I can still recall quite vividly a Saturday evening when my parents brought me to the cinema to watch the Ten Commandments. I was barely 5 years old. My memory of the ten commandments is of course not based on the movie alone. Very likely, I was told each year in Sunday school that we should all obey Godís laws. A few years later I led a friend to accept Jesus. It was a beautiful moment except that I also imparted to her the things she had to do as a Christian. I told her most of the Ďto dosí my pastors and Sunday school teachers taught me.
When we think about it, most religions in the world teach their disciples to be good and to do charitable deeds. Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Taoism and other religions are also against killing, adultery and stealing, etc. So why is Christianity any different?
To understand why the Christian faith is so unlike the other religions, we must know the difference between the old covenant of God that is based on His laws and the new covenant that is based on Jesusí finished work on the cross.
The old covenant is based on the law which God gave through Moses. The ten commandments are part of the law. The book of Leviticus reveals the many requirements which man must meet in order to be right before a Holy God who is perfect. The atoning annual sacrifices which Moses was instructed to teach had to be made and these include the trespass and sin offerings. In His mercy, God demanded the atoning sacrifices to cover the sins of man because He knew man will fail.
When Jesus came to die on the cross, a new covenant was established. In covenant making, the Hebrews demand the shedding of blood and Jesusí blood was poured out freely to establish the new covenant. This new covenant was prophesied in the old testament. God spoke in Jeremiah 31 saying He will write His laws in our hearts. Previously, His laws were written on two tablets of stone.
So what exactly is this new covenant? Under the old covenant, man had to obey all of Godís laws in order to be righteous but believers are righteous by faith in Jesus as their righteousness in the new covenant. The old covenant demands that man had to fulfil more than 600 laws but under the new covenant we are justified when we call upon the name of Jesus and believe that He is the Holy lamb of God slain to be our sin and trespass offering to God. We realise the depth of Godís love to us because He gave us Jesus to fulfil the demands of all the ceremonial and moral laws on our behalf and to take the punishment we deserve because we fail. If the law brings forth the punishment and wrath of God because we fail, then as Christians the peace of God and all His blessings on our lives are because of His grace. This is because Jesus took our place on the cross and Godís anger against our sins fell on Him at the cross.
In many religions, doing good is a criteria to attain a sort of nirvana and to receive blessings but Christians rest in the fact that we are sanctified in Christ. Paul teaches this very clearly in his epistles. Yet, Christians often teach each other the disciplines in Christian living without first establishing the significance of the cross. In the gospel is the power to live the righteous life to which we are called. Rather than preaching Godís laws, we must preach the grace of God. The entire new testament is full of God's grace. The requirements in the old testament is to point man to his need for a Saviour. Again, it is so important to emphasise that Godís Word never taught us that fulfilling the requirements of some of the laws is more important than obeying the others. Rather, all have sinned and fallen short of Godís glory in some way. If we want to go by Godís laws then we must fulfil every single law.
When Jesus expounded the law to the Pharisees who were full of self-righteousness, we learn that anger is murder in Godís eyes and when a man looks at a woman who is not his wife with lust it is adultery. Such is the perfection of Godís holiness. His righteous wrath against sins does not require that we do our best. Rather, we need to fulfil all of His laws. As this is impossible for man, God's answer is the Cross.
The truth is when we appreciate deep in our hearts the love of God and His Redeeming Sacrifice, we will come to a place of thanksgiving. Righteous living results from knowing that we are not condemned no matter how we fail or how many times we fail. True repentance comes when we truly appreciate how much we have been forgiven at the cross. This is how we begin to have a heart knowledge of the things of God. God has written His laws in our hearts by way of the cross. The way to teach God's laws is when we preach the saving grace of God which is the Cross. Believers will have a love for the things of God, His laws and His kingdom with the knowledge of His grace. Yet, so many Christians have been taught behaviour modification as part and parcel of Christian living in the form of Christian disciplines.
Often, we hear preachers preach so passionately on sins when the new testament is all about God's answer to sinful man in the person of His Son. Jesus came to make us righteousness conscious but many Christians are more sin conscious. Very likely this is because so many preachers represent the new covenant of God erroneously when they do not preach the law of God in the context of His abounding grace. As a result, many believers are misguided and so they too follow suit. Yet, the Bible clearly shows the futility of mixing law and grace in the book of Galatians.
We must not count on our right doing to be right with God because the truth is it can never be enough. If we experience guilt, it means that we do not believe that all the suffering Jesus went through was enough to pay for our sins. Therefore, our response should be repentance and thanksgiving. Often, guilt causes man to shun God whereas a heart of thanksgiving for the cross draws man to God. When we are thankful for the cross, nothing can stop us from drawing near to Him. We end up delighting in the things of God and we spend time with our Saviour because we know how deeply He loves us despite ourselves. We end up fulfilling what was prophesied through Jeremiah because our love for God is not the result of any man teaching us that we must love Him. Instead, our desire for God's laws stems from our love response to Him. Under the new covenant, man will love God if we preach to them His grace. Conversely, any attempts to inculcate Christian disciplines among believers who do not understand grace often bring forth some form of self-righteousness, self-condemnation or guilt.
In churches where the ten commandments are taught out of the context of the Gospel, two or three scenarios may occur. Among those who are able to keep some of Godís laws, it is not uncommon to pick up in them a sense of self-righteousness and anger towards those who fail the law. They may experience difficulty in praising Jesus at church worship because they are judgemental about another ChristianĎs sins. At home, a father may choose to be right and lawful to the extent that he reluctantly disowns his child when he chooses a lifestyle that is not God honouring. In the name of Godís holiness, legalistic Christians misrepresent God. The truth is the Bible shows us a Jesus who came to forgive sinners and He is full of unconditional acceptance.
It is so important to understand that many threatening sermons about believers not making to heaven do not accurately portray the truth of God's Word. This is due to the preachers' lack of understanding. Very likely, the bible verses from which the preachers drew their arguments were taken from the Gospel of Matthew. We must remember that this book was written to the Jews at that time who rejected Christ. If Jesus died to give us eternal life then how can the failure of some believers to bear fruit for God's kingdom in righteous living cause them to lose eternal life? One of the two sinners who hung next to Jesus at Calvary did not have the time to serve the Lord yet Jesus said he will be with Him in paradise. The parable of the prodigal son and the account of the woman who was caught in adultery also show us that Jesusí method to save is one of no condemnation. However, many in the church demand repentance of sins first, not realising that the power to sin no more rests in no condemnation in Christ.
The feelings of guilt that come with the teaching of the law drive people away from God. Besides, if we fight to retain the teachings of the law without the revelation that a change of covenant has taken place, there is no true humility. Among those who strive to keep the law, it is easy for them to remember to be humble whenever they fail. However, when they succeed, they tend to have greater confidence that their prayers will be answered. Yet, there is no way to be humble unless one is humbled. True humility is found among believers who know that it is Christ alone who justifies them completely.
Our righteousness was never our own. The righteousness believers have was imputed to us by faith in Jesus. This is why if we condemn ourselves it is a form of self-righteousness. If we have chosen to depend on the cross then we must place our complete trust in Jesus and so guilt should not be in our lives even when we fail. After the cross, it became clearer that guilt is not emphasized in the Bible yet some denominations in Christianity are so bound by guilt. Many pastors are so afraid to declare that grace overcomes sins and they resort to teach behaviour modification. They do not understand the power of grace and instead they are wary of the power of sin. The Bible tells us very clearly that the strength of sin is the law and so the truth is if we want to help non-believers and ourselves to turn from sinful ways then we must not preach the law expecting it to make this change. There is power in Grace to save and to find the lost yet Grace power is so undermined in many Christian circles which are desperately hanging on to the law to instil Christ-likeness among believers. The truth is the grace of God reaches a personís soul and spirit in ways that the laws of God can never. The men and women who met Jesus and gave their lives to Him did not receive teaching on the law from Him. The accounts on Zacchaeus, the woman caught in adultery, the fishermen, the lady at the well who was not educated in the Levitical laws, the man out of whom a legion of demons were cast into the swine are just a few examples to show the simple power of Grace to reach, to find, to save and to transform precious human lives. Jesus did not preach the law to them but we witness the transforming power of His grace.
Similarly, the world needs to hear about Godís grace instead of His laws because the good news is not the law. Innately, man is aware of the need for laws. In fact, many religions have a form of the ten commandments. Almost every religion preaches against adultery, murder and stealing, and they promote good values and religious observances. The book of Romans points out the legalistic nature of man saying Gentiles are a law unto themselves. By the omnipotence of God, Grace is found only in the Christian faith alone and not in any other religion. This is why the divine plan of God is that we preach the Gospel. God knows that the Gospel is the only solution for man to be at peace and to have His peace. Indeed, God's heart is full of mercy and grace. To be a judge, God did not have to give us His Son. Yet, to be our Father Jesus had to die. The requirements of the law cause people to misunderstand Godís heart when we do not preach His grace.
The curtain to the Holy of Holies where God dwells was torn when Jesus paid for all our sins. It is impossible for believers to come into GodĎs presence if the forgiveness of their sins is conditional upon their confession. So often we violate GodĎs laws without realising it and yet we do not die. As most Christians are ignorant of all of Godís laws, many of us do not even know that we have fallen short. The truth is even when we fall short, our sins are not imputed to us because of Jesus. For this reason alone, we are still able to come before God. The Levitical priests would have never survived what many Christians survive in spite of our sins because our High Priest Jesus paid for our sins forever. Consequently, the Spirit of God never leaves a believer, instead He convicts him that he has God's righteousness despite his sins. This truth is so precious but some Christians still think that God is angry with them. When we read that the Holy Spirit convict the world of sin, we must understand this Scripture in John 16 is referring to that one sin of not believing in Jesus.
God has judged our sins on Jesus on the cross. When we believe in Jesus, He presents us faultless before God. If a person receives Jesus as his Saviour and believes that his past, present and future unrighteousness is washed by His blood, God no longer imputes sin to him because Jesus was resurrected to declare that all who believe have become righteous. In fact the Bible tells us that sin is not imputed if not for the law. To save man from eternal condemnation in hell because the wages of sin is death, Jesusí blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins. This is grace. The Bible tells us that if righteousness comes by doing the works of the law then Christ died in vain.
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