Having an a la carte approach to the Bible is as silly as it is dangerous. Using one side of their mouth to claim that the Bible is written by man and holds no real authority over life and practice in today’s modern world, many will then use the other side of their mouth to condemn those who do not adhere to select words and examples from the life of Jesus. It’s not that sin doesn’t exist in their worldview, it’s that they define sin based on what they like about the Bible. This approach often leaves very little room, if any, for the Ten Commandments.
While not necessarily a modern invention, the false dichotomy between love and law seems to be growing with each passing year. Lately, this is seen in the way many professing Christians separate loving Jesus from adherence to the ethical imperatives of the Bible. Claiming the moral high road, organizations like the Red Letter Christians divorce Jesus’ words in the Gospels from the rest of Scripture. Reducing the responsibilities of followers of Jesus to narrowly and culturally defined political and social justice issues, there is a growing group of people who believe that loving Jesus means discarding the law. The biggest problem with that, of course, is that Jesus didn’t compartmentalize his life and his definition of love apart from the law.
This is seen most explicitly in Matthew 5:17-20. In the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made the astounding request for people to “not think that I [Jesus] have come to abolish the law or the Prophets.” Declaring that he did “not come to abolish them but to fulfill them,” Jesus explained “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.”
Working backwards, the final claim that falling short in righteousness will keep you out of heaven is devastating news for anyone who is honest about their own heart. In fact, making sure that no one misunderstands how high God’s standards actually are, Jesus continued by shockingly saying that simply lusting equals adultery and feeling angry equals murder. It’s going to be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to find any human who adheres to God’s law on the level that Jesus said was required for entrance into heaven. Except, of course, the human who spoke those words.
When Jesus told his listeners that he came to fulfill the law, he was announcing that he had come to fulfill God’s promise in Genesis 3:15 that a seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent and undo the effects of sin. The most devastating effect of sin is the ethical separation that exists between every human being and God. Being holy, God cannot be in the presence of sin; His holiness demands that His law be fully obeyed. All humans have broken God’s law, except Jesus.
By fulfilling God’s law, Jesus accomplished what we cannot. But that’s only one aspect. God’s law demands that sin be punished. Taking his perfect life to the cross, Jesus took the punishment for the sins of others upon his body and died so that those who place their faith in Him might be reconciled to God. Having been bodily resurrected three days after his death, Jesus, who is as divine as he is man, now sits at God’s right hand mediating for those who are his. And his divine mediation is only possible because of his life that perfectly fulfilled the law, his death for the punishment of sins that he did not commit, and his vindication and victory over sin and death by his resurrection. If Jesus hadn’t fulfilled God’s law, all humans would have been hopelessly lost and under God’s wrath for all eternity.
This glorious truth about Jesus means that those who compartmentalize the Bible and pick and choose which parts they accept as authoritative are, in reality, rejecting Jesus. Specifically, those who see a dichotomy between love and law have divided Jesus and gutted his teachings and mission.
God’s law is good because God is good. If he hadn’t fulfilled God’s law, Jesus wouldn’t be love. Rejecting the law equals rejecting the one who fulfilled the law and rejecting Jesus’ definition of love. And rejecting the one who fulfilled the law means that all of your good works are as filthy rags before God because those works are done in rebellion against God and aren’t done in love.
Jesus’ love and life mean that those who have submitted to him in faith are now free to obey the law for God’s glory. Instead of viewing the Ten Commandments as an unnecessary holdover and evidence of legalism, we should learn to love God’s law and pray for the grace and faith to obey God while we’re still on this earth.