Posted on MennoDiscuss, concerning the question "Is Jesus' teaching just another restrictive law that stands in the way of grace? Isn't that why Jesus taught in parables so that there would be varieties of interpretation and flexibility?" (That's my summary)
Jesus at first gave clear principles, opposing them to Moses' more specific laws (Matthew 5-7). These same principles he illustrated by his life-- his healings and his approach to the outcast (Matthew 8-9). But he was rejected by the Jewish leaders, specifically for his example and teaching of love, and so called a servant of Satan (Matthew 12). It was only at this point that he taught in parables-- not to illustrate his principles, but to hide them (Matthew 13). Jesus taught in parables because they had already rejected his clear principles of life. It is interesting to note that most of the parables in Matt 13 have to do with a division among God's people between those who listen to God and those who don't.
The main subject of God's word is that He has a lifestyle that He wants us to live. That lifestyle was presented in a very specific way in Moses' law and the world was invited to participate in it. However, Moses' law was also compromised (See Matt 19 about divorce) and it was also culture-specific. Jesus presented the same God-pleasing lifestyle in principles that could translate to any culture, among any context.
The principles are general enough that they offer flexibility to different points of view, as Paul talks about in Romans 14. But this does not mean that there aren't standards to uphold. It is clear that a free-love lifestyle isn't the love that Jesus talks about. Nor is a life of judging others based on petty rules. Jesus' standard is a perfect mean, a perfect moral lifestyle of both restraint and radical sacrifice, of both loyalty and striking out against the evils in our culture.
If we are followers of Jesus, I don't think we can compromise this life. I don't think we can talk about "love" in general terms and that's enough. But also, I believe that talking about hats and movies and coats aren't a part of the general principles. We might try to apply something in a specific congregation, but let's not call anyone else a sinner because they don't follow our specific constraints. The ethic of Jesus is a law, but it is the only law we need.