Tuesday, January 7, 2014

THE LAW TO THE Nth POWER (Matthew Chapter 5)

The question was raised last week in our Men’s Bible Study “What do I say to the one who does not have Christ, but thinks that they will be saved because of their doing good in religious self-effort?”  It’s a good question of great relevance inasmuch as many falsely suppose that they can earn salvation in this manner.

In His “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew chapters 5-7) Jesus spoke to folks who had been taught such things.  The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day espoused a religious of works.  They supposed they could win heaven by the careful observance of countless man-made rules.  Theirs was a religion of proud self-reliance.  It underestimated both God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness.  Lost in the fog of their countless rules were the weightier provisions of the law and the corresponding humility and faith they demanded.

Henry Ironside’s comments on these chapters are helpful: “In the so-called “Sermon on the Mount” our Lord was not preaching the gospel, but He was setting forth the principles of His kingdom, which should guide the lives of all who profess to be His disciples. In other words, this is the law of the kingdom; the observance of which must characterize its loyal subjects as they wait for the day when the King Himself shall be revealed. Throughout, it recognizes the existence of definite opposition to His rule, but those who own His authority are called upon to manifest the same meek and lowly spirit that was seen in Him while in the days of His humiliation here on earth…For the natural man this sermon is not the way of life, but rather a source of condemnation; for it sets a standard so high and holy that no unsaved person can by any possibility attain to it. He who attempts it will soon realize his utter helplessness, if he be honest and conscientious. He must look elsewhere in Scripture for the gospel, which is the dynamic of God unto salvation to all who believe (Romans 1:16)…So far as the unsaved are concerned, therefore, the teaching given here becomes indeed, as C. I. Scofield has well said, “Law raised to its Nth power.” But for the believer, just as the righteous requirements of the law are “fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:4), so the principles laid down in this sermon will find their practical exemplification in the lives of all who seek to walk as Christ walked.”

In his quest for salvation, apart from God’s intervention, it is man’s natural (sinful) tendency to dismiss or diminish the Law.  But Jesus did not come “to abolish the Law, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17).  The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had worked to make the Law “manageable.”  They taught: “’You shall not commit murder’ and ‘whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court’ (Matthew 5:21).” They supposed that in not actually “murdering” anyone, they had kept the Law.  A self-righteous person might even say, “I’m going to heaven, I’m a good person, I haven’t killed anybody.”  But Jesus reaffirmed the true intent of the Law: “But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca’ (‘empty-head’), shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22).  Indeed, not only are we commanded not to murder (and even to harbor murderous intentions within our hearts), but to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44).

The people of Jesus’ day supposed the scribes and Pharisees to be the epitome of righteousness, but Jesus demands something far greater, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).  The Apostle Paul had been a self-righteous Pharisee, but through faith in Christ he found true righteousness: “More than that I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not have a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:8-9).  True righteousness can be possessed only through faith in Him.

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