Introduction — Ten great laws of love
In a world today that wants to leave the Ten Commandments of love at the cross should find it interesting that the longest chapter in the Bible is an extended praise of God’s Word and law. “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble,” it tells us. “I wait for your salvation, O LORD, and I follow your commands. I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly” Psalms 119:165-167. If only the whole world would view God’s law in that light. But, to our shame, the Ten Commandments have been rejected as the standard of human behaviour by our society. Even many who profess to follow Christ today treat them as irrelevant because they have been taught that God’s law was abolished at Christ’s death or live in denial as they continue to live a sinful life believing they have the promise of eternal life. Despite this, God’s Word tells us that “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul” and “the Commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes” Psalms 19:7, 9. Accordingly, the enthusiastic author above again affirmed, “I will always obey your law, for ever and ever” Psalms 119:44.
Do we still have to obey the Ten Commandments?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could ask Jesus if we are still bound to keeping the Ten Commandments, especially when it comes to receiving eternal life? In fact, with God’s Word that might not be as difficult as one thinks. That question was directly put to Jesus, and the Bible gives His reply for us. “Now behold, one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So He said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the Commandments” Matthew 19:16-17. That is about as clear as one can be. Jesus said that He expects any who desires to receive the gift of eternal life to keep the Commandments. The person then asked exactly which Commandments Jesus meant. Did He have the Ten Commandments in mind, or was He referring to the many extra biblical dictates taught by other religious leaders? Jesus left no doubt. When asked which ones, Jesus responded: “You shall not murder”, “You shall not commit adultery”, “You shall not steal”, “You shall not bear false witness”, “Honour your father and your mother” and “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (verses 18-19). He briefly recited half of the Commandments. He then quoted another command, from Leviticus 19:18 that summarizes the intent and confirms the validity of the rest of the law. He was undoubtedly referring to the law of God, not to the restrictions added by certain other religious leaders. Matthew 15:1-3
Many Christians have been told that Jesus abolished the Ten Commandments. Here again Jesus gives us His own direct response, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these Commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5:17-19. Again, Jesus speaks clearly and to the point. God’s law has not been abolished, and according to Christ’s own words, anyone who teaches so is directly contradicting Him and is in serious spiritual trouble. See very detailed information on the meaning of Jesus fulfilling the law. See also what is the greatest Commandment.
Many assume they do not need to keep God’s law because Christ “fulfilled” it. But these people fundamentally misunderstand Christ’s clear words. The word translated fulfil in this passage means “to make full, to fill to the full” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary, “Fill”), and that is exactly what Jesus did. He perfectly kept the Ten Commandments and completely filled their meaning. He showed their spiritual intent, explaining that unjustified anger equates with murder (verses 21-22), and lust is mental and emotional adultery (verses 27-28). Jesus expanded the intent of the law. He also made it unquestionably clear that God delights in people who obey His law. But anyone who transgresses God’s law quickly diminishes God’s favour toward him.
Jesus expects more from us than just lip service. He commands that we do as God has commanded. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” Matthew 7:21. Jesus plainly taught obedience to God’s law. There is simply no excuse for believing that Jesus came to abolish any of the Commandments. On the contrary, when asked, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” He responded, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the Commandments” Matthew 19:16-17. He explained that obeying the Ten Commandments is a prerequisite for receiving God’s gift of eternal life. One who repents is one who simply begins keeping the laws of God, because sin is the breaking of those laws. 1 John 3:4
Paul taught obedience to the law
Some selectively use parts of the Apostle Paul’s epistles to say that he taught against God’s laws. But Paul makes one of the most powerful and unambiguous statements in support of keeping God’s law. Contrasting the merits of circumcision with the merits of God’s law, Paul says, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the Commandments of God is what matters” 1 Corinthians 7:19. The wording of the NRSV Bible is even more emphatic, saying, “obeying the Commandments of God is everything.”
In the introduction of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul explained that he and the other Apostles had all “received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations” Romans 1:5. What did Paul personally strive to obey? In the context of describing the battle we all wage against the weaknesses of the flesh, Paul said, “So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God...” Romans 7:25. The law of God was written in Paul’s heart and mind just as it is to be in ours (Hebrews 10:16).
Paul clearly explained his personal view of God’s law: “Therefore the law is holy, and the Commandment holy and just and good” Romans 7:12. And “I delight in the law of God in my inmost self” (verse 22). He calls it a “spiritual” law (verse 14). Paul taught, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous...” Romans 2:13. These are easy to understand, plain statements showing that Paul fully supported God’s Commandments.
Those who opposed Paul were the first to fallaciously charge him with breaking the law. They introduced an accusation that has been repeated through out the centuries. Paul in defending himself strongly denied he was a lawbreaker of any kind. At one of his trials “the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove. While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.” Acts 25:7-8.
In similar circumstances Paul markedly told those judging him that He had continued to use the Old Testament Scriptures as the authority for his beliefs, “But this I confess unto you, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:” Acts 24:14. Accusations then or now that Paul taught against the law of God are fallacious. Even of his preaching to the gentiles, He said, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God...” Romans 15:18. Paul kept the Commandments and taught them to Jews and gentiles alike.
Peter and John teach obedience
The Apostle John clearly defines sin, telling us “sin is the transgression of the law” 1 John 3:4. Like Paul, John describes the saints as “those who keep the Commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” Revelation 14:12. He also gives us this sobering warning: “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His Commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” 1 John 2:4. Peter delivers a similar warning. “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy Commandment delivered unto them.” 2 Peter 2:20-21.
In that glorious final chapter of the Bible, Jesus through the Apostle John (Revelation 1:1) reminds us of the supreme importance of the Commandments to our eternal life. “Blessed are those who do His Commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” Revelation 22:14. A verse of blessings for those who keep God’s law.
It is important that we believe what Jesus and His Apostles said about their view of the law of God. Once that is clear to us, then the reasoning’s of men cannot deter us from respecting and obeying those Commandments from the heart. God said to Moses, “Oh that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my Commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” Deuteronomy 5:29 And Jesus said, “If you keep my Commandments, you shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s Commandments, and abide in his love” John 15:10.
Remember the advice in the first Psalm, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law does he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” Psalms 1:1-3.
The choice is yours
The Ten Commandments were handed to Moses but were personally spoken and written by the finger of God. Each person must choose whether to obey the living God, who gave us these laws. His standards can be the guidelines for our thoughts, the yardstick for our behaviour. They can shape our minds and hearts. Or we can ignore them and choose another way. In making our decision, we should remember Jesus Christ’s words: “...If you want to enter into life, keep the Commandments” Matthew 19:17. God admonishes us to consider our choice. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His Commandments ... I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” Deuteronomy 30:15-19.
Does the New Covenant Abolish the Ten Commandments?
The Bible tells us that Christ came as the Mediator of a new covenant (Hebrews 8:6). The popular belief that the New Covenant abolishes the Ten Commandments reflects a misunderstanding of both covenants. God tells us that He altered the original covenant and made “a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (verse 6). But it was not established on different laws. The law stayed the same. There was however, a weakness, or fault, in the original covenant. That fault was with the people, not with the law. “For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah:” (verse 8). It was “because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord” (verse 9).
In the Old Covenant God wrote His Commandments on tablets of stone. It was external, not part of the thinking and motives of the people. It was in their literature but not in their hearts. In the New Covenant God writes the law in the hearts and minds of His people (Hebrews 8:10, Jeremiah 31:33-34). To enable people to internalise His law, to love it and obey it eagerly and willingly, God makes this promise, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them” Ezekiel 36:26-27. God’s Holy Spirit enables His people to obey His laws. Read the Old and New covenants for more information.
People lacking the Holy Spirit are incapable of wholehearted obedience. Why? “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” Romans 8:7-8. This is why the Old Covenant and the New Covenant differ. Paul explains that “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin [lawlessness] in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” Romans 8:3-4. See also 1 John 3:4.
In reference to Romans 8:4, “The International Critical Commentary” says: “God’s purpose in ‘condemning’ sin was that His law’s requirement might be fulfilled in us, that is, that his law might be established in the sense of at last being truly and sincerely obeyed, the fulfilment of the promises of Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:26” In a footnote to Jeremiah 31:33-34 the commentary explains that this passage “is often misunderstood as a promise of a new law to take the place of the old or else as a promise of a religion without law at all. But the new thing promised in v. 33 is, in fact, neither a new law nor freedom from law, but a sincere inward desire and determination on the part of God’s people to obey the law already given to them...”
The following passages in the New Testament confirm, either explicitly or by example, that Jesus and the Apostles viewed the Ten Commandments as a necessary part of Christian living. Select the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath in the New Testament for a more comprehensive list with tool tips.
- First Commandment: Matthew 4:10; 22:37-38.
- Second Commandment: 1 John 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 10:7, 14; Ephesians 5:5.
- Third Commandment: Matthew 5:33-34; 7:21-23; Luke 11:2; 1 Timothy 6:1.
- Fourth Commandment: Luke 4:16; Acts 13:14, 42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4; Hebrews 4:4, 9.
- Fifth Commandment: Matthew 15:3-6; 19:17-19; Ephesians 6:2-3.
- Sixth Commandment: Matthew 5:21-22; 19:17-18; Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:19-21; James 2:10-12.
- Seventh Commandment: Matthew 5:27-28; 19:17-18; Romans 13:9; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 10:8; Ephesians 5:5; Galatians 5:19-21; James 3:10-12.
- Eighth Commandment: Matthew 19:17-18; Romans 13:9, Ephesians 4:28
- Ninth Commandment: Matthew 19:17-18; Romans 13:9; Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:25
- Tenth Commandment: Luke 12:15; Romans 7:7; 13:9; Ephesians 5:3, 5.
Grace, Faith and the Law
Paul taught that salvation is a gift from God by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). The Greek word for “grace” is charis, meaning a gift or favour. In the New Testament it can refer either to God’s gift of mercy or to His gracious favour. Paul makes it clear throughout his writings that God’s grace leading to salvation is “not of works, lest anyone should boast” (verse 9). But Paul’s overall perspective toward Christian works is generally ignored by opponents of obedience to God’s law. Look at Paul’s perspective in the next verse. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (verse 10). Those who ignore the reasons for our being God’s “workmanship”, who ignore why we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works” and why we are to “walk” in them, miss a most important part of Paul’s message. Notice how Paul’s relationship of obedience and works related to salvation to God’s work within us, which enables us to accomplish His purpose in us. “Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” Philippians 2:12-13.
Certainly forgiveness and salvation are gifts from God and they cannot be earned. As humans we possess nothing of sufficient value to pay for the forgiveness of our sins and our salvation and never will. Yet Jesus bluntly tells us that “unless you repent you will all likewise perish” Luke 13:3, 5. Through repentance we do not earn salvation, but repentance is a prerequisite for salvation. Repentance is simply turning away from sin, forsaking lawless behaviour (1 John 3:4). We can’t receive the Holy Spirit and be converted unless we are willing to repent and live as law abiding Christians (Acts 2:38).
Faith is another prerequisite for salvation. We read that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” Hebrews 11:6. We must be “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood...” Romans 3:24-25 But simply because faith is required by God doesn’t mean we earn salvation by having faith. Neither do we earn salvation through works. But, as the many scriptures quoted in this document show, God clearly expects faith and obedience in those to whom He will extend the gift of salvation and eternal life.
Those who oppose obedience to God’s laws choose to emphasize certain statements Paul makes and totally ignore others that clarify his intent. Paul’s discussion of faith and works in Romans 3 is one such passage. In verse 28 we read, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Paul is talking about justification: Christ’s death covering our previous transgressions. Paul is showing that we could never earn forgiveness. But that has nothing to do with the way we are supposed to live. It has no bearing whatsoever on the importance of God’s law as the guide to our behaviour. Paul is talking only about how “sins that were previously committed” can be “passed over” (verse 25) so we can get on with our lives as obedient servants of God. To make sure we understand this, Paul says in verse 31, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
Paul wants us to understand that he is not even hinting that the Ten Commandments were voided or abolished. On the contrary, without the law we would have no way of understanding what sin is or is not because “by the law is the knowledge of sin” (verse 20). Remember, for sin to exist there has to be law because “sin is lawlessness” 1 John 3:4. Therefore, Paul is saying that the concept of God’s “grace” or forgiveness establishes that His law is still in effect and that sin is breaking that law. God’s grace through faith requires a law that defines the sins that are to be forgiven. So repeating Paul, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”
The 10 Commandments and the Ceremonial law
The Ten Commandments were written in stone by God, spoken by God and is eternal in duration. The ceremonial law on the other hand was temporary and dealt with the ceremonial rites of the Jewish sanctuary service that passed away at the cross. Parts of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy describe this law that can easily be identified in the Bible. It speaks of circumcision (a religious Jewish rite), offerings, sacrifices, purifications, holy days and other rites associated with the Hebrew sanctuary service.
If an Israelite sinned, he broke the Moral Law. He then had to bring his offering according to the sacrificial ceremonial law to receive forgiveness. The Ten Commandments define sin, as sin is the transgression of the Moral Law (1 John 3:4). The Ceremonial Law (also called the Mosaic Law or Ordinances) defined sacrifices, which was the remedy for sin.
When the Israelite sinned, he broke the Ten Commandments. To make atonement for his sin he had to obey the ceremonial law. So here are two very distinct laws which is unmistakable. Christ permanently took the place of the ceremonial sacrificial law when He cried out “It is finished” and bowed His head and died. When that unseen hand tore the temple curtain from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51), this was a sign that this ceremonial law was forever nailed to the cross. Read the Ten Commandments and the Ceremonial law (Mosaic Law) for more detail on this topic.
There is a serious amount of confusion between these laws by Christians today and especially when it comes the fourth Commandment. Read Col 2:14-16, Gal 4:10 and Rom 14:5 for the most common misunderstandings between what God wrote in stone and the ceremonial law and see Galatians and the law for the evidence of which law Paul was really speaking to the Galatians about. You will also find New Testament Sabbath keeping good reading that proves the fourth Commandment is still for Christians today. Some say that Constantine changed the Sabbath and others say the Sabbath was changed to Sunday in the Bible. Read who changed the Sabbath to Sunday and did Constantine change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday as well as and the absolute origin of sun worship for the real truth. See also the Roman Catholic Version of the Ten Commandments.
Christ’s New Commandment
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” John 13:34. Did Jesus replace the clear definitions of the Ten Commandments with a new religious principle that love alone can guide our lives? Does this new commandment supersede the Ten and replace all other biblical laws? Jesus clearly answered this fundamental question when He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets” Matthew 5:17. Yet many people who believe in Christ as their Saviour also believe this new commandment frees them from any obligation to obey that magnificent law God wrote in stone with His own finger. They misunderstand what Jesus said and meant. The Holy Scriptures, in the Old and New Testaments, teach that we should love each other (Leviticus 19:18) and love God with all our heart, soul and mind (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus did not introduce love as some new principle. That was already in the Bible from the beginning and a fundamental part of God’s instruction to the children of Israel.
What then was new in Christ’s “new commandment”? Notice His wording. He said we are to “love one another; as I have loved you...” What was new was His own example of love! The whole world has, in Jesus, a perfect model of the love of God in Christ’s perfect example of loving obedience. Christ loved us so much that He sacrificed His own life for us. He Himself explained, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” John 15:13.
Jesus came as the light of the world to illuminate the application and practice of the royal law of love. We no longer have an excuse for saying we don’t understand what to do or how to do it. Jesus demonstrated what loving obedience is all about, “If you keep my Commandments, you shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s Commandments, and abide in his love.” John 15:10. We comply with Jesus’ new commandment when we obey all Ten Commandments in a genuinely loving manner and are willing to lay down our life for Christ and perhaps even for the sake of another.