“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:17-19 (NIV)
A recent conversation with friends had me thinking of the “apparent” differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Someone caught me completely off guard as she emphatically professed her unwavering belief that “following Jesus is so much easier than following the 10 Commandments.” She was whole-heartedly convinced that Jesus’ command to love God and to love our neighbors trumped Mosaic Laws. She saw Jesus’ words as a dividing line between the Old Testament and the Gospel… seeing His command to love as a division from the past, instead of the completion of prophesy.
Now, to be fair, the Old Testament has 613 commands. Of that, there are 248 “thou shalls” and 365 “thou shall nots.” (Those are a lot of rules to follow!) Before Jesus, these commands served as an external pursuit of behavioral conformity. Being righteous was a reflection of your deeds, your ability to follow the commands. Simply put: righteousness was measured by ones ability to follow the rules and look the part. But Jesus turned that standard on its ear. He penetrated external conformity and pierced the sinner’s heart. In other words, Jesus upped the anti by underscoring the fact that an internal transformation of our hearts is the true reflection of our faith in Him. We see a great example of this in Matthew 5:21-22.
The Scripture reads: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.”(NIV) Jesus draws attention to the fact that the Old Testament refers only to the physical act of murder… an external behavior, something that occurs outside of us. However, pay close attention to what He says next. He holds that the condition of our hearts is the true reflection of our transformation… and is also subject to judgment. Plainly said, murder is the result of a heart consumed by anger and this anger is the root cause of our sin… and for this sin we will also be judged.
We see it again a few verses down in Matthew 5:27-28: “’You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The Old Testament speaks to the physical act of adultery. Jesus speaks to the corruption of our hearts and our minds. He clearly states that it is not enough that we refuse to act on our lustful thoughts, but asserts that it is the lust, itself, that forces a wedge between us and our Heavenly Father.
In light of this, I don’t see how following Jesus is easier. If anything, I think it’s much harder. Even on my worst day, I can fake it pretty well. I can scream at my family on our way to church, only to pull into the parking lot with the biggest smile on my face. I could sing my heart out during worship, never letting on that bitterness and resentment had a death-grip on my soul. “Fake It ‘Till You Make It”… that was my motto for the longest time I was no better than the Pharisees Jesus spoke of in Matthew 23:27: "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean." I was really good at following the "rules"... I just wasn't so great at following Jesus.
Jesus did not put an end to Mosaic Law... He brought it to completion. He poured light upon the 10 Commandments, revealing their true purpose as a diagnostic test for our hearts. If we find ourselves at odds with the Law, it is the surest way to know that our hearts are not right with Jesus. Following the Savior is the most difficult thing we will ever do, for the simple fact that through all our pretending He sees the truth.
Spend time reflecting on whether the condition of your heart is truthfully displayed in your actions. We might be able to control our anger and prevent it from affecting others, but this does not prevent the anger from consuming our heart and adversely affecting our relationship with Jesus.