February 8, 2009

The Gospel In Practice

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.

Christ made the declaration just before introducing His gospel as a requirement of greater standing than the prevailing Mosaic Law. What did He mean by the assertion? In particular, what does the reference to “fulfilling” the law and prophets suggest? Here are my thoughts.

Since His followers were required to obey the Mosaic Law—albeit by adherence to the higher standards of the gospel—Jesus didn’t destroy the lesser law. Obedience to the Ten Commandments, in fact, remains a necessary condition to living a Christian life, but while it may be a necessary condition, it’s also insufficient. We’re asked, in short, to be better than the demands of the Old Testament (see my first blog on the topic). Consequently, Christ fulfills the Mosaic Law in two important ways. First, He represents the culmination of the Messianic prophecies and associated promises of spiritual freedom contained in the Old Testament. Second, He asks us to fulfill the lesser law (in the way graduation from high school is a requirement to enter college) on the road to greater levels of spiritual advancement.

But why is this important? Consider the following.

Case 1—Geoff walked up to an ATM, intending to take money out of his account. The screen, however, asked if he wanted another transaction and he quickly realized that the previous user hadn’t logged out. He had access to someone else’s funds! Geoff looked around and saw that no one was watching. At first he considered making a withdrawal from the account, but decided it wasn’t the Christian thing to do.

Did Geoff do the right thing? Certainly he did by not stealing. However, a helpful construct to consider is contained in the following question: What standard was followed? While the Mosaic Law prohibits theft, Christ asks that we rise to a higher plateau. It’s not enough that we avoid acts that do harm to others. The gospel asks for clean hearts, as well. The fact that Geoff was tempted to steal runs counter to Christ’s directives against immoral thoughts and unbridled emotions such as lust, greed and anger. These are not only precursors to sinful acts, but they lead to spiritual decay even when the behaviors are avoided. Clearly, following Christ’s admonition in this way is easier said than done. We may never achieve complete purity of thought, but it’s the standard to which Christians are to aspire.

Case 2—Geoff agreed to perform landscaping work for a new client, but before he could draft and execute an agreement, a more lucrative opportunity fell into his lap that would take up all his spare time. Since he wasn’t contracted with the first client, he decided it was fine to walk away from the deal.

Though the Mosaic Law required the performance of oaths—and prescribed a hierarchy of their countless varieties—Christ would have a person’s word be his or her bond under all circumstances. However, in this way our culture is far more Judeo than it is Christian. For example, the requirement to swear on a Bible prior to giving legal testimony, smacks of Leviticus rather than the Sermon on the Mount. Christ wants our communications to be Yeah or Nay and our performances to be perfect regardless of whether an oath (or contract) was executed.

I have more to say on this topic as the idea of justice, in particular, is quite interesting and complex. Moreover, what Christ has to say on the topic runs counter to our usual practice, which again is more closely aligned to the Mosaic Law than the gospel.

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