Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?

“We were held in custody under the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the law became our guardian to lead us to Christ….”

Much confusion in the early church arose out of the relationship of the Law to the “good news” that we now call the Gospel (which means good news). The confusion continues today. I continue to wrestle with the tension, myself.

Two passages come to mind that seem to be directly counter to each other. They establish a paradox – a seeming inconsistency – that needs to be resolved. Compare what Jesus said as recorded by Matthew, to the instruction of Paul to the Ephesians:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill themFor truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes 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. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)


“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has torn down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing in His flesh the law of commandments and decrees.” (Ephesians. 2:13-14)

In one place, Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law; and, in the other place, Paul says Jesus abolished the law. Which is it?

The answer is both. If we view this apparent dichotomy as a paradox, rather than a contradiction, we can make some sense of it.

First of all, we need to consider the context. When Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law, he was talking about his coming in the flesh. Jesus was God who became incarnate. Jesus was God who emptied Himself of all that separated Himself from His creation and became part of it in the form of a human being. (Phil. 2:5-8) Thus, when God became man and came to us, He did not come to abolish the law.

We also need to look at the larger context of the Law. The Law was a covenant (an agreement) with Israel. It was given to Moses for the descendants of Abraham after He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. God was faithful to this covenant, but the people never were.

This was a problem, because God promised to bless the people based on them holding up their part of the bargain, but they failed. They fell short. God was true to keep His part of the bargain, but He could not be true to His promise to bless them because they did not keep their part of the bargain.

When Jesus made the statement that he didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it, he was putting that statement into the context of time and purpose. He was saying that the purpose for which he came was to fulfill the law.

When Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law, he was saying that he came to fulfill the Law in the flesh as a man – doing the thing no other man had done or was able to do. When he said on the cross, “It is finished”, he was proclaiming that he had finished accomplishing the fulfillment of the Law in his human body. He lived it out perfectly. He was obedient to it unto death.

Jesus did what no man had done. God became flesh and came so that he could keep man’s part of the bargain (as a man) so that God could also keep His promise to bless mankind. God, in a sense, carried out the terms (fulfilled) of both sides of the covenant.

But that is not the end of the story.

Continue reading “Did Jesus Come to Fulfill the Law or to Abolish the Law?”

Immigration History and Confusion in the Church

Polls suggest that just 12% of evangelical Christians say that they think of immigration primarily through the lens of the Bible.

We have a somewhat romanticized view of immigration in the US. All of us in the United States reading this article are the benefactors of immigration, unless your ancestors were all Native American. Thus, the vast majority of us have benefitted from the various waves of immigration to the US in the past.

My ancestors immigrated at various times from England, Wales, Germany, Switzerland and France. It’s no wonder, then, that I view our history of immigration with some appreciation and sentimentality, and I believe most people with European ancestry feel like I do in that respect unless.

If you have much Native American or African ancestry, then, your view might be a bit different. If you have Chinese ancestry, you might feel differently. If you had German ancestry in 1750’s, you also might feel differently, but I will get to that.

We also tend to view our immigrant ancestors as hard-working, honest, and lawful people checking off the right boxes, jumping through the right hoops and diligently observing the protocols demanded of them to enter the country. We have earned the right to be citizens through their noble and respectful efforts.

Most of us, me included in years past, don’t really know the history of immigration to the United States other than the generalized and romanticized notions we carry from the US history we learned s children.

I am not a big fan of the new approach to American history that downplays the great positives that characterize the birth of our nation and its unique place in the world as a leader in many facets of human existence from governance to industry, science, and technology, medicine and human rights and in many other ways. At the same time, I think we should be honest about our history.

Immigration in the New World was relatively open, with exceptions, before 1882. Benjamin Franklin advocated in 1751 to exclude Germans and Africans from settling in the New World because he was “partial to the complexion of my country”.[1] Alexander Hamilton “warned of the dangers of absorbing and especially naturalizing too many foreigners”.[2] In fact, it seems that fear of immigrants is (at least) as old as the New World itself.[3]

People like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington opposed those views at the time, though Jefferson’s opinion may have been motived by a perception that German immigrants were more apt to support him politically. Some things don’t change!

I am not going to recount all the history of immigration in the United States. I am sure I don’t know the half of it, but a few noteworthy historical markers might be instructive in these times.

My interest here is the evangelical church in the United States, of which I am a member. How should we as a church orient ourselves to the immigration issues in our time in light of Scripture?

Continue reading “Immigration History and Confusion in the Church”

How Should the Church Act Regarding Authority?

If we have to ignore Scripture and the character God desires to work in us, we are moving in the wrong direction!

I come back to this with a heavy sigh. I started it yesterday as the news unfolded of people breaching the Capitol building as the Trump rally changed gears. I know there were people there peacefully gathering, but a good many of them crossed the line.

As I watched the events unfold, I struggled to find some solid ground to stand on as I see people who call themselves Christians continue to support Trump regardless of what he says and does. At best, he sent mixed messages that were ambiguous enough to encourage what happened. At worst he incited insurrection, and stood by watching it happen, saying nothing until it was too late. Even then, it was a poor excuse for what he should have said.

The thing that troubles me most as I think about these things is the way Christians who support Trump and this “resistance” at at all costs ignore Scripture that is inconvenient. Paul defined the way followers of Jesus Christ should act regarding authority:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Romans 13:1-2

Peter, the rock on whom Jesus said he would build his church, said the same thing:

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him….”

1 Peter 2:13-14

If anyone thinks insurrection is justified because Democrats are “bad” today, consider that Peter and Paul said these things at a time when their world was ruled by Nero.

Nero was a bad leader, even by pagan, Roman standards. He considered himself God. He persecuted Christians and had them publicly killed, setting them on fire at night to light the City. Peter and Paul were both martyred under the rule of Nero.

Democrats are not nearly as bad as Nero. Peter’s and Paul’s words were spoken at a time much worse than the political squabbling today. We can’t justify resisting authority because Democrats are bad – not when we consider the context in which Peter and Paul told believers to respect governing authorities!

At the same time, I am aware that people may justify their resistance on other grounds. Peter, himself, resisted the governing authority in the Book of Acts. Peter and John were arrested for preaching. (Acts 4:2-3) They were commanded not to preach about Jesus, but Peter and John refused to comply, saying,

“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 

Acts 4:19

They were arrested again for refusing to remain quiet. (Acts 5:20) Again, they were commanded not to speak. Again, they responded, “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:19) This time they were flogged and let go.

So which is it? Submit to authorities? Or boldly rebel?

It seems like a conundrum. Do we get to take our Pick?

Maybe those are not the right questions to ask. Maybe we need to be more careful to weigh the words of Peter and Paul together with their actions and divide the Word of God more accurately.

Continue reading “How Should the Church Act Regarding Authority?”

Tension Leads to Accord: Peter, James & Paul

The big issue that threatened to divide the early Church

Paul wrote to the Galatians to address a grievous error in their thinking. They were holding on to a belief that followers of Christ, even Gentiles, must continue to follow Jewish law. Though Jesus prayed for unity among his followers (John 17:20-23), it was a rocky start for his fledgling following. They didn’t last 10 years without division!

To emphasize the gravity of the situation, Paul recalled to the Galatians a time when he opposed Cephas (Peter the Apostle, himself) “to his face” over the Jew and Gentile. (Gal. 2:11)

Consider this: Peter lived with Jesus for 3 years. He was one of the closest people to Jesus during his life. He was there when Jesus died, and he was one of the first people to see Jesus when he returned, risen from the dead.

Paul was never around back then. He despised Jesus and his followers! He held the cloaks of the people who stoned Stephen to death, and he was hellbent on quashing the “rebellion” of the Jesus followers to the traditions of Judaism…

Then, Jesus dramatically revealed himself to Paul. Paul changed completely and became the boldest of proclaimers of the Gospel. Still, what gall to confront Peter of all people! Right?

First for a little back story. In my last post, I described Peter’s vision of animals on a great sheet and the encounter with the Roman Centurion that convinced him Gentiles can be saved from their sins, the same as Jews. It was no small revelation. It took quite the orchestration of visions, angels, voices and a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit to convince Peter to accept the fact that God wanted to share the Gospel with Gentiles.

Peter experienced his own change, though not as dramatic. He went from being concerned that he should be not associating with Gentiles to baptizing the Centurion and his entire household and welcoming them into the family of believers!

I also wrote about this story in relation to the theme of the unity of believers: Reflection on the Unity for which Jesus Prayed: Peter & Cornelius. The great shift from the following law to faith, was a change to beat all changes.

It took a nothing short of a divine appointment of Peter, the Apostle on which Jesus said he would establish the Church, orchestrated by God with all the bells and whistles to provide clear direction. We might think that this encounter settled the score for Peter, once for all, right?

Not so.

Continue reading “Tension Leads to Accord: Peter, James & Paul”

What Does God Want from Us?

This question gets at the whole point of Scripture….


If God is the creator of the universe, of everything seen and unseen, as the Bible says, if God was intentional in His creation and made us in His image as the centerpiece of His creation, what was His intention for us? What does He want from us?

This question gets at the whole point of Scripture, but I think we miss the point among all the words sometimes.

Even people who believe that God exists and acknowledge God made us get lost in the words sometimes. We see in Scripture lists of “do’s and don’ts” and rules and warnings, and we fail to see the big picture, the purpose of God. We fail to see God’s character and heart.

The Law was intended by God to show us what is right and, more importantly, to reveal to us that we are incapable of doing what is right in and of ourselves. (Rom. 7:7-25) We all fall short (Rom. 3:23), and we fail to do what we know we ought to do. (Rom. 7:18-19)

Anyone who depends on doing right to make themselves right with God are cursed (Gal. 3:10). If they fail at one point, they fail at everything. If a person refrains from killing anyone his entire life except for one time, he is still a murderer – not because of all the people he didn’t kill, but because of the one person he did kill. If a person lies only once, he is a liar.

If you sin once, you are sinner. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

The point of the law is to help us understand that we can’t achieve righteousness by our own efforts. It’s impossible for us. We must depend on God for it. The Law was given alongside the promise of God to show people their sins to that we would receive the grace that God offers us through Jesus. (Gal. 3:19)

Salvation (from sin and death) is a gift God gives us by His grace; God gives us salvation by grace so that none of us can boast about having earned it. (Eph. 2:8-9)

But is this all God expects from us? Is this all God wants from us – to be saved from sin and death? If salvation from sin and death was all God wanted for us, He could have made us without the capability of sinning, and He could have made us eternal from the beginning.

Continue reading “What Does God Want from Us?”