Applying truths: Either our application of the Bible will keep us from sin or sin will keep us from the Bible. *Photo supplied
Applying truths: Either our application of the Bible will keep us from sin or sin will keep us from the Bible. *Photo supplied

Previously, we learned the importance of being a light for God so that people will see that our good works glorify God in heaven. This week we are going to look at a rather interesting teaching of Jesus taken from Matthew 5:17-20. Let’s read it…

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks 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 practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The topic of this passage is the righteousness of God that is found in Jesus Christ. This topic of righteousness becomes a very important one in the Bible.

In fact it is the presence or absence of righteousness that determines if one will spend eternity in heaven or not. Jesus starts off by saying that He did not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfil them. From this context we need to determine what “the Law” and “the Prophets” actually mean.

 “The Law” refers to the five books of Moses which are the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. 

Jewish people call it the Torah or the Pentateuch. “The Prophets” is the term commonly used to describe the rest of the Old Testament books.

By saying He has not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, Jesus clarifies that He did not come to do away with the Old Testament, but rather came to fulfil it. 

So what was the purpose of the Law, the words of God recorded by Moses?

According to the book of Galatians the Old Testament law was like a schoolmaster, teaching us how much we need a Saviour.

It was to show us that righteousness — which is what is needed for us to be right before God — couldn’t be achieved through keeping the law. In other words, the law was to point out to us that we are totally and utterly lost. 

Galatians 3:21-22 reads, Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God?  Absolutely not!  For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.  But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

What powerful verses! Righteousness cannot be obtained by observing the law; in fact, it cannot be earned — period!

Righteousness can only be given by God through Jesus Christ for all who believe in Him!

This, in fact, is true freedom. A relationship with God is only found by admitting that we have sinned and by believing that Jesus Christ died for us and rose again.

We are given eternal life as a free gift; it is not something that can be earned by our good works and good intentions.

So, if we cannot earn it, we don’t have to work to keep it; rather, we work for God (we let our light shine) because we already belong in a secure relationship with Him. 

Jesus teaches that He will not do away with God’s Word, but that God’s Word will last forever. This is a reminder to all of us not to take the teachings of the Bible lightly. Rather, we should live by the written, yet living, Word of God.

I like the acrostic I have heard of the Bible… Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth! 

We need to use it as our guidebook for everyday living. Either our application of the Bible will keep us from sin or sin will keep us from the Bible.

Let’s keep in God’s Word. There is a price to pay when we neglect God’s Word and even when we encourage others to do the same… we will be least in God’s Kingdom, but if we obey and apply and encourage others in the same direction we will be great in His kingdom.

Jesus says something very profound at the end of this passage that must have shocked His listeners.

He said that unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, we would certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven! 

No one could quote and interpret the Bible more than these respected and revered religious people, but Jesus says here that they actually are far away from God!

What a warning to people in Jesus’ day as well as ours! 

Whenever we study the Bible and do not apply its truths to ourselves we run the risk of becoming like the Pharisees and teachers of the law, either hypocrites or legalists.

Clearly by Jesus’ statement, neither impresses God. He wants our righteousness to come from Jesus Christ… not our own effort. 

Whose righteousness are you depending on?