Why Righteous Living is a Gift

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

When Jesus was crucified, there were two charges filed against him. The religious authorities charged him of breaking their law and of using magic to lead other people to also break it. The Roman government saw him as a rebel and it was their policy to always crucify people who threatened the emperor’s rule.

As we read Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, it will be perfectly obvious that Jesus never never broke the law and that he expected his followers to follow his example.

Matthew 5.17-20 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

19 “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

20 “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Not to Abolish but to Fulfill

Jesus said, “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (verse 17). In what way did Jesus fulfill the law, such as the Ten Commandments and the message of the prophets?

Once Jesus was tested by a legal expert who said, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

“He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22.37-40).

Jesus was able to summarize the entire law and the prophets in two short sentences. Even more than that, he fulfilled these two commands with absolute perfection.

Jesus told his followers, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love” (John 15.10).

If you followed my Gospel of John blog articles, you probably grew tired of my relentless quoting of John 5.19 where Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.”

Jesus demonstrated his love for the Father by never acting independently his will. Dr. Frank Laubach counted 46 times in the Gospel of John, when Jesus said something similar to John 5.19. When Jesus said the he came to fulfill the law and the prophets, he certainly fulfilled the first part of loving the Father with all of his heart, soul and mind.

Speaking of the commandment to love one another, Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15.12-13).

Without any question of doubt, Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law and the prophets, even though he was accused of not doing so.

Following Jesus’ Example

It is clear that Jesus wants people like you and me to fulfill all righteousness, just like he did. He summarized his teaching about keeping the law by saying, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (verse 20).

This sound like a difficult task, so let’s look deeper and see the gift that is really a part of Jesus’ command.

The first and great command is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22.37). The greatest, most impressive Being of all wants to be in a personal relationship with us in an atmosphere of love.

The atmosphere of love involves our entire being – heart, soul and mind.

— Our heart is our “desire-producer that makes us tick.” These “desire-decisions” establish who we really are.

— Our soul is is the seat of affections and will. The soul is what makes us a human person, a self.

— Our mind is the part of us that allows us to reason and to think things through. (Definitions are from Strong’s Dictionary of the Bible.)

The greatest Being of All has profoundly demonstrated his love for us. The Bible is about God, but it also has a lot to say about us. Much of what God has done through the ages places people like us at the center. First and foremost, his only Son died on the cross to save us from our sins. Jesus’ entire mission took place because God wants to live with us in a love-relationship for all of eternity.

God’s activity is designed to capture our heart. He loves and wants us to desire him from the core of our being, our soul. God has created us with the ability to reason and to think things through. After thinking about God’s great love, we believe that it is in our best interest to love him in return.

Jesus also said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22.39). We can understand how this command is a gift from both a negative and positive direction.

Think about all of the major problems in the world today. Domestic violence, racial divisions, oppression, neglect, war and more are all evidence that the world’s system does not value the elementary truth of loving our neighbor as ourselves.

How many children are taught the valuable practice to “love your neighbor as yourself?” It is too bad that world leaders, business leaders and many people of influence do not lead their followers to do the same.

The lack of obedience to Jesus’ command is alarming. Yet, the people who follow his teaching testify to its positive difference it makes in their lives.

How do we receive this gift?

It is interesting that we need Jesus’ help to receive such a wonderful gift. The truth is that we don’t naturally want to love God and other people. Love involves giving up selfishness. We may say that we value love, but our actions often betray a self-centered and self-pleasing approach to life.

The gift of the Holy Spirit will remove the self-centered and self-pleasing inside condition. This is God’s promise that was fulfilled by Jesus. “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ezekiel 36.26-27).

Maywood Baptist Church is filled with people who once had hearts of stone. Jesus removed hearts of stone and replaced them with his Spirit. There is no other explanation for the transformation of so many lives. As Coach Jake Taylor often says, “We’re not perfect.” I totally agree with Jake, but we all also recognize a level of love for Jesus and for other people that can only be explained by the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Don’t miss God’s gift of leaving behind your self-centered and self-pleasing ways to live by the Spirit. Invite God’s Spirit to work in you and to bring you into the life of love that God wants for you. You will be glad you did!

Today’s Prayer

Dear Jesus, please help us to appreciate the gift of righteousness that you call us to experience. We turn away from our self-centered living and ask for your Spirit to work a life of love in our hearts. We give you our abundant thanks for your love.

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