The Law of the Kingdom
Open Your Bible
Matthew 5:17-48, Matthew 13:47-52, Psalm 40:6-8, Hosea 6:6, Micah 6:8, Mark 12:28-34
Our relationship to the Old Testament law is changed in Jesus, who fulfills the law and clarifies the ethics that characterize the kingdom.
My last name is Faires. It’s pronounced “Ferris.” Yes, like Ferris Bueller. Or “ferrous,” as in something containing iron. Not “fairies,” like a group of woodland sprites. Nor is it “fairs,” like the plural of an event involving both cotton candy and hogs. And the plural of Faires (no matter how I try to avoid it by patiently writing out “The. Faires. Family.”) just has to be Faireses. This is a mouthful and, honestly, more of the letter “s” than I’d like to see before I’ve had my morning coffee. This occasionally leads to us being introduced not as the scribes, but as the “The Fairesees.” And I want to tell you that we (a little bit) deserve it.
No matter how well I comprehend the doctrines of grace, I still give myself a smug little “well done” if I manage to maintain a holy composure for one entire church service. It’s so easy for me to get distracted from the goodness of the Lord by the purported goodness of Rebecca. Are you, too, tempted to revel in your own rule-following and self-proclaimed goodness?
The Pharisees were excellent rule-followers. They loved rules so much they made up extra ones. They had rules for everything. And they didn’t just stick with the Ten Commandments. They had a multitude of additions, subpoints, and expansions. And they were serious about each of them. They instructed others that this was how people merited heaven: by keeping the Law and the traditions.
And works-to-righteousness legalism is so appealing on the surface, because finally it feels like there’s something we can do to secure salvation for ourselves. The problem with legalism is that while it seems to uphold the law to a serious degree, it actually undermines it.
This is why Jesus was opposed to the supposed “righteousness” of the Pharisees. But He rejected their legalistic notions in a peculiar way. You’d think that the way to reject legalism would be to swing to the opposite perspective: antinomianism, or the rejection of rules altogether. The Pharisees thought the keeping of the Law would save them. Antinomians thought the law was not worth a second thought, and that grace would save them no matter what degrading sins they could dredge up.
But Jesus said: “I did not come to abolish [the Law] but to fulfill” it (Matthew 5:17). Jesus rejects both a legalistic and an antinomian use of the Law. The law of God—not the heaped-up additions of men—must be fulfilled to the fullest degree. The law must pierce our hearts and change not only our external behavior, but our every thought and attitude. The law must be fulfilled perfectly: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). What an impossible standard!
The Pharisees, in truth, made little of the true Law, but made much of their own law-keeping. Christ came to fulfill the Law perfectly, so that repentant Pharisees and antinomians like you and me could have peace with God.