As I led my family during our daily morning devotion on friday, the day’s text – Matthew 5: 16-20, came to me anew, especially with the confusion currently trending from libertarian preachers who create an impression that believers have no obligation to keep the law. I took up my pen and decided to write this piece on this sacrosanct subject. Incidentally, as I scrolled through Facebook on saturday , I saw a post from Pastor Poju Oyemade of the Covenant Christian Centre on the relevance of the law in the new testament dispensation(Read here) . As if that was not enough, on that same Saturday Pastor W.F. Kumuyi of Deeper Christian Life Ministry addressed the same issue positing that Christ’s coming was in itself fulfilment of the law and believers cannot afford to be lawless ( Listen to sermon here) .
Matthew 5:16 “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven.
Contrary to the suggestion that grace requires no work and that the righteousness of Christ covers for you as long as you believe in his Lordship, Jesus, our greatest teacher says here that men must see our good works. This implies that the grace of God does some good work in your life that produces good works. It’s when men see the transformation(good works) that grace has brought in your life that they will glorify your Father who is in heaven. But if you claim to have received the grace of God and men cannot see a difference in your life asides your eloquent theology, then we must question what you have received.
Jesus further explains his position on the Law
Matthew 5:17-20 King James Version (KJV)
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
There are three categories of law:
(i) The Ceremonial law – This speak to how Israel worships God. The sacrifices in the ceremonial law point to Christ and these acts are no longer necessary after Christ’s ultimate Sacrifice on Calvary. He was the fulfilment of the law, the Final Sacrificial lamb. Rather than Kill the goat for cleansing today, we run to take advantage of the blood of the lamb(Jesus). So, this hasn’t changed, we only have a blood that speaks better things.
(ii) The Civil Law – These laws are guiding principles for the civil life of Israel. The civil law is also relevant to believers in this dispensation. The laws of our land are the direct replacement and that’s why believers are enjoined to be subject to higher powers and Jesus demonstrated this by paying his tax, except where these laws contradict the will of God, we must obey the law. So if a Christian refuses to subject himself to constituted authorities, claiming he has an heavenly citizenship and that in fact he’s sitted in heavenly places with Christ Jesus, know that such is deluded. As Christians, we have an obligation to obey the law of the land.
(iii) The moral law – This refers to the Ten Commandments. Jesus obeyed these laws to the last and expects believers to do the same. Christ’s coming does not abolish the moral law but gives us grace to obey the laws without struggling. A believer cannot claim to have grace and be found stealing, committing adultery or bowing to other gods. Grace makes it easy to obey the law, it is not liberty to disregard the law.
In verse 19, Jesus went further to say; “whoever breaks the commandments and teaches others to do the same shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven”. Jesus expects us to keep the commandment despite being under grace. The new covenant takes the law from the tablets and writes it on our hearts and we are compelled to take heed of the word.
Jesus sounded a note of warning in Matthew 5:20. He had to clarify the border line when he said; “except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes & Pharisees…”. The Pharisees were legalistic and just tried to keep the law without living by the principles of the law. That was why they sought to kill Jesus (against the law) because he was perceived to have broken the law. What an irony!
Your righteousness should go beyond outward show of sanctimony to inward purity and a perfect heart with God. This is the least of God’s expectation from us as new testament believers.
Finally, read Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 5:17-20
Let none suppose that Christ allows his people to trifle with any commands of God’s holy law. No sinner partakes of Christ’s justifying righteousness, till he repents of his evil deeds. The mercy revealed in the gospel leads the believer to still deeper self-abhorrence. The law is the Christian’s rule of duty, and he delights therein. If a man, pretending to be Christ’s disciple, encourages himself in any allowed disobedience to the holy law of God, or teaches others to do the same, whatever his station or reputation among men may be, he can be no true disciple. Christ’s righteousness, imputed to us by faith alone, is needed by every one that enters the kingdom of grace or of glory; but the new creation of the heart to holiness, produces a thorough change in a man’s temper and conduct.
Christian liberty is not freedom from the keeping the law, it is freedom from the works of the flesh received by grace through faith. If you claim to be a “grace folk” and still walk in the flesh, please check it. God bless you.