Is The Law Valid if We Are Saved By Grace?

One of the great things about walking through Scripture and really taking our time to study the text sincerely is that we are guarded from unsound doctrine. By preaching and teaching the Scriptures, we avoid the temptation to merely use the Scriptures as we teach or only teach from the Scriptures. There is a big, obvious, difference in the way that the text presents itself and in the way many people try to present it. Our goal is always to follow the direction of the text, not form the text to follow our direction. Christ is our leader and we are not His.

Because I care deeply for our community and the surrounding areas and for the other preachers and teachers and the other local church bodies, I listen as often as I can to sermons and follow what is going on with the other congregations here. Just recently, I heard an entire sermon (I won’t mention the church or whether it was in our community or not) about the curse of the Law. The preacher spoke from Galatians 3 about the Christian’s freedom from the Law and about free gift of salvation. He spoke about how all a person needs to do is choose to receive Jesus and rest in His grace. It sounds good, and I have heard this kind of teaching in many places. Is it the truth?

As we have walked through Matthew’s Gospel, we have seen Jesus’ preaching ministry and are now in the middle of reading about His healing ministry. We have seen that Christ’s main concern is in offering forgiveness of sins. We saw, last week, that He has the authority to forgive sins and does so according to the Father’s will. Sins are revealed under the Law. In today’s text, Jesus sits down and eats with Law-breakers.

Matthew 9:9-13

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?”

But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus calls sinners (v. 9-10)

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

Finally, here in chapter 9, we see the account of Jesus calling the human author of this Gospel to follow Him. Matthew is sitting in a tax collector’s booth, meaning that he really wasn’t worth much, if anything, in the eyes of religious Jews. Jesus calls this public nuisance to follow Him. This public nuisance responds to Christ’s invitation by getting up and following Him.

Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.

Here, we see that tax collectors are classified like sinners- ritually and morally unclean according to God’s Law. We know from Mark 2:15 and Luke 6:29 that Jesus goes to Matthew’s house and is sitting with him there. As Jesus and His disciples are sitting with Matthew at Matthew’s house, and many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. These tax collectors and sinners were friends and acquaintances of Matthew (cf. Luke 6:29).

This is a literal, historical dramatization of the theological truth that Jesus will explain in verses 12-13. Jesus came to call sinners to Himself. He intentionally goes to the worst of sinners and is intentionally around sinners. If we want to be like Christ, we will want to intentionally be around sinners and invite sinners to come be with us as we follow Christ.

Jesus does not call the self-righteous (v. 11)

When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?”

In the mind of the Pharisee, Jesus was becoming ritually unclean by being with such an unclean group. How could a teacher who claims to uphold the Law (5:17) affirm a people who have not upheld the Law? How could He call one of those people to follow Him, nonetheless? This is scandalous!

God’s actual desire (v. 12-13)

But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 

Jesus responds to the criticizing question of these Pharisees with this illustration. This illustration, Christ’s comparing Himself to a physician, hints at the meaning of the verse in Scripture that He is about to quote. Jesus will drop this doctrinal bombshell concerning the Law on people who have spent some of their childhood and their entire adult ministries trying to understand and teach the Law to the people of God.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ …

Jesus instructs the Pharisees who are criticizing Him to go and learn what one statement in the Old Testament means. This one verse is provided by Matthew as the reason Jesus does what He does, calls sinners, and eats with sinners. This Old Testament passage is the doctrinal explanation of Jesus’ previous illustration, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick,” and His following application of Biblical truth, “… for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus quotes from Hosea 6:6, but He does not explain the text. Instead, He tells the Pharisees to go and learn what the verse means. Jesus’ statement means that the verse only has one correct meaning and that the correct meaning is discernible. So, when we read God’s word, we know that there is only one correct meaning because this is the way that Jesus approached the Scriptures. It doesn’t mean different things to different people. Since Jesus instructed the Pharisees to go and learn the one meaning of this verse, we are going to exposit Hosea 6:6 together so that we might also learn the meaning and know why Jesus calls and eats with those who have broken God’s Law.

“What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah?

For your loyalty is like a morning cloud And like the dew which goes away early.

Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth; And the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth.

For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:4-6).

Immediately, we notice a difference between Matthew’s quotation of Jesus and the wording of the prophet (Unless you are reading the King James). Jesus’ quotation of Hosea says, “I desire compassion (or mercy)…,” while Hosea states, “I desire loyalty (or obedience).” What might be the reason for this difference? The reason for this difference is that Jesus is quoting from the Greek Septuagint instead of directly from the Hebrew. Jesus is using a translation, and a translation that doesn’t use the most precise language at that. The Septuagint uses the Greek word, Ελιος, which means “compassion” or “mercy.” Why do you think Jesus quotes from the Septuagint in this way?

Let’s consider Hosea 6:6 together. In Hosea 6:4-5, we see that God’s wrath was burning against Judah (the southern kingdom) because the nation had not has not been loyal to Him. The people had committed idolatry and were a people of sin. The nation had transgressed God’s Law. When we read verse 6 in this context, God, through Hosea, is saying that He would rather the people have been loyal to Him rather than willfully transgressing His Law and using the sacrificial system to remain ritually pure even though they were living in sin. The word for “loyalty,” here, is “חסד.” The word can be translated loyalty, obedience, dedication to, or mercy. The reason most translation do not translate this word to mean “mercy,” here, is because it does not make much sense that God might state His delight or desire for His people to have mercy toward Him concerning His Law. It does make sense that God would state His delight or desire for His people to be loyal or obedient to Him concerning His Law. So, we discover the proper translation using the context clues provided for us in the text. God’s desire is for His people to be loyal to Him rather than willfully sinning and using ritual to remain technically clean. Sometimes modern-day groups will use confession, repentance, penance, or some similar practice to remain ritually clean even though they do not live in obedience to God’s Law.

When we work through Hosea’s prophecy and get to chapter 14 and verses 1-2, we see that God assumes the responsibility to deliver His people to Himself by way of mercy. So, the mercy indicated by חסד is a mercy that God has on those sinners who are His people. In Hosea 14:8-9, we see that God saves His people by grace and mercy, and then His people bear the fruit of obedience to His Law. Those who are mercifully redeemed, according to Hosea, walk in the ways of God’s Law. Those who have not been redeemed, may try to keep the Law or not but stumble in the ways of God’s perfect Law.

This is what Jesus is telling the Pharisees to go and learn. Keeping the Law does not save us. Salvation is not legalism or works-righteousness. God is in the business, according to the Old Testament, of calling rebellious people to Himself. When rebellious people are called, their hearts and desires are changed, and they willfully walk in the ways of God’s Law.

So, for the Christian, walking in the ways of God’s Law is a joy and a privilege. We desire to be obedient children. For the one who will not enter the kingdom of Heaven, the Law is a stumbling block that feels like nothing but weighty rules. So, for any preacher or teacher to say that the Law is abolished and no longer carries any validity for believers is for him or her to disagree with Jesus (cf. Matthew 5:17), and show that he or she does not have a heart that has been given by Jesus- since those who are redeemed care about obeying Christ.

This is why Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:6). Jesus did not say, “You can only get into the kingdom of Heaven by keeping my commandments…” Love is the root. Obedience is the fruit. If all Scripture is breathed by Jesus (cf. Isaiah 48:16), then the fruit growing out of the love we have for Christ is obedience to all Scripture, including the Old Testament Law.

What Galatians 3:10-14 means, then, is that we are under the curse of the Law if we are trying to merit salvation or become righteous by keeping the Law. The Law is a stumbling block for us. When we get to Galatians 5, we see that the regeneration of the heart in Salvation produces the fruit of the Spirit and are dead to their trespasses and sins- becoming obedient to the Law out of love and life, no longer being under the curse of the Law but being in Christ and desiring to be obedient to Him. There is no Law, then, against our new nature (Galatians 5:23). Do we see how important it is to look at context before drawing our conclusions, and to study through entire books of the Bible? 

…for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

This statement is an application of the explicit Old Testament message. Jesus is answering the Pharisees’ question, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners.” His answer is, “…for (or because) I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Christ came to call sinners, give sinners a new heart, and it is those called sinners who will, though sanctification, become willfully, passionately, and joyfully obedient to God in every respect. This is the work that God is doing. The Law is still as valid and applicable as it was in Old Testament times. Not one letter has passed away. The Law serves the same purpose. The Law accomplishes the same work.

Questions

  1. Is the Law a burden or a pleasure to you?
  2. Is every Law written on our hearts, and do we strive to obey every command?
    1. Moral Laws are still applied as they are explicitly prescribed.
    2. Ritual Laws are perpetually fulfilled in Christ. If He is truly the object of our faith, then we are ritually pure under the Law.
    3. Civil Laws are applied positively to our relationships, in the offices and administration of the New Testament Church, and in the operation of state and national governments.
      1. Romans 13 even assigns explicit authority to the state to carry out justice according to God’s Law.
  3. Considering this passage, is it possible for God’s people to be corrupted if they are around sinners?

I don’t have time to walk through the Law and look at how each Law applies now that Christ has come, but maybe we will get to do that one day! We will have to in order to understand the depth of what Jesus is saying, here. We should all “go and learn” what the Old Testament means, especially Hosea 6:6 in the context of the entire Old Testament.

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