The Law Is Fulfilled
Read Matthew 5:17-20 (ESV)
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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever relaxes 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 does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Do we still need to follow God’s commands since we have been saved by grace through faith?
Scripture makes it perfectly clear that salvation is a free gift of God. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
So what does Jesus mean in today’s passage when He says “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”? We know that “...no one is righteous, no, not one..”(Romans 3:10). If we have to be righteous to enter heaven but none of us are righteous, how can anyone be saved?
Jesus was emphasizing the point that we are not capable of saving ourselves. If salvation was works-based, even the hyper-legalistic scribes and the Pharisees would fall short. Jesus said that only He perfectly fulfilled the Law.
It’s important to understand that when God says we are forgiven and given grace, it isn’t because He relaxed His own Law. As He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (v.17). The standard of the Law didn’t just disappear but instead, Jesus stood in our place and took the punishment for our crimes.
I think many people imagine the grace of God as if they were standing before a judge for committing crimes deserving of death. But instead of sentencing us to death, the judge lets us go. He says, “You know what, it’s fine. I’ll let you get away with it.” But this is NOT a picture of the grace that God offers us. In this example, the judge relaxed the law and justice was not actually served. But God is a perfectly just judge. He will not relax His Law.
Instead, imagine standing before the judge, being declared guilty, and sentenced to death. But a perfectly innocent man stands up and says, “I’ll take his place. I’ll take his punishment. He can go free.” The Law was in no way relaxed. Justice was served. But only because Jesus took the punishment that we deserved upon Himself and gave us His clean record, or His righteousness, in exchange.
It is only by His righteousness that we can be made righteous. Romans 4:5 says: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness….” We can’t work to earn our righteousness. But when we place our faith in Jesus, we receive His clean record as a free gift and we are justified. Though we are ungodly, we are made righteous through Him and can enter the kingdom of God.
Friends, do not think that because of Jesus and the New Testament that the Law, the Prophets, and the Old Testament are irrelevant. Jesus promised us in today’s verses that everything written in the Law and the Prophets—all of Scripture—will be fulfilled. Remember, “every word of God proves true…” (Proverbs 30:5). Every last word.
Lord, I thank You and praise You that all of Your words prove true. Thank You, Jesus, for being the fulfillment of the Law. For perfectly meeting the standard of holiness that I could not attain and taking my sin upon Yourself so that I could go free. I give my life to You in gratefulness. Amen.
~ Pastor Nat Crawford
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