaved to Christ since they will realize that they can’t accomplish it, but that would be about all the Law could be used for. Should we sin then, God forbid, but it is by the power of the Spirit, not the Law. Grace and Peace, Albert.

  8. Sue says:

    Thank you for your blog. Dr. Lisle and everyone. Now I know what the law is all about…I see it as one of the hottest contention among Christians…I tend to notice that the 10 commandments by some christians is replaced by FAITH alone.

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