In the Old Testament Israel was drowning on one side of a boat. God delivered them. To prevent drowning again on that side of the boat they decided to throw themselves off the other side. To avoid falling off the starboard side of the vessel into the ocean of pagan libertinism, they jumped off the port side into the ocean Pharisaical legalism.
The Pharisees evaluated every boundary that the Bible establishes, and then tried to move the fence a few yards back, thus their traditions became more revered than the law. They thought that if you kept the traditions, you would never get close to breaking the law. But any time man tries to draw his own lines, his concern isn’t holiness, it’s sin. The Pharisees are like the lust filled adolescent who asks, “How far is too far?” I have no doubt that Jesus would reply to them as He did the rich young ruler, “One step, one thought, one glance, one touch!” The inflamed teen who asks this question, isn’t concerned about pursing purity, but lust. They want to know how close they can get to sin and be “ok.” Wanting to walk a line close to sin, is sin. It is the worship of sin.
God does draw a line in His law, and that line does differentiate between good and evil, righteousness and transgression, but it is less like a fence line, and more like the line of a rocket trajectory. It is not a line that you walk where sin is on the other side, and you can envy its green grass. It is like the rocket trajectory that lifts your eyes away from worldliness toward the heavens. The line God draws is a line toward perfection. Walk it and you walk away from sin, not towards it.
Be wary of reading this passage and concluding that, “Jesus is about a relationship, not rules.” Jesus want’s your heart. That is the point of this text. But the contrast here isn’t heart verses law, but tradition verses God’s commandments. When Jesus gives a new heart, it is a heart that loves the trajectory of the law (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
John is known as the apostle of love. The language of love pervades his writings. Listen to how often He connects love to obedience to God’s commands.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. …If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. ” (John 14:15, 23)
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” (1 John 2:3)
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3)
“And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments…” (2 John 6)
Commandments are not contrary to love, they are a means of expressing it.
Holiness is a dance. God wrote the steps. Jesus leads. We follow. No one looks at two skilled dancers who are wildly in love with each other and think that all the “rules” get in the way of their love. No, the dance does not choke love, it is a means of manifesting it, and it is beautiful, it is a delight.
The law for those redeemed by Christ is not merely a bridge between the two oceans of libertinism and legalism. It is a bridge toward holiness. Jesus traversed this bridge perfectly for us, in the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father. All whom He saves from the oceans, He sets on this bridge, and empowers by His Spirit to follow Him to the glory of the Father.
This is true holiness. Let’s dance.