Are Christians under the law? And if not, then what did Christ mean in Matthew 5.17-19? "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven."
He then goes on to say, "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mat.5.20). The scribes and Pharisees get a bad rap in Christian circles today, the reason Jesus said this was not because they were exceptionally bad men, but because they were by man's standard very good men. It is as though Jesus was saying to you and I; think of the very best person that you know, you've got to be better than him or her. In saying this He explains the purpose of the Law. The Law leaves you hopeless and defeated, compared to the perfect standard of the Law not one of us is righteous. That is the purpose of the Law, to bring the knowledge of sin.
"Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." (Rom.3.19-20).
Not only does the Law bring the knowledge of sin, but it actually works to cause the sin in us to increase. "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom.5.20-21). "For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death." (Rom.7.5).
That is why Paul said, "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, " You shall not covet."" (Rom.7.7). The Law reveals the corruption that is inside of us.
The Law is like a surgeons blade, on the surface everything looks good, but once the tissue is cut into the corruption inside the body is revealed. Inside the body unseen is Metastatic cancer that cannot be removed by the surgeons blade, and once cut into it actually begins to increase spreading throughout the body killing it.
The Law cannot save, in fact the Law both reveals what we are, and arouses the sinful passions within us. The Law leaves us with nope hope in ourselves at all, and therefore makes the grace of God very good news indeed. " But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal.3.23-26).
The Christian has been placed on unconditional footing, through faith in Jesus Christ all his sins are paid in full and the righteous life of Jesus is applied to the Christian. So therefore, when God looks at the Christian He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ. "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace." (Rom.6.14).
We as Christians are not under Law, but under the grace of God. "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!" (Rom.6.15). The Christian has not only been saved from the penalty of sin, but also the pleasure of sin. He hates his sin, and looks ahead to the day that he is in heaven with the Lord saved from the presence of sin.
New American Standard Bible. (1995). The Lockman Foundation.
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