Summary: Jesus revolutionized the old covenant laws. We cannot say we have fulfilled them just in the letter of the law. Jesus calls us to follow the spirit of the law through Him.
In my last post, I began talking about practicing Christian morals in the first part of this topic. In this post, I will finish talking about the miniseries of renewing your mind by describing Christian morals in Part 2.
In Part 1 I said that the foundation for Christian morality comes from God’s laws and commandments given to Israel as part of the old covenant. But that is not where Christian morality ends. Disciples of Jesus as Christians receive and practice the full revelation Jesus brought in the New Testament.
He helps us to follow the old covenant laws through His new way. Jesus is central to a Christian morality. You cannot follow the old covenant laws and be a follower of Jesus. You must accept His yoke (the way He explains picture as your Teacher), and practice His teaching and commandments in your life.
To do that, you have to understand Jesus’s teachings and commandments. Although there are founded on Old Testament commandments, they reveal more to us on how to better follow those commandments. We will look at Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, and then focusing on the epistles and how they further help us follow Jesus. Let’s get started!
Christ’s Commandments and Teachings
You can find Jesus’s teaching in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You could spend a lifetime of study in these Gospels, and would still not understand everything, let alone practice it. Jesus gives us a lot to do in this lifetime, and I think that’s by design. He wants to present us as holy and blameless before the Father (Ephesians 5:27).
You will never get bored following Jesus and practicing His morality. I like what G. K. Chesterton once said, “The problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.” I will start by telling you that you will not be able to do what Jesus calls you to do. But, stick with me to the end and I will give you great hope and help in following Jesus’s teachings and commandments.
One great place to start with Jesus’s teaching is in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Here, He lays the foundation for Christian morality. It can be broken up into smaller pieces, but that will not help you follow our Master. What helps you is obedience to what He says. From the Beatitudes to being salt and light, understanding how Jesus fulfills the Law, and a host of other topics throughout the sermon, we gain more understanding of what Jesus requires of each of us.
But it doesn’t stop there. As you read through the Gospels, Jesus teaches in every moment of them. From the beginning when He goes into the wilderness by the Spirit to show us how to address the devil and temptation to when He hangs from the Cross in our place, we never stop learning about Christian ethics and morality.
The worst thing you can do is to say that His standards are so high I cannot attain them, so why try? You cannot consider yourself a disciple of Jesus if you do not follow Him. Will you fail? Every once in a while. But as Chesterton said, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Most people just don’t try.
Along with Jesus’s expectations are His grace and mercy when we do not succeed. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t succeed every time you try to walk as Jesus taught you. None of us is perfect. If we were, we wouldn’t be here. Read His Word, follow His commandments and teachings, and do it in a community of believers. We can help one another (Proverbs 27:17). Jesus’s yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).
The Ten Commandments and Jesus
In Part 1, I focused on the Ten Commandments as the foundation for Christian morality, but it doesn’t stop there. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus in one sense redefines Old Testament law, and in another sense enhances them. This is why we cannot just follow old covenant laws as Christians.
I explained earlier that Christian morality is beyond the old covenant. We live in the new covenant, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to ignore the old testament commandments. There is benefit to studying and understanding them, in light of Christ, of course.
After Jesus declares Himself to have fulfilled the old covenant law (Matthew 5:17-20), He goes through a series of teachings based on old covenant law. You’ll notice that most of it is quoting one of the Ten Commandments, followed by, “But I say to you…” What comes next is revolutionary.
Let’s take Jesus’s teaching on the commandment, “You shall not murder” (Matthew 5:21-27) as an example.
““You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21–26, ESV)
Jesus begins by saying, “You have heard that it was said,” followed by one of the Ten Commandments, to not murder. The third component of His opening statements about murder and anger is what He says next. With the formula, “But I tell you…” Jesus introduces the revolutionary, or enhancing quality of His teaching.
Many people can say they have not murdered anyone. But Jesus takes it to a new level when He internalizes the commandment to point to even being angry with someone. You may not have physically murdered anyone, but if you imagine what you would do to them in your anger, you are just as liable to God’s judgment as if you had physically murdered them.
This gets beyond the physical things we do to violate God’s law other people can see. It becomes a heart issue. Where is our heart, the attitude of our heart? There is such a thing as righteous anger, but many of us are angry about many things. Perhaps that’s why Paul says, “In your anger, to not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26 cs.4:4).
Jesus gives several examples of the way we sin in our anger. Needless to say, if you could get away with narrowing the old commandment to the physical act of murder, and say you have fulfilled it, none of us can get away with saying we have not murdered a person in our heart or mind when we are angry.
As you go through the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does the same thing with adultery and several other commandments. He redefines Old Testament laws given by God, but He does that by internalizing them and making them impossible for us to not have violated at least one of God’s commandments. The rest of His teaching is just like that. Jesus knows human nature and the sins we do. He knows just how to set the bar very high.
A Christian Ethic
Our goal, then, is not to take Jesus at the letter of the law. We must follow the spirit of the law. That’s what Jesus’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. He’s taking the literal words of the old covenant laws and showing us the spirit of them. In Jesus’s day, the Pharisees and religious leaders had reduced the spirit of the law to its letter so they can say they fulfilled all of them.
That is not what we must do as Jesus’s disciples. We must not only know what Jesus has taught us, but put it into practice (James 1: 22-25). Whatever we do, say, or think, it must be in obedience to Jesus. It will take you a lifetime to regularly follow the law of Christ. That’s why Jesus’s grace is so great.
Christian Morality in the Epistles
Acts and the epistles of the New Testament further provide commentary on the Gospels, on how to do what Jesus calls us to do. His teaching is just as evident there as it is in His words in the Gospels. The epistles especially help us with how to treat one another. Every epistle is full of commands to treat other Christians the way Jesus taught us.
James mentions the “law of liberty” (James 1:25; 2:12). This is the law we have that brings freedom as we follow it. It is the law of Jesus. Paul talks about the “law of love” in Romans 13:10. After quoting that we should love our neighbor as Ourselves, he says that love is the fulfillment of the law. This is much like what we talked about in the last post with the last six commandments.
Our morality as Jesus’s disciples, then, flows out of our love for God and our love for our neighbor. The parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 12:25-37) teaches us that everyone is our neighbor. We don’t get a pass on the “unlovable.” The epistles bear that out. Jesus needs to give you a heart to love every person you know. Only out of the heart of love can you fulfill the morality and ethics of the New Testament.
The Help of the Holy Spirit
As I’ve said in this post, none of us can follow Jesus’s teaching and Commandments on our own. We are so blessed that the Holy Spirit dwells in us from the moment we are saved. He makes it possible for us to follow Jesus’s commandments and slowly mature in following Him in reality.
The only thing required of us is to obey the Spirit when He speaks to an issue in our character that fall short of Jesus’s high standards. Obedience is the hardest thing you will do in your walk with Jesus. Perhaps that’s why it takes us so long to completely surrender our hearts to Jesus and do everything He commands us.
Jesus’s high standard of morality and ethics is impossible to do. But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we have a fighting chance. You will find the Holy Spirit returning to issues you thought you had won and solved. Just when you think you have succeeded in always doing what Jesus is telling you to do, the Holy Spirit shows you there’s more work to be done. Don’t beat yourself up. Just follow Jesus.
Read through the Sermon on the Mount and Mark every verse that you struggle to fulfill. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to obey Jesus and succeed in becoming more like Him.
We have finished this miniseries on Renewing Your Mind in our study as Jesus’s disciples on being Conformed to Christ. Next, we will begin a new miniseries on Developing Christian Perspectives by talking about having a Christian worldview.