People say that grace makes it okay to sin. It’s ludicrous. The first thing that God does is make it very clear what your sin was because it’s the only way you can receive grace. When a person is fully aware of their sin, the knowledge has a power so destructive that the only answer, the only salvation, is Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t soft on sin. His purpose was to fulfill the law, to fulfill righteousness. The first “red letter” words in the Bible were: “…it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15).” If He did not see the importance of His Father’s law, then He would not have come.
In Matthew 5, Jesus went through some commonly known facts about the way people in His day conducted their lives. He said, “You have heard it said…” and went on to talk about murder, lust, divorce, oaths, revenge, and enemies.
He reminded them of sins they were already aware of. If you murder someone, it’s a sin. If you have a sexual relationship with someone you’re not married to, it’s a sin. If you divorce someone, you have to do it on paper. An unofficial divorce is a sin. If you swear to something that is not true, it’s a sin. If you retaliate against someone, you can’t go above and beyond what they did to you or it’s a sin. It was okay to hold a grudge against your enemy, but not your own family.
The people He was speaking to already knew and tried to practice these things. However, He was not just pounding a message home. He took it much further. He was setting the stage for grace. By setting the stage for grace, which penetrates to the depth of the man, he had to make the law penetrate much further than action. He made it all about intent of the heart.
A person can follow all the rules, but still be a snake at heart. Jesus wants the heart.
“You’ve heard it said…., but I say…”
If you’re angry with someone, if you insult someone, if you call someone names, it’s all the same as murder. I’ve done all those things. If you look at someone you’re not married to sexually, it’s the same as committing adultery. I’ve done that. If you divorce someone who didn’t cheat on you, or if you marry someone who is divorced, it’s the same as adultery. I’ve done both of those. If you swear that something is true, even if it is true, then it’s the same as swearing to something untrue. I have done that. If you refuse to give more than someone tries to steal or borrow because they do not return it or they do not deserve it, it’s the same as taking vengeance on them. I do that.
People don’t struggle with all of them, but all people struggle with some of them. There are things we do because it’s human nature, like get angry or protect your stuff from an over-borrower. They’re symptoms of heart conditions. Why are you angry? Why do you care if you never see your favorite shirt again?
There are easy answers to those, but we’re talking about the heart here.
Anger is a secondary symptom of fear. Stinginess is a secondary symptom of pride.
Do you see what Jesus was doing when He preached these things? He’s getting at the heart. He was making room for Himself. His view of sin makes it clear that there is a need for Him because He is the only one who could fulfill the law.
Jesus is not soft on sin. He sees it more gaping than the deep grooves on the tablets and the slick parts on heads of saints. You can’t escape your need for Him. He’ll make sure you know what is in your heart so that you can give that ugliness to Him. Trust Him to be your righteousness when you know you’re a failure.
All the while, there is something you can practice doing:
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” -Matthew 7:12
We all need validation. We all need love. Jesus and His grace give you license, not to sin, but to stop worrying about yourself so that you can build someone else up.