Thursday, September 4, 2008

practicing law

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.” – Matt 5:17

To speak of Jesus as the new Moses doesn’t mean that we scrap everything that went before him. Jesus didn’t start something radically new. He perfectly fulfilled something wonderfully old. Jesus, the new Moses, fulfills the covenant between Israel and God.

Jesus reveals God’s intent behind the Law. In other words, God never intended the Law to be its own end. Nor did God intend the Law to be a “checklist” of external chores for obtaining righteousness. God’s law was (and is) about the formation of a holy and peculiar people zealous for God’s Name.

For example, the Law says “keep an oath if you make it” (Num 30:2). But behind this law is much more than God’s desire that we keep our oaths. What God desires is that we become people of integrity. But by Jesus’ day, this law was so distorted, misunderstood, and caricatured that God’s intent behind this law was unrecognizable. The Pharisees, for example, taught that people who swore by the sanctuary were free to break their oath, but that people who swore by the gold of the sanctuary were not free to break their oath (Matt 23:16). Seriously? We’re talking about God’s Law – about God’s vision of what it means to be a “good” person. And the Pharisees turned this particular law (and many others) into a legalistic game. This is the modern equivalent of telling someone to cross their fingers if they intend to tell a lie.

And so Jesus takes a stand. Jesus reveals God’s intent behind the law on keeping oaths. Jesus says, “You’ve heard that it was said to those of ancient times that you shall not swear falsely, but I say to you do not swear at all” (Matt 5:33-34). In other words, Jesus wants his disciples to be honest – to be people of integrity, people others can trust. He wants our “yes” to have power. He wants our “no to mean no” (Matt 5:37). And think about it. The only reason oaths are necessary is because people lie. In other words, by eliminating oaths Jesus eliminates the possibility that his disciples will be liars. Jesus isn’t giving them a new law. In other words, Christians aren’t supposed to take Num 30:2 off their checklist and replace it with Matt 5:34. Because Christians aren’t supposed to have a checklist. Following Jesus isn’t about a checklist. Following Jesus is about obedience to God’s law from the heart. And as the fulfiller of the Law and the Prophets, heart-obedience is exactly what Jesus aims to teach.

I think this is what Paul is getting at when he says “the law was our babysitter until Christ came” (Gal 3:24). God has always desired obedience from the heart. And so judgment isn’t based on how well we keep a checklist. Crossing our fingers doesn’t get us anywhere with God. Judgment is about God “disclosing the purposes of the heart” (1 Cor 4:5).

FOR THE WEEKEND: Do a little self-examination. Have you made your faith about following certain laws or about keeping a checklist? If so, look at a few of them and ask yourself: what is God’s intent behind this law?

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