"Matthew 5:17-18 says quite clearly that Jesus demands Christians follow Old Testament law completely, to the smallest possible point. Why don’t they?" I found this question on a website tribe.net in an article entitled "Ten Questions to Ask a Christian." This question is posed by an atheist. In this posting I will try to answer this question. For the sake of clarity, here is exactly what Matthew 5:17-18 (NIV) says,
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill 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."
The Greatest Commandment
The poster’s question asks why don’t Christians follow all of the Old Testament laws (completely). The biblical passage that this person refers to is simply stating that Christ is the fulfillment of the law not that Christians need to fulfill the letter of the law. Later in Matthew, some scribes ask Jesus, "Which is the greatest commandment?" Jesus tells them that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart mind body and soul and the second is like the first which is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:28-34 NIV). Love can do no wrong to its’ neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10).
Christ Is the Fulfillment of the Law
This is what Christ meant when He stated that He had not come to abolish the law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. Because God is love and Christ is the Son of God, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the law. Elsewhere the bible states that the law was given to make man aware of sin — to know the difference between sin and godliness. When the Old Testament laws came the people of God — the Israelites, were not indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, they had to be told what sin was and what it wasn’t.
The Holy Spirit
When Jesus came, died, then rose and reappeared to His followers, they were given the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin — we no longer need to try to follow the law because the law is now written on our hearts. We cannot sin without grieving the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit tells us what sin is. When the Israelites were given the law it was to show them that on their own they couldn’t be perfect. It wasn’t until Christ came — the fulfillment of the law, that humans (Christians) had God’s law written on their hearts. This love that indwells those gifted with the Holy Spirit is what fulfills the law of the Old Testament which is summed up by Christ’s words about which is the greatest commandment.
Jesus Disproves the Pharisees
What Jesus demonstrated time and time again in the four gospels and during His earthly ministry was that people cannot fulfill the law on their own, that they need to turn to God and stop trying to be righteous by their own forms of self-righteousness. The Pharisees and scribes repeatedly tried to catch Christ in sin although He was without sin. They cited Old Testament Sabbath laws and tried to prove how Christ was breaking them. They could never catch Him in sin but they themselves committed the blasphemy of the Spirit or the unpardonable sin by denying Him and trying to stone Him as a sinner. Jesus showed how those that are religious and those that adhere to their traditions over the two greatest commandments to love God and neighbor are hypocrites and unworthy of God’s kingdom. In essence, those Pharisees tried to prove that they were more righteous than God. They were those that stoned the prophets that came before Jesus and sought to crucify God Himself.
What Is Required
We shouldn’t use this to place blame on the Jewish people for the death of Christ but to use their example as what not to do in trying to come into God’s kingdom. To be a part of God’s kingdom, only two things are required, "That if you confess with your mouth, ’Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved," (Romans 10:9 NIV). We can’t buy our way into heaven or work our way into heaven by following the law. It is the Holy Spirit, or Christ that makes Christians righteous and not strict adherence to Old Testament laws.
Jesus says that the law will not disappear in the above passage but that it will be fulfilled. This is what He was trying to say in Matthew 5:17-18. I hope today’s posting has given you clarity about this issue and that you are blessed by God in obedience to His law of love given by Christ as the Greatest Commandment