I wrote this kind of “on the spot” in reference to a comment by Russ of Satire and Theology on my last post. I was simply going to comment back to him, but as I started, and as is usual with me :-), I just kept going…and going…and going…! My comment back to him spurred some other thoughts that were somewhat related; and rather than attempting to “redo” a proper comment to him or “redo” this into a more concise and understandable post (which would be better, but would take a while), I thought I would just leave it as is. I know it may seem a little disjointed at times and in places, and I know that I’ve jumped right into issues relating to the Sermon on the Mount without laying a proper foundation for what I’m talking about; but you’ll just have to ask questions if you want better clarity. I’m only assuming that most of the spelling mistakes have been automatically corrected; and I’m hoping that the jumbled mess of thought that was in my mind has come out somewhat coherent and understandable. Good Luck!! :-)
I think it does. I think the “weak” Christian and the “strong” Christian (in this context) both have a fundamental misunderstanding with regard to “commandment” obligation. I think they both misunderstand their relation to “law”, which a proper understanding of the Sermon on the Mount, I believe, would rectify.
The issue with Jesus’ confrontation with the Jews in The Sermon speaks to their misunderstanding of “obligation”. They knew (rightly) that they were under obligation to the Law of Moses, but they didn’t comprehend the purpose of the Law and what their obligation consisted of. They conditioned themselves to “follow the rules”, so-to-speak, without reference to what the Law really meant. They rightly recognized the obligation of “purity” and felt that by their meticulous keeping of “commandments” they were in obedience and therefore “pure in heart” (and also, therefore, citizens of the Kingdom).
But “purity of heart”, as Jesus explains, is not “keeping commandments”, as such, but recognizing the One of whom the Law speaks. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount (in general) and “purity of heart” (specifically) really have nothing to do with keeping commandments; but it has everything to do with keeping the Law. Jesus is saying that obligation to the Law is to recognize that it is fulfilled in Him and to, therefore, come to Him by faith.
The people thought then, as people (and Christians) still think today, that the Law has to do with them (or us); when in reality, as Jesus and the NT writers tell us, the Law has to do with Him! We don’t “keep the Law” by obeying rules and regulations; we “keep” it by believing it (believing Moses) and affirming with it that it is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. We recognize it as speaking of the One to come, and when He arrives we “obey” it by coming to Him.
The Law (which is to say totality of the Scripture as well as the Law of Moses) prophesied of the King and His Kingdom. From the very beginning, when we read of the promise of the Seed of the woman, this was the purpose of God. So to “obey” the Law is to recognize God’s purpose in it and to believe Him when that promise arrives. And the King has arrived! We "obey" the Law when we agree with the Scripture and we come to Him by faith! So... “purity of heart” is the condition of the person who, in obedience to the Law, comes to the King for entrance into His Kingdom. This is what Jesus is saying.
So... getting back to your original comment (you probably thought I’d never return, did you?:-); I think that the “weak” Christian and the “strong” Christian in this context are still viewing the Law as “commandment” rather than “relationship”. To the one, he is still constrained to “commandment thinking” in his behavior to “follow rules”, so-to-speak; for the other, he is betraying a “commandment mind-set” in his “freedom” from rules and regulations. Both examples are missing the “constraint” and “freedom” that is Christ. The constraint and freedom provided by love.
As Christians, we are not under obligation to the Law but to Christ who has fulfilled the Law. And this obligation to Christ is the obligation of Love. The “weak” Christian and the “strong” Christian should be directed and constrained by love, not by obligation to commands or even freedom from commands. But this Love is an “other-worldly” reality that the “natural man” can’t comprehend or practice. This Love is a product of the New Creation in Christ. God is love. Only those who have the Spirit residing in them are now capable of expressing Biblical Love.
And this issue of love ties us back to the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus declares that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. This Kingdom that Jesus brought with Him is the promised Kingdom of the Scripture. And the Scripture speaks of this Kingdom as a Kingdom of Renewal, the Kingdom of the New Creation. The citizens of this Kingdom must partake of the New Creation; they themselves must be renewed to enter into it. This renewal comes only in connection with Christ, the King. We must be “born again”; we must be “born of the Spirit”; we must have the life of God in us (through the presence of the Spirit) in order to enter the Kingdom.
Isn’t this what Jesus said? He said that a person must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees (who were notoriously meticulous in the “law-keeping”) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That is a pretty strong “ethic”. But Jesus’ examples all speak to the fact that no one has this righteousness—it’s impossible for the “natural” man. The ethic of the Kingdom is the ethic of Jesus' surpassing righteousness and the reality of the New Creation (the Kingdom that He brings) as it pertains to human beings. In other words, the ethic of the Kingdom is the same ethic of the Law—LOVE. And this love (as with the Kingdom itself) is "unavailable to the old Adamic order of things and those who continue to inhabit it" (KC notes). People must be transferred out of this world (spiritually speaking, of course) and into the New Creation to be capable of Love. And this only happens when a person is “joined” by the Spirit to Christ--who is Love incarnate.
Love is the great “ethic” that defines the Kingdom and, therefore, our lives as Christians—not perfectly, of course, since we’re not yet in our perfected state. But as the Spirit continues to conform us (back) into the image and likeness of Christ (the image we “lost” in The Fall--Hughes), our lives will “naturally” manifest the life of Love (which is to say, the Life of Christ). As Jesus explains to the people: physical, ethnic descent from Abraham doesn’t matter; sincerity in trying to keep commandments doesn’t matter; what matters is the New Creation—the New Birth, the presence of the Spirit, the life of God. Apart from this “renewal”, the Kingdom of God and the “love” that defines it is inaccessible.
Love governs our behavior…not commandment (for or against).