In a comment on another post, Garth stated
Christ RAISED the bar for Christians, not lowered it. Christ said that now it wasn’t only murder–but even being angry was a sin. Not only was it adultery–but even lusting in your heart was a sin. Not only was it being circumcised in the flesh–but being circumcised of the heart which Christ would now require. Christ’s law emphasized what you DO–how you act–what you think–how you live–who you minister unto.
and in another comment stated:
I’m just trying to respond, from the LDS perspective, to your comment about “if St. paul were alive today he might request that the Book of Galatians be directed at the Mormons…” Frankly, I’ve always felt that he’d be directing it to the evangelicals with a little rebuke–that he was only talking about giving up the law of Moses. Not the higher law of Christ.
This is not the first time that I’ve heard a Mormon refer to the Sermon on the Mount and suggest that Jesus was instituting an new, “higher” law than the law of Moses.
I’ve always felt this argument to be a significant misreading of Matthew 5.
. . . For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
“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. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
. . . “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. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.
I think first off, anyone who heard Jesus speaking knew the reputation of the Pharisees as rigid keepers of the law. When he stated that a person’s adherence to the law would have to surpass the Pharisees’ it would have caused almost everyone to lose hope. They would have thought it would have been impossible to surpass the Pharisess’ “righteousness”. It simply could not have been done.
When Jesus informed people that holding anger and lust in their hearts was the same as murder and adultery. He was not raising the bar with a “higher” law. Instead he was pointing at the defiecency in the law. Anger and lust were not suddenly new found sins because Jesus declared them to be, rather they had always been sins that had always been seperating man from God and from one another. One could hold to all the outward rules of the law and still develop a corrupt heart. Mere adherence to the law was insufficient at transforming the individual. Jesus didn’t raise the bar. The bar had always been higher than what adherence to the law could meet.
When later in the sermon he told his followers to clean the inside of the cup, he was not giving a new law. Rather, he was instructing us to give up the law and focus on our hearts, and by doing so we would become people who could surpass even the Pharisees’ righteousness.
My thinking on these passages was significantly deepened by Dallas Willard’s “The Divine Conspiracy”. I maintain that it is a must read for all serious followers of Jesus. He states that our legalistic bent encourages us to fall for the “Gospel of Sin Management.” we become convinced that the law makes us righteous, when in fact we live in an upside down world where law can only condemn us and only grace can save us.
And here also lies the fundamental mistake of the scribe and the Pharisse. They focus on the actions that the law requires and make elaborate specifications of exactly what those actions are and of the manner in which they are to be done. They also generate immense social pressure to force conformity of action to the law as they intepret it. they are intensely self-conscious about doing the right thing and about being thought to have done the right thing.
But the inner dimensions of their personality, their heart and character, are left to remain contrary to what God has required. That heart will, of course, ultimately triumph over their conscious intentions and arrangements, and will in fact do what they know to be wrong. (Matt. 12:34). And their need to appear righteous “before men” (Luke 15:15) then forces them into hypocrisy. Hypocricy becomes the spirit, or “yeast,” that pervades and colors their entire existence (Luke 12:1).
I think Mormons are attracted to this idea of “more” law for a number of reasons. First the LDS church attempts to practice some form of “Old Testament Christianity”. So a Messianic Law to compliment the Mosais Law makes sense in this context. Additionally legalism is tempting because it appears safe. It’s less messy to control what people eat, drink and wear than it is to allow people to let their actions reflect their heart. It’s much safer emotionally for all of us to focus on our exteriors than to dive into a desires and cause them to conform to Jesus.
I think Derek Webb nicely sums up the idea and why it fails in his song “A New Law”