Saturday, May 1, 2010

Jesus came to complete the Law

This is a rather technical post, and is a necessary defense of the Biblical foundation of the message of grace that I am teaching. To all who are not able or willing to follow all of this, I apologize in advance. I hope you might try to read it anyway, there is some really great juicy stuff in this discussion.

A response from my friend Robert Krauss quotes Jesus:

The Word made Flesh (Yeshua) said:

"Don't think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete. Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah - not until everything that must happen has happened. So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness is far greater than that of the Torah-teachers and P'rushim, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven!" (Matthew 5:17-21)
My response:
From the tenor of the verses you chose, and because I know from our history what you are trying to say, let me paraphrase your interpretation. This verse says something quite contrary to your message of unconditional love and grace and total forgiveness now and forever. Jesus teaches us that He came to complete the Law - to make it really stick. Every little jot and tittle, every dot on every 'i' and every cross on every 't', will be required of each man. It clearly says that whoever OBEYS them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. You can't just believe and wander on in forgiveness still sinning, you have to obey! Jesus says so, it says so here in black and white. Or rather, in red letters.

In response to what I take your meaning to be:

What does "complete" mean, as He says, not to abolish, but to complete? It means we are supposed to adhere to and live under the Torah, the OT law? Is that what it means? But it says "I (Jesus) have come ... to complete." Are you saying that WE, His followers, are to complete it, by obeying it? On the contrary, no less than the apostle John says:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8, NKJV.

If we thus have sin, if we don't deceive ourselves, if we are truthful, doesn't that imply that WE can't complete the law in that sense? So, it must mean that He, rather than we, are referred to in "completing" the Law.

Now, Matthew 5:17-21 clearly says, we should not teach others to disobey, lest we be least in the Kingdom of Heaven. Does the message of grace, of complete mercy, teach others to disobey? In Paul's words, "shall we sin more that grace might increase?" Of course it does not. Let's skip to the good part:

"there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" Romans 8:1

follows romans 7:

15* For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.
16* But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good.

Teaching that the law is good does not mean one is empowered to keep it. In fact, if Romans 7 were not true then Romans 8:1 would not be necessary would it? Or do you not really believe the writings of Paul? In that case you are a Jew in fact, not a Christian. What is Paul's solution? Let's read on:

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” Romans 8:2-6, NKJV.

So, we see that the mind set on the flesh, the mind set on the law, the mind set to do the law under human power, is death. It spells this out so clearly here, that the law could NOT achieve freedom or virtue, being weak through the "flesh", through individual non-supernatural human power. Christian virtue is supernatural, you cannot strip the work and stirring and empowering of the Holy Spirit from the Christian way of virtue. But the requirement of the law is fulfilled by Christ, fulfilled in us. The law is, so to speak, completed in Christ, in that it requires punishment or justice for sin, and Jesus suffered and died to fulfill that requirement. Yes, the propitiatory death of Jesus is the way he "completed" the law. It certainly isn't that we fulfill it or are sinless or even come close to fulfilling even the important parts.

Let's move on in the Matthew 5:17 passage. What is the 'righteousness far greater than that' of the pharisees? Does he mean, their moral fiber is far greater? Then how is it that JESUS teaches this in Luke 18:

10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax-gatherer.
11 “The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer.
12 ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’
13 “But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’
14 “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.”

The Pharisee prays truly that he does these things. It isn't enough; doing the Torah, the Law, isn't enough! Who among us even does as good as this guy? He always fasts twice a week! Our righteousness has to exceed all of that? But the tax-gatherer went away justified, NOT THE PHARISEE!!! HIS righteousness did indeed exceed the pharisee's, and he didn't do any of those good things. Right? So how does this work? If your interpretation of what Jesus means by 'abolish' and 'complete' the Law is correct, then He must be schizophrenic or insane, or at best a very poor and inconsistent teacher. But He is not, because that is not what He means.

I'll tell you exactly what it is, the little secret that so few people have put together. This is the part I hope everyone carries away from this post, if they couldn't follow anything else. Jesus thinks exactly like Paul, Paul in fact learned it all from Jesus. Jesus does fulfill the law, JESUS fulfills the law. No one else does. All have sinned. All sin. ALL. Jesus offers true forgiveness while upholding the law, that is the miracle of salvation. The law is, as Paul says, "a tutor" that leads us to mercy.

Rather, the one who seeks mercy acknowledges, in fact KEEPS -holds on to the truest intent and precept of - the law more truly than the one who pretends to adhere to it and thinks they have no need of mercy. The confessor, the seeker of mercy, submits the inner secrets of the soul more truly to the law than the religious poser. It is forgiveness which adheres most closely to the law, saying in all its implications and inner motivations that it is true. The one who believes in grace can apply the law most deeply to himself, because he seeks not self-righteousness but forgiveness for the truth of his life. It is mercy that opens the door to the kind of inner transformation that can really fulfill the law without regret or wrong motivation.

In closing, notice this: the 'legalistic' way of looking at this is set at odds with Paul's teachings. It can't be good to throw out Paul's epistles can it? My way of looking at this preserves a strong interpretation of both passages easily. Not only is it true, but more free and happy. I would rather believe in mercy and grace and beat my chest as a fully acknowledged sinner because it is true and it is actually doable, and leads to a deeper and more honest holiness. Plus, walking away justified is a great and wonderful thing, much better than I deserve - but after all, I'm not God, God is. I didn't make any of His ways up, He did.


Krause's Corner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim McNeely said...

Robert, I love you man, but I've read this response about 10 times and I am having trouble following your reasoning.

I'm not even sure what what you mean about fulfilling the law. If it means He just is the Messiah predicted, then what's the big argument?

However, what about the moral requirements of the Law? Does He not fulfill those as well? You seem to be mixing that up in your conception of the YOKE, but you don't have the clarity to come out and say so in your opening paragraph.

Also, in your conception of the yoke you tie that into Jesus' fulfillment of the Law, meaning our own adherence to the Law is part of His fulfillment. Can our disobedience cancel His fulfillment of the Law?

Doesn't His propitiatory death have anything to do with His fulfillment of the requirement of the law, as Paul says,

“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,” Romans 8:3, NKJV.

(I might add that there about 10,000 verses by numerous NT authors that also make this point - as you know.)

I think it will be helpful to quote the whole passage about the yoke:

"Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

This is spoken directly against the Torah experts, the pharisees, in context. He means something entirely different than perfect adherence to the OT law. What is His yoke? He spells it out a very few verses later in yet another argument with the religious people:

Mt 12:7 “But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

This "argue with your savior" statement is incendiary and condescending, you really shouldn't go there. You imply that I'm not in dialog with my savior and that really isn't your place any more than it would be my place to say something like that.
==continued in next post==

Jim McNeely said...

As far as Paul's position on the Law, you're not acknowledging that I'm not saying that the law passes away; Paul doesn't 'cancel' the law. What DOES Paul say about the purpose and place of the law? I would suggest that until you labor to answer that question clearly you are missing the mark. This is the gist of my position and until you look at it squarely we are going to have a tough time dialoging about this. I'm not going into it again here because I have numerous blog posts which go into this, and we have the epistles and such as well.

BTW of course there is nothing wrong with being a Jew, but I am saying that if you think that adherence to the law, taking on that 'yoke', is a fundamental requirement, then you are really not squarely in the Christian camp. You're more in the Jewish camp. I'm not saying that being Jewish is bad, I'm saying that that position is not Christian, it is Jewish.

Now, if you think that the Bible never teaches that you are justified through obedience to the Torah, then you believe in total free forgiveness and 100% grace like me! Awesome, welcome to the party! Let's stop haggling over this and get on with the joy over it! OTOH, what are you saying at all if you think the Bible doesn't say to adhere to the law?

You also never answered the point that Jesus taught that the law abiding Pharisee went away condemned while the sinful tax-gatherer went away justified. How is that? Apparently the tax-gatherer had righteousness which exceeded the pharisee's. How is that so? Come on now, I am pressing that point, ignore it and your whole house of cards falls.

You are implying that I am patronizing or manipulating God. I challenge that. I would ask you this, if you think that belief in grace, mercy, forgiveness, God as the Father of the prodigal, is patronizing, manipulating, or fooling God, I don't know what to say to that. In what sense is such a position manipulating God? I would say that the pharisaical position that by adherence to human moral performance we can gain power in prayer is far more manipulative of God than any belief in grace. Grace admits we are indebted and powerless and genuinely sinful yet appeals to God as a loving father who is willing to forgive.

Krause's Corner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Krause's Corner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim McNeely said...

Well, I don't mean to play the 'don't argue with me, argue with the Bible' game, but I do want to give a scripture which clearly says that Christians are no longer under the Law:

“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” Romans 3:19-24, NKJV. (emphasis is mine)

Jim McNeely said...

In fact, this move away from the Law to justification by faith and grace is the very beating heart of Paul's message. He was incredibly adamant about not requiring Gentiles to adhere to the law.

The other thing I'm saying is that when Paul talks about the Law, he means the whole Law, all of it, every command, obscure and clear. The big 10, and the rules about wave offerings. Where does he ever pick and choose which pieces he puts under the umbrella of the Law and which pieces he reserves for Christians to still be obligated to? This was a fairly recent observation for me to assimilate.

Jim McNeely said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim McNeely said...

BTW if anyone else comes along and reads this little debate, you have to understand that Robert and I have been friends for years, and this is a friendly exchange. He and I like to go at it, so don't think there is some kind of hostility between warring camps here. We are more like iron that sharpens iron; thinking Christians disagree and debate and work things out, I think it is part of our freedom.

Krause's Corner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.