Legalism? (Part 1)Legalism, Grace and Hypocrisy are hot potatoes for believers and also for those who are sceptical of Christianity. (Or should that be skeptical?)
Jesus teaches us three important things in this passage:
- To the crowds (considered the "unwashed masses" by the Pharisees) Jesus would emphasise the Law. Initially this might have sounded depressing to the crowds because the Pharisees made a big and complicated show of observing laws and by-laws and for the average wage-earning hand-to-mouth crowd this was unattainable.
But, as we will see tomorrow, Jesus moves Law from external to internal and this gives us a hint at the real issue. The Law is not a set of hoops to jump through, but a revelation of God's purity and righteousness and also His care for us. Jesus made it clear, for example, that we weren't made for the Sabbath, but that the Sabbath was made for us.
- To the crowd's delight, Jesus would point out that the Pharisees, who made an ornate show of law-abiding, were not "making it." For all their arguing, posturing and "majoring on minors", they generated more heat than light. Similarly and sadly, to those on the outside, Christians often seem to be like those who argue over the spelling of s(c/k)eptical!
The problem with the Pharisees was that the law was external, the Law had become their god (note the small "g") instead of being a signpost to God.
- Very often we play Grace and Law off as enemies. We argue that we should avoid legalism, and, if legalism means obeying the law for the sake of the law, then I would agree. But, while grace means that I don't earn righteousness by being law-abiding, grace means that the righteousness that God works inside me through my rebirth and new creation in Jesus, should spill from the "inside" to the "outside". The prophet Jeremiah longed for the day when God's law would be "inside" us - written on our hearts.
We'll take this further tomorrow...
|"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew5:17-20) |