• johned@aibi.ph

Every Jot and Tittle Of The Law...

Part of the Sermon On The Mount Series by John Edmiston

(Matthew 5:17-19 NKJV) "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.

There are four main positions about Jesus and the Law (and a host of minor ones).

  1. The Law Is Not In Force In Any Way. Jesus completely abolished the whole Law on the cross. No-one is under the Law since the cross even Jews. People may act as if they are under the Law but God will not judge them that way. People are judged solely on whether they have accepted Christ or not. The Law is done away with. The commandments are kept out of love for God and desire for holiness not as meritorious works. The Law is holy and righteous and good and a guide to the Christian life but obedience to it is not necessary for salvation. The Law has been completely replaced by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and is no longer the ruling principle of the Christian life.
  2. The Law Is Still In Force But Only For Unbelievers.The essence of position 2 is the law abides but is restricted in its application and is not in force for Christians. Christians have moved "out of judgment" into life. Non-Christians have not moved out from under judgment. The wrath of God abides on them and is directed by the Law which is the encoding of the holy, righteous, just and spiritual standards of God. The Law will thus continue until Heaven and earth pass away and will be the chief instrument for judging those who have not accepted Christ. Having moved out of judgment Christians do not "have to" keep any of the laws, including the Ten Commandments and observing Sabbaths for salvation. (much the same as No.1 on this point). On the other hand non-Christians and those who put their trust in the Law for salvation will be judged by the Law. According to Romans 1 all unbelievers are under judgment. In Romans 2 this is further explained. The Jewish unbelievers are judged by the Law while the Gentile unbelievers are judged by their own consciences which will excuse or condemn them on the day of judgment. The conscience of the Gentile is however "tuned into the Law" so that a Gentile can intuitively obey God's commandments even though they are not circumcised. Christians are not judged either by the Law or their own consciences but only by Christ , and their judgment is not for salvation but for a reward.
  3. The Law Is Partly In Force For Christians.The Law is still in force in its moral provisions but not its ceremonial provisions. Some law-keeping is essential for salvation. You cannot commit mortal sin such as adultery or murder as a Christian and enter Heaven when you die. Keeping the Sabbath is necessary. The "moral law" is still authoritative in the life of the Christian. The Holy Spirit provides power and guidance but moral direction is mainly from the Law.
  4. Christians Are To Obey The Old Testament Laws In Their Entirety.The Law is authoritative in both its moral and ceremonial provisions. Society should be built around its principles and its guidelines for diet and health observed. Sabbaths must be kept and pork and unclean foods avoided. Circumcision is recommended. Jesus saves us so we can keep the Law.

I find the second position makes the most sense of the various teachings in the New Testament regarding the Law. Lets look at some of the clear NT teachings regarding the Law and how it applies to us.

  1. The Law will never pass away until this Creation does. (Matthew 5:17)
  2. The Law is holy, righteous and good and is spiritual. (Romans 7:12-14)
  3. The Law is part of Scripture, inspired by God and is of continuing application and wisdom. (2 Timothy 3:16, Matthew 5:17-19)
  4. There is no condemnation for born-again Christians who are led by the Spirit. They have passed out of judgment . (Romans 8:1-3, John 5:24)
  5. Christians do not have to observe the Law for salvation, in fact no-one can be justified by works of the Law. Salvation is by grace alone. (Galatians 2:16-22, Eph 2:8-10, Romans 3:19-28)
  6. The Christian is not judged by the Law. The Christian is dead to the law and not under the Law. (Romans 6:14-15, 7:4-6, 10:4, Galatians 2:16-22, 5:16-18, John 5:24, Romans 8:1,2)
  7. The Law is a tutor to lead us to Christ. The Law has a role in convicting us of sin. Once it has done its job its role is over. (Romans 7:7-14, Galatians 3:19-26)
  8. The change of priesthood from the Levitical priesthood to Jesus as the High Priest has meant a change of law and a better covenant has been introduced and the Old Covenant cancelled. (Hebrews 7:11-28)
  9. The Law made nothing perfect (Hebrews 7:18,19) it was weakened by sinful human flesh (Romans 8:3) so we cannot be perfected by the Law but only by life in the Spirit. (Romans 8:4-6, Galatians 3:1-3, 5:16-24)
  10. In the New Covenant there is not lawlessness, instead the law is written on the hearts of believers by the Holy Spirit.(Hebrews 10:8-13) The ethical requirements of the Law are now condensed into the single command to love your neighbor as yourself. (Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8 )
  11. Despite being one of the Ten Commandments we do not have to keep the Sabbath for salvation. It is a matter of choice not legislation. (Romans 14:4-14, Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:27-28, Colossians 2:16,17)
  12. We are free to eat any foods, even unclean foods such as pork. Regulations about foods are not part of the Christian life. (Mark 7:15-23, Romans 14:14-23, Colossians 2:16, 1 Timothy 4:1-6)
  13. Christians are not to rebuild the law or seek to be justified by it. To do so is sin. (Galatians 2:16-22, Galatians 5:1-11, Colossians 2:15-23, 1 Timothy 1:7-11)
  14. The Law was 'added because of transgressions' and is for the wicked, not for the righteous. (Galatians 3:19-26, 1 Timothy 1:7-11)
  15. Those who are under the Law will be judged by the Law. (Romans 2:12, Galatians 5:1-11)
  16. Even after Christ's death those who sought to be justified by the Law had to keep it all. Thus it seems that some people (unbelievers) are still judged by the law. (Galatians 5:1-11)

Points 1-3 above show clearly that the law has some continuing application. Points 14-16 show that the Law is still in force for the wicked and the unbelieving. This eliminates the viewpoint that the Law has been completely abolished for all people (View 1 above).

Points 4-6 make clear that the continuing application of the law does not involve Christians. Christians are dead to the law and not under the law. That eliminates the viewpoint that Christians are saved in order to keep the Law and must live by it (View No. 4 above). That leaves us to decide between options 2 & 3.

Points 7 to 13 have bearing on this complex issue. The Sabbath was clearly part of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8) and thus part of the moral law. The Jews certainly perceived Sabbath observance as a major moral issue. Yet it is clear that Christians do not have to observe the Sabbath. (Point 11 above). Neither is there any statement in the N.T. that there is a bit of the law "left over" that we should still observe or any guidance on discerning it if there is. In fact the term moral law is not used in the New Testament. It is a "theological construct" which means it is a generally useful theological term not used in Scripture.

However, it is to my mind, an unsupportable one. Given the contentiousness of the issue for the early church if observance of a moral law was required it would have been stated in unequivocal terms. Quite the apposite is the case. Scripture clearly implies that when we died to the law we died to all the law. Christians do not have to keep any part of the law's legal requirements in order to be saved. No. 3 thus is eliminated also.

Who does the Law now apply to? The wicked (1 Timothy 1:7-11), Gentiles trying to be made right with God through Jewish rituals such as circumcision (Galatians 5:1-11) and to unbelieving Jews (Romans 2:12,13). The law does not apply to the righteous (1 Timothy 1:9).

Does this mean we can be law-less in our behavior? Not at all! We are to be holy as God is holy and in loving our neighbor as ourselves we keep the law. We are no longer under a legal code for approval but we are called on to be holy. A possible key to this is our new natures in Christ Jesus. The "new man" is holy and wants to be holy. Our true eternal selves desire righteousness. For a more full explanation of this see the two articles on the"Inner Man".

When we are holy and righteous and good we are not living up to a code but out from a new nature. We are already approved by God because we are in Christ and a new creation. We are not observing the law because we "have to" but because our new nature is created to be a law-abiding creature in the image of Jesus Christ. A somewhat trivial illustration may help. A small child may eat his or her vegetables because they have to in order to get desert. An adult eats them without the compulsion of law because they have a responsible adult nature. The adult is "free from the law " (with regard to vegetables) and yet eats them. Thus a Christian will be free from the law regarding adultery but desire to be pure in heart and free from sexual sin simply because that is them. They want to be pure, they want to be holy, so they are. Not out of compulsion but because of the desires of the Spirit in their hearts.

(Galatians 5:16-18 NKJV) I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. {17} For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. {18} But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

When Jesus said "until all is fulfilled" it seems He had two levels of meaning in mind. Firstly all is fulfilled when Jesus died on the cross. This fulfillment is "all" but for a certain group - believers, born again Christians. It is not the fulfillment for the whole of Creation. That comes when the new heaven and the new earth come into being. For the wicked and the unbelieving the Law abides until this heaven and earth are done away with and a new heaven and earth are created "where righteousness dwells".

(2 Peter 3:13 NKJV) Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

In that new creation "all is fulfilled" and there will be no more need for the Law because righteousness will be established there. We only need the law in "this present evil age". (Galatians 1:4)

Until then the Law is holy and righteous and good and a part of Scripture and very useful for ministry. (2 Timothy 3:16) Jesus went on to say that those who taught the commandments of the Law and obeyed them would be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. That at first seems to contradict the well-established conclusion that the Law does not apply to Christians. The Law does not apply to Christians as a means of salvation but it does apply as a source of wisdom and an example of the will of God. Nine out of the Ten Commandments are restated in the New Testament as God's will for believers. The exception is the Sabbath.

The Law provides us with insight into God's standards on many issues from homosexuality through to theft. By upholding the Law and fulfilling the Law Jesus agrees that the standards of the Law are good. Thus while Jesus did not say anything directly about homosexuality by upholding the Law He agreed with what the Scriptures say about homosexuality i.e. that it is sin. However this can be taken too far by some enthusiasts and Christians can get bogged down in "disputes about the Law" (1 Timothy 1:7-9). The primary revelation for Christians is Christ who is revealed to us through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:9-16). The law is good but is of secondary importance.

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.