Since the beginning of Christianity, Christians have been arguing over whether or not to obey the Law of Moses. Few believe we are required to obey all of it. If we did, the ladies would have to leave their homes and towns once a month, men would grow awesome sideburns, and bacon would be off limits. However, the idea of letting go of the Law entirely and letting it be a thing of the past is simply too much for many people, so they pick and choose which Laws to follow and which to abandon. This, of course, is the height of religious hypocrisy, the very thing that set Jesus off from time to time. The real question Christians need to ask is, “What purpose did the Law serve?”
“Don’t misunderstand why I [Jesus] have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. 20 But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”
What did Jesus mean in verse 18 when he said nothing about the Law would change until its purpose had been fulfilled? What purpose did the Law serve? Why did it exist? We can get hung up on a million little details about hygiene, dietary health, and layers upon layers of nuance, but what was the primary goal of the Law?
The purpose of the law is holiness. This was the impossible standard God set into place to show mankind how far they will fall short of His holiness. The Law literally points to mankind's need for someone to fulfill the requirements of the Law for us, a substitute sacrifice to appease the break between man and God. The result of never breaking the Law without fail was righteousness, and mankind insta-fails because of our sin nature. So God gave man a system of sacrifices to atone for when we failed. Jesus came to fulfill that perfect requirement for us because we can’t save ourselves and to become the perfect sacrifice to atone for our failures. His righteousness then becomes available to us if we accept it.
The Law was not given to empower performance but to evoke dependence. The purpose of the Law was to show us our need for a Messiah. That will never change. We will always need a Savior. Jesus said no part of the Law will be gone until its purpose has been achieved. Has it been achieved in you? Or are you still trying to be righteous all on your own? Jesus made it clear in verse 20 that unless your righteousness is better the righteousness of the Pharisees (performance based), you will not see the Kingdom of Heaven. Your righteousness must be Jesus.
What laws are you still trying to follow? What extra laws have you added to your life in order to obtain your own idea of righteousness, your own checklist of things to do so that you can feel good about yourself? There are spiritual disciplines Christians teach and practice, but those exist to help create the necessary space so we can encounter God. They aren’t law. They don’t make you righteous. All the spiritual disciplines in the world are meaningless unless you allow the Holy Spirit to move you to action in your heart and in your mind. Our righteousness is Jesus, but there’s nothing passive about pursuing Jesus.