Fire Escape Religion

Fire Escape Religion

Scripture: Matthew 5:20-39, 1 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 5:10
What is the truth about God's law? Was it done away with? Do we need to seek to be obedient to the Ten Commandments or were they put away when Christ died? The Bible has much to say about a counterfeit righteousness and what true obedience is all about. We would do well to keep both the letter and spirit of the law. Leaving out either is dangerous.
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We live in an age of shifting standards and relative values. Even some of the most stable guide-lines of the past are being shaken by the demands of the New Morality and Freedom movements.

In spite of the quavering voices of many liberal theologians, it still appears that there are three distinct mistaken attitudes toward God's great ten-commandment law. One group contends that we do not need any moral law whatsoever. They believe that the law has been absolutely antiquated and nullified as far as any relevance to modern society. A second position holds that Christians should obey the moral law, but only in the spirit and not according to the letter. As long as the heart and mind submit to what the commandments teach, the letter of the law can be ignored. A third group believes that the letter is all important and should be scrupulously observed without reference to the spirit behind the obedience.

Friends, the truth actually does not rest in any of these three doctrines. Multitudes have been misled by the errors represented in these positions. Where does the truth lie according to God's Word, friends? A misunderstanding of this doctrine could be fatal. Did you know that most of the leading theologians of the world were once denounced as impostors by Jesus Himself? He even went so far as to say that they had no chance of being saved. They had a righteousness alright, but it was not the right kind. Their great fatal mistake was made in their relation to the law of God. Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:20 concerning the religious teachers of His day: "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." Now Jesus said that Himself. And it's true, dear friends. There's no doubt about His meaning. He said these people did have a righteousness but still would not make it into the kingdom of God. Why not? The fact is, friends, that there is a counterfeit, false righteousness which is perfectly unacceptable to God. It is the cleverest counterfeit Satan has ever produced, because it imitates the very finest thing that a Christian ought to have in his life. And yet, it is the most dangerous thing, because it is a counterfeit. It is a counterfeit righteousness.

Now let's look at this righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees for a moment. What can we say about it, anyway? Well, for one thing, they were very careful about keeping the law that was engraved in stone, weren't they? Every detail of it, according to the letter. Why, those people prayed every day, many times. Of course, out on the street corners where everybody would see. And they paid tithe even of the smallest thing growing out in their garden. And they meticulously kept the Sabbath. All right, then, what is our conclusion? Our conclusion must be, therefore, friends, that it is not enough merely to keep the letter of the law. That is not the type of righteousness that will place us at last in the kingdom of God. Why not? Because the law of God reaches down much deeper than merely the letter of things. You can keep the letter without keeping the spirit, but you can't keep the spirit without keeping the letter. This has caused many to feel that anybody who kept the letter must be a legalist. Not so! The true Christian will keep both letter and spirit. The legalist will keep only the letter. And the professed Christian who doesn't want to deny self will claim that only the spirit is needed and the letter of the law can be ignored. My message today is against legalism, but it is not against keeping the commandments. Keeping the commandments in the spirit of love is life and peace. Keeping them as a means of justification is legalism. Do you realize that eight of those ten commandments are couched in negative terms? "Thou shalt not," " thou shalt not." Why, even a corpse would be able to keep those eight according to the letter. Now, please understand me and don't go away and misquote me. I say that even a corpse would be able to keep eight of those commandments, because they couldn't do the things that are forbidden in those eight. Now, it takes more than a corpse, of course, to please the Lord and to fulfill His law. This is a spiritual thing that reaches down further than just being written upon tables of stone.

Our Scripture lesson today told of Jesus, as He spoke to the people of His day, and also to our own time. He said, "I was in prison and ye visited me not, I was hungry and ye gave me no food, I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink." You see, friends, those unfortunates were not accused of doing anything wrong, they just didn't do anything. They didn't do any more than a corpse. And yet, they were not acceptable to God even though they kept those prohibitions just like a corpse might do it. But listen, my friends, the commandments of God reach down and touch the spirit of things and not merely the letter. And we've got to learn that too. Jesus magnified the ten commandments. Now two of them are very positively written: "Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy" and "Honour thy father and thy mother," but the other eight, even though written in negative terms, have also been spiritualized by Jesus' life and ministry. For example, if you want to know how spiritual you are, read the Sermon on the Mount. If you want to feel small and weak, friends, you read what Jesus had to say there upon the mountainside. In fact, let's read Matthew 5:39 and onward; "But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away." You see what I mean, friends? Jesus went on higher and still higher above those written laws that were placed upon stone, and you and I as Christians must also do the same thing. The ten commandments is the minimum law, as far as Christians are concerned. Why, that's the first rung on the scale of moral living that is required of real Christians who love the Lord Jesus. We ought to be climbing far up there above the heights of this ten-commandment law. In other words, we should be obeying it and much more. We should not be struggling and wrestling around here on the plain of merely not stealing and not killing. We must move on up into the higher graces that have been revealed by the wonderful life of Jesus for us.

Do you know that the law was made for evil men and not for the righteous man? Let's read it in 1 Timothy 1:9: "Knowing this that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers and manslayers." What does that mean? It means that you and I, dear friends, should be so much in love with God that we'll do good because we love Him, and not merely because it says "Thou shalt not do it." Now, unless we have that proper motive of love in our life, we're not pleasing God, no matter how carefully we're trying to conform to the outward letter of the written law. The law has to be written into the heart, and the love for God will lead us to do things that the carnal man of this world will not be able to understand. Carnal man will look at the Christian and marvel that he does certain things and lives in a certain way. He will think that spiritual man is doing unnecessary, extreme things. Why? Because that carnal man of the world is merely looking at the letter and he doesn't know anything about the spirit. And unless he can find a Scripture in the Bible that says "You either do this or else" that carnal man is not going to be impressed very much. And so he will always be asking questions.

People have come to me with this kind of question: "Is it necessary to do this to be saved? Is it required that I give up this in order to get into heaven?" It always breaks my heart when people come asking these things, because it indicates to me that they don't have enough love in their heart to discern what pleases the Lord. It is utterly foreign to the spirit of Jesus to think of trying to get by and do as much as we can and still make it into the kingdom of God. Our religion is not a fire escape, dear friends, and we must not make it a fire escape. A lot of people are still living and struggling down there with the ten commandments. With them there's no magnified law, and there's no spiritual law, only the one written on stone. In most states, by the way, there's a law which requires a man to support his family. A husband and father can be jailed for non-support. And yet, friends, a loving father, as he gives the money and the food to his family, doesn't think in his heart, "Well, how much do I have to give in order not to go to jail?" Does he? Why, that father is hardly conscious of the fact that there is a law which requires him to do that. Why? Because he loves his family so much he wants to do it anyway. And that's the way it ought to be. The Christian is not going to be saying "How much do I have to do to remain a child of God," but rather "How much can I do to please the God I love?" Now, this ought to be the philosophy of the Christian. I've given you this text before, but I want to repeat it from Ephesians 5:10. I'm going to give it to you out of the 20th Century Translation of the Bible. It's just a short little sentence: "Always be trying to find out what best pleases the Lord." Isn't that wonderful? Now you take that as your motto today. What is it? "Always be trying to find out what best pleases the Lord." We do that with our loved ones on this earth. Husbands and wives will watch each other as birthdays are approaching and Christmas is coming. They want to discern what that loved one might like to have and then they go out, gladly, and buy it at a sacrifice and feel that it's nothing in order to show their love. Now, friends, we're involved in a great love affair with God and with Christ, and we must have the same feeling to Him. We ought to be searching this Bible day after day and always be trying to find out what will please the Lord, and when we discover that way, gladly we should enter into it, because we love Him. If we discover something here that indicates a displeasure on the part of God with something in our life, a true Christian will gladly put that thing aside, and if we find something here which pleases the Lord Jesus, we will lay hold of that way because we don't want to risk displeasing Him at all. We love Him too much.

Now this is the truth I would like to hold up before you today. Attitudes, motives and sentiments are not necessarily revealed by obeying commandments. A man might go ahead and obey and have rebellion in his heart. And so, its not always the letter of the law which proves that a man really does love or that he has the right motive and sentiments. The test, my friends, is the spirit in which we do the thing. Do we love the Lord? Is that why we're doing it, or are we just trying to carry it out so that we won't be thrown into the fire? Now there's your fire-escape religion again. Some people say, "Well, I know that this is what the Bible teaches and I'd better do it or else I might be lost and I don't want to go in the fire, so I'll try to do as best I can." So they struggle and they're perfectly miserable while trying to do it. Why? Because they're not in love with the Lord. There are things that I can do for my wife, very joyfully, because I love her, but I wouldn't be happy doing it for anybody else, because I don't love anybody else in the same way that I love her. But we ought to love the Lord Jesus in such a way that it will be a pleasure to do anything that will please Him.

Well, back to this text again, "Always be trying to find out what best pleases the Lord." Friends, here is the secret of high standards. We study day by day and find out what will please the Lord.

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