If Jesus Preached to the Churches of Christ Today
From the beginning, the will of God has been the same. Jesus reaffirms this in Matthew 22 When talking to the Pharisees:
And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets‘. (Matthew 22:37-40) [All Scripture will be from the ESV unless otherwise noted.]
In Matthew 5-6 Jesus tells the Jews that yes, there are laws, but if you lack true heart, and true conviction, you miss the point. The law shows us how to love (i.e., how to be like God and recognize His uniqueness), but is not love in itself. A true love for God, and for others, would be a love that stems from relationship, and causes one to respond in action because they care for that person.
This is meant to be a brief summary, not a detailed research paper. It is meant to ask questions, not necessarily give answers. In this article there will be two points made. 1) We are under grace, not law. 2) Taking “#1” into account, how we should then interpret the Bible. Taking into consideration the current state of the church, as well as what the Bible tells us about Jesus’ Character, it is reasonable to assume that Jesus would speak on these two points. The problems that are in the church today are incredibly similar to the problems we are told existed in the later years of Judaism, as well the 1st century of Christianity. Division growing out of legalism.
Under Grace, Not Law
In this section, we will attempt to to do the following: discuss the difference between the old covenant and new covenant, reveal the weakness of “the law,” and discern the difference between principles and law.
A covenant is a formal and solemn agreement between two or more parties. It is a promise, not unlike an oath, a treaty, or a modern contract. Like a contract, there are requirements that are to be met on both sides of the agreement. However, every covenant agreement has different expectations and requirements. Although two covenants may have similar characteristics, one cannot automatically assume that two covenants will have the same purpose. We must keep this in mind before we go any further in this discussion. To forget the uniqueness of each covenant is to open up doors for a dangerous misinterpretation when studying the Scriptures of the Christian covenant.
Mont W. Smith in What the Bible Says About Covenant, says this when speaking about the Hebrew word “yada,” “To ‘know’ was to ‘be in a covenanted relationship with.’ In Near Eastern international treaties, ‘yada’ was used as a technical term for ‘be in a covenant.’ The same use was employed by Moses, as well as with other Hebrew writers” (page 6). When we speak of intimately knowing someone, or having fellowship with someone, we are communicating the idea of a covenant relationship. If a man gets married, he and his wife will most likely have vows they make to each other concerning their specific covenant. Of course, being faithful is a promise that naturally comes with any covenant, but these vows are more specific to their personal relationship to each other, and the purpose of their covenant. If his wife dies he is free from that covenant, and any vow he made in that covenant relationship (Rom. 7). The purpose of the covenant is void, because the covenant promise “till death do you part” has been fulfilled (not destroyed). He can begin a new covenant. However, this new covenant does not have to have the same vows, and expectations. It is completely unique to him and his new partner. Paul goes into great detail about this in Romans, comparing the old and new covenants to the marriage covenants between a man and woman.
Jesus came to fulfill the old covenant (Matthew 5:17). When he died, a new covenant was made available (Jer. 31; Joel 2; Acts 2; Rom. 7). A covenant with new vows and expectations. A fellowship unique to the parties involved. The purpose of the old covenant was to lead us to the greater covenant (2 Cor. 3; Rom. 7-8). The old covenant was a shadow of things to come (Hebrews 10:1). It was primarily a physical covenant; teaching us that we are nothing without God. The new covenant is better in that it is a spiritual covenant (2 Corinthians 3) in which all of humanity could be blessed.
What is the point? The new covenant should not be interpreted in the same way, or by the same principles as the old covenant, because they are meant for two completely different reasons. A lot of Christians say this, but it seems unlikely that they understand what this actually means. The job of the Jews was to keep the law in order to earn righteousness (which, of course, isn’t possible…that is the point; Rom. 3:20ff). The job of Christians is to have the mind of Christ (Philippians 2; 1 Cor. 2; Romans 8:28-29). Having the mind of Christ is having the mind of God. So how can one have the mind of Christ? We must be like Him! Having His mind is having His nature (character/image). Warren W. Wiersbe says in Listen! Jesus Is Praying, “The mind grows by taking in; the heart grows by giving out. As the mind receives truth, and the heart shares love, we grow to become more like our Master” (page 131).
The weakness of the law was that it was impossible to keep. Granted, there are some similarities between the two covenants. They both required reverence and faithfulness, and they both claimed that loving God, and loving your neighbor, is the foundation of any of the requirements for the two covenants. In his book God Without Religion, Andrew Farley states “If we hang onto the law as our guide, we can expect sin, guilt, and a whole lot of confusion” (page 45). We cannot keep the law, and therefore, we cannot make ourselves righteous:
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:19-25)
The law shows us what sin is, and it reminds us of our worthlessness without the grace of God. No god is like God, no pleasure can bring you the satisfaction that God can, and nothing can make you complete but God. The old covenant facilitated the coming Christ, and showed us that we are meant for so much more.
Under the new covenant we have the mercy, which forgives our transgressions We also have the grace of sonship, sealed by the promised Holy Spirit. Alex Himaya says: “Christianity is not just about what happens in you personally; it’s about allowing Christ to express His life through you” (Finding Grace in a Works-Driven Culture, page 222). Where the old covenant (being under law) was weak, the new covenant more than excels in. Jesus fulfills all righteousness! The purpose of this covenant is to be like Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29; 2 Cor. 3:16-18). We are to allow knowledge of His character in Scriptures, the Holy Spirit He left behind in us, and the principles that are in the epistles to guide our lives. – Jesse
Suggested Reading: If Jesus Preached to the Churches of Christ Today Pt. 2