As a kid one of the parts of church that I liked the least was the pink envelope. I don’t know what color other churches had but we had a pink one. It was an offering envelope, but it was more than that–it was also a weekly test. You see, on this envelope there were boxes that asked how many people we had invited to church the previous week, how many times we had read our Bibles, and whether or not we studied for the lesson. If you could check off all of the boxes, you achieved good Christian status. If you had to leave some empty, you failed. That’s how I saw it, even if it was not presented that way. I wanted to make the teachers happy. I wanted to make God happy, and yet each week I felt that I had let everyone down. It was not a great way to experience church.
Over time I developed an incredibly legalistic approach to faith where I thought that my standing with God was directly related to what I had done for Him lately. If I had sinned, he was not interested in me. If I had read my Bible each day, we were cool.
It would be later in life that I would understand the true nature of my relationship with God and how His grace had covered me. I then understood that Jesus had made a way for God to see me as righteous, even with my shortfalls and that I did not have to earn God’s favor. The danger here was to maintain obedience in light of the grace I knew that I had received. As Paul puts it, I needed to know that I should not sin more so that grace could abound.
We struggle with works versus grace. We either want to try to earn God’s favor through our good works or rest in God’s favor and do whatever we want to do. However, the truth is something altogether different.
In our passage for today we see that Jesus does not declare the law of the Old Testament to be dead. Instead, Jesus explains that his presence and his work fulfill the law. In other words, Jesus is now able to show and clarify the intent of the law. Now we see that the law opens us up to the fullest experience of life. We see this as Jesus clarifies the law in the next few sections of the sermon on the mount. He will explain that “while you have read this, it actually goes deeper than that.”
As a result we don’t throw the law out. If Jesus honored the law, we follow suit. Following the law now becomes our obedient response to the grace and the love that God has shown us as we have entered into a relationship with Him. What we come to understand is that the law was not meant to give us directions on how to live every moment of our lives, but rather it was a way for God’s will for our lives to be revealed for our hearts and our minds. When we max out our discipleship at the level of pharisees, we simply have an external righteousness that looks good and puffs up. When we have the internal focus that the law truly calls for, we develop a heart that seeks after the purposes of God.
Be honest with yourself about how you relate to God. Do you try to earn the favor that you have already received? If so, find peace in knowing that you have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness. Do you honor the calls to be obedient to the commands of Christ? If not, know that forgiveness is not a game that is played with God. Acting as we want because we know we will be forgiven will inevitably leave spiritual scars on our relationship with God that will take a great deal of healing. The challenge for today is to rest in the grace of God and to embrace the call to develop a heart that seeks to follow all that Jesus commanded. This is the life of a disciple.