When you think of Jesus' teachings, themes like grace, love, and kindness probably pop into your mind. But then you come across passages where Jesus says you cannot be His disciple unless you hate your children and carry a cross (Lk 14:26-27).
Uh . . . what?
Read the red letters of your Bible and you will find many examples of unprecedented grace. But you'll also find many harsh moral demands. So, how do we make sense of this? Is Jesus double-minded?
What Law Did Jesus Preach?
But it's important to note that Jesus drilled deeper into Moses's Law to reveal not only outward actions of the body, but inward intentions of the heart (Mt 5:27-48). According to Jesus, you must obey God's Law and do it with pure motivations.
The Purpose of the Law
Most Christians think the purpose of the Law is to be our guide for righteousness before God. But that's not what Scripture teaches. Paul says the primary function of the Law is to reveal our sin.
Paul writes in Romans 3:20, "No one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin." (see Rm 7:13)
The Law is not a roadmap for righteousness, it's a spotlight on wickedness.
So, by the time Jesus was born, Jews had 14 centuries to learn what the Law should have taught them – that they were dreadfully sinful and in desperate need of a Savior. However, the religious teachers had replaced God's Law with their own watered-down version (Mk 7:6-8). In doing this, they robbed the Law of its power to expose sin.
As a result, Jews did not see their true sinful condition and need of a Savior. Self-righteousness reigned. Therefore, Jesus had to do the Law teachers' job for them: He had to teach the unfiltered Law of God.
The Big Mistake
Many preachers today don't have a clue what to do with Jesus' demands. So, to escape their harshness, pastors water them down.
Some common examples:
"Jesus doesn't really want you to love your neighbor as yourself (Mk 12:31), He just wants you to be nice."
"Jesus doesn't really want you to give up everything to follow Him (Lk 14:33), He just wants you to love your stuff less."
"Jesus doesn't really want you to gouge your eyes out (Mt 5:29), He just wants you to stop watching porn."
"Jesus doesn't really want you to be perfect (Mt 5:48), He just wants you to try your best."
Do you see what's happening? Modern preachers are making the same mistake as the Pharisees – they're replacing God's Law with their own watered-down version. The biggest problem in the church today is not "cheap grace," but cheap Law: watering down the Law to make it doable for us.
And self-righteousness reigns.
Two Words –– Two Audiences
So, what we see in the New Testament is that Jesus has two different messages: one is Law (commands), the other is Gospel (grace). And which one He uses all depends on who He's talking to.
If He's talking to self-righteous people who think they're obeying the Law, He delivers the full unfiltered force of the Law against them in order to show its truly impossible standards (e.g., The Rich Young Ruler, The Law Expert). On the other hand, if He's talking to people who are aware that they're sinful and that they cannot obey the Law, He comforts and frees them with the Gospel (e.g., The Woman Caught in Adultery, The Prostitute).
Christ uses the Law to show people the depths of their sin and helplessness. He uses the Gospel to show people the heights of His love and power to forgive. Reformer Philip Melancthon wrote, “The Law shows the disease, the Gospel the cure.”
So, any time you come across a Law passage from Jesus (or anyone else in the Bible), don't panic. Let the Law do its job: reveal your sin and lead you to forgiveness at the cross.
But that's the whole point!
Jesus doesn't use the Law to get us to strive harder, He uses it to get us to stop striving altogether! Our misplaced focus on watered-down law-keeping prevents us from walking in the freedom His grace provides. So, in loving-kindness, Jesus gives us the real Law, with all its crushing power, so that He can then give us the word of forgiveness that will raise us to a new life of freedom and rest in Him.
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