Matthew 5:17-20 (NKJV) 17 “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
As we look objectively at what the bible says about the grace of God, we have learned a number of things. Grace was part of the original creation. Revelations 13:8 tells us that the Lamb of God, Jesus, was slain from the foundations of the world. God knew all that would happen when he created. He knew man would rebel and he pre-programed a solution before Adam was ever created.
We learned that sin broke the connection between God and man. Man was created as God’s child for fellowship with him. Sin made that impossible. The penalty for man’s sin was eternal separation. This is not the penalty for individual sins. It is the necessary consequence of being separated from God in the spirit. Man’s nature had changed. God could not and would not allow that contamination into his eternity.
The only solution was for him to come to earth as a human being. This was accomplished by the virgin birth. Jesus was born of a completely human mother. He was not born of a human father. The seed that fertilized the egg in Mary’s womb was the word of God. He was completely human. However, he was not born with the sin nature that was passed to all humanity by the seed of Adam. The method of his conception meant that he was also fully God.
Colossians 2:9 (NKJV) 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;
For the 3 and ½ years of Jesus’ earthly ministry he demonstrated to the world who God the Father really. He healed the sick, cast out demons and dealt with people in a way that the Pharisees, who knew the law could not understand. He said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” What he showed to the people was the grace of God.
When we consider the Bible, we must do so in light of what Jesus revealed in those 3 and ½ years. When we interpret the Old Testament, we must do it in the same way. If we want to understand what grace really is to us, we must read again and again the accounts of Jesus life. Everything he did was demonstrating grace. Everything he said was revealing grace. Everything.
I was talking with someone some time ago who had taken to a particular interpretation of Grace. He seemed to be saying that standards of holiness and righteousness were no longer relevant. Jesus had paid for all sin. What grace meant to him was there was no need for repentance. We simply needed to believe that we were right with God and that was enough.
I asked him about the words of Jesus in Matthew 5.
His answer was that Jesus was speaking to those people but not to us today because we are saved and have partaken of grace. That is not possible. Every word Jesus spoke was a revelation of the Grace of God. The sermon on the mount is not just for those listening in that day. Jesus said building our lives on these sayings would cause us to build “houses” on an unshakeable rock. No interpretation of the Bible would eliminate the teaching of Matthew 5-7 from the lives of believers today.
I do not believe this man wanted to sin. I believe he had fought very hard to do the right things early in his Christian walk. He failed just as all of us will fail if we try to deal with our flesh by the discipline of the flesh. He took grace to mean he could stop trying to fight sin. There is a truth in that statement but not how I think he was interpreting it.
Grace is not meant to do away with the Law. It is meant to be a way for us to fulfill the law and the prophets. It would be impossible for our righteousness to surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees according to the law. Nevertheless, the words of Jesus remain. Our righteousness must exceed theirs.
We might say that righteousness refers to our position in Christ once we are saved. That is true. 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us that we were made the righteousness of God. The context of this statement implies that I did not make myself righteous. God did that when Jesus died for my sins. I partook of that righteousness when I received his sacrifice personally. However, that is not all that the word means. In Vines Expository Dictionary of Greek Words, we read this definition.
“Dikaiosynē (the Greek word translated righteousness) is found in the sayings of the Lord Jesus, (a) of whatever is right or just in itself, whatever conforms to the revealed will of God, Matt. 5:6, 10, 20; John 16:8, 10; (b) whatever has been appointed by God to be acknowledged and obeyed by man. Matt. 3:15; Matt. 21:32;
We see clearly by this definition that righteousness includes doing what God defines as right. In the rest of this chapter Jesus reveals a level of righteous behavior the scribes and Pharisees could never have imagined possible. He equates anger without cause, calling someone worthless or a fool with murder. He says if we look at a woman and lust for here we have already committed adultery. The list goes on and on. He makes the statements “You have heard it said” and “but I say to you” many times.
By the time we finish reading this chapter we are left with the conclusion that what Jesus is asking of us is impossible. However, he did not say you should try to live this way. He said we must live this way. Some would say, “Grace understands that we can’t live like that. If we commit adultery either inwardly or outwardly, it is already paid for. We must just believe that, and everything is fine.” Jesus did not say anything like that. He says we must live this way, period. How can we?
We live this way by Grace. Grace does not just cover sin. Grace destroys the power of sin. If we see grace as a way that sinful behavior can be made all right, we will never overcome the things that we need to. We will never fulfill the righteousness spoken of in the words of Jesus in Matthew 5.
It is true that all sin is paid for by the blood of Jesus. We will look at how that works in another post. It is not true that Grace excuses ungodly or sinful behavior. Every New Testament writer including Paul makes this very clear. The problem is that we cannot seem to separate righteous behavior based on the Law from righteous behavior born of grace. We cannot keep the law in the flesh so some choose to assume we do not have to. That is wrong.
What does grace offer me as a Christian? It offers me the ability to be overcome sinful behavior from the inside out not the outside in. The revelation Jesus wants us to see in Matthew 5 is that we can access something that will so revolutionize our lives that we will walk at a level of holiness that the Law could never accomplish. It does not make sin “OK.” It destroys its power to control us until it becomes irrelevant to our lives. Temptation becomes something we overcome by virtue of God’s life at work in us not by discipline of our flesh alone. This is the Grace of God at work in the believer.