“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” – Matthew 5:17 NLT
Jesus didn’t come to condemn the law, he came to fulfil it. The purpose of the law was to expose our inadequacies and our need for a saviour. Jesus brought the need for the law to an end by fulfilling it. To fulfil here means “to bring to an end”.
Note what Jesus said in the proceeding verse, pay attention to the last part of it
“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.” Matthew 5:18 NLT
The law had a purpose and can not outlive its purpose. The fulfilment of the purpose of the law made the law of no relevance going forward. It could only last “UNTIL ITS PURPOSE IS ACHIEVED”. Let’s see the purpose of the law in one of the writings of Paul, the Apostle of Jesus Christ. This will take us away from Matthew for a moment. Let’s read
“Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people.” Galatians 3:19 NLT
Paul wrote that the law was only fashioned to last for a moment; until the coming of the Child. The Child here is Jesus! That’s why Jesus said, “I didn’t come to condemn the law but to fulfil it”. Jesus needed to say this so that it should be clear that the Prophets of the law were not false prophets, they only spoke what was relevant at their time. In Jesus, the law expired.
Paul explains further
“Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.” Galatians 3:21-22 NLT
Only if the law could give us a new life… But it couldn’t! The law brought death; it is the ministry of death and condemnation and it’s only in Jesus, who has fulfilled the law on our behalf that we can receive God’s promise of freedom.
Now let’s go back to Matthew. Jesus said something very interesting
“I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:18-19 NLT
It is easy to assume that Jesus is saying “if you don’t obey the law to the last, you’ll have just a little place in God’s kingdom, you’ll not be of any good use. The question then is, who has been able to keep all the laws? Nobody except Jesus! That is why our righteousness is in him and not in our ability. The next verse explains this. Let’s read:
“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” Matthew 5:20 NLT
There goes a warning! You’ve got to be the very best keeper of the law before you are qualified to become a member of God’s kingdom. Nobody qualifies. That is why Paul wrote
“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” Romans 3:23 NLT
Throughout the rest of Matthew 5, Jesus goes further to expose man’s inadequacies, he brought down those things men pride in as righteousness just to show that no man can get there by their own power. For example, certain men believe they are righteous simply because they haven’t committed adultery or fornication but Jesus makes it clear that by merely nursing a feeling, we have sinned.
The law was never designed for us to keep because we can’t keep the law.
I’ll summarise with Romans 3:24 so that we can see how Jesus has saved us from the burden of the law
“Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past,” Romans 3:24-25 NLT
We were freely made right by God through Jesus, not through the law. We were freed from the penalty of sin because Jesus gave himself in our stead. God arranged it this way to reconcile us with himself in the most amazing way.
The law? We are no longer under the law. Paul writes further
“Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” Romans 6:14 NLT
“Sin is no longer your master…” Doesn’t mean you can’t do wrong anymore, it means that your wrongs can’t hold you bound anymore, your righteousness isn’t tied to your actions but Jesus. We live under the freedom of God’s grace.
And yes, because we are righteous, we live righteously. We are not trying to be righteous, we are righteous.