I had just finished my message to a group of alumni students at the school where, 15 years earlier, I had worked as a teacher. I exhorted them to keep The Ten Commandments, which was the main thrust of my message. As I sat down, another invitee got up to speak, and his whole message was on bluntly refuting what I had exhorted the students to do. He said The Ten Commandments was no more binding on Christians as it is part of the Old Covenant, and Christians are now under the New Covenant, in Mount Zion, not Mount Sinai. We are not under the Law, we are under Grace, he thundered to the hallful of students.
Now, this speaker was an old colleague of mine, a fervent Christian and fiery preacher, and pentecostal, of course. I was taken aback by his insensitiveness to a fellow speaker. I certainly wouldnt have minded in the least if he had only refuted me; in fact, that’s how many people who call themselves Christians respond to me with monotonous regularity. But it was the brusque and vehement way that he did it. It was almost like I had told the students that it was ok for them to go ahead and bow down to an image of Saint Patrick; I mean, it was like I had told them that it was ok for them to go ahead and embezzle some company money as the eighth of The Ten Commandments was no more binding on them.
But then again, my message was belittled by my Christian brother only because I encouraged the students to keep fervently this foundational Law given by God. You may be perplexed. I am more.
Many Christians think all the laws, with their ramifications in the statutes and precepts, in the Old Testament are done away with because we are not justified by law but by grace. Many others believe that nine of The Ten Commandments should be kept, except the Sabbath commandment. Not because God told them anywhere that they can break the fourth commandment or change it, but because Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicea sanctioned the first day of the week, instead of the Biblical seventh day, as the official holy day of Christians.
According to the latter category of believers, even the nine commandments are not absolutely binding on them because all the laws of the Old Covenant were nailed to the cross when Christ hung there. Jesus kept the law for us, and so we don’t have to keep the old laws. This sums up the theology of mainstream Christianity.
As one of their denominations put it officially, ‘Grace means the “must” has been replaced from the law with a “may” ’. Isn’t that denomination actually saying, ‘You, as a Christian, need not keep The Ten Commandments, but you may keep it, if you wish’? Now, why should I bother to keep the extremely onerous seventh and eighth and the tenth commandments if I can enter through the pearly gates by just keeping the other seven less difficult ones? But again, why I should bother to keep any of them if I can still receive the crown of life purely on the basis of grace and not because of my keeping the law?
On the minorstream, we have churches that say that absolutely all the commandments given by Moses must be kept – even the one that says you should not enjoy lobster and oysters – and breaking a single one of them will disqualify a person from eternal life. I once belonged to this category of churches, and was such a fanatical keeper of the Bible laws, especially the Sabbath, that I couldn’t get a decent job anywhere because I wanted Saturday off so I could keep it holy. Even breaking the least of the commandments – such as by occasionally giving in to the overwhelming aroma of roast pork and swallowing a quick mouthful of the unclean meat – gave me terrifying thoughts that I might have disqualified to receive rulership of even a single city, let alone ten cities, when my Lord comes to reward his servants. God delivered me from the curse of legalism, and just as mercifully, he also delivered me from falling into the gracious pit at the other end of the Christian trench of beliefs.
So, are Christians bound to keep the laws given in the Old Testament? Should they keep every single one of them or only those they think would be helpful in their Christian walk?
Now, the apostle James says that if you want to keep God’s laws, either you keep them all, or don’t bother, because even if you break just one of them, the penalty is the same as breaking them all.
‘For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.’ Jm 2:10
A young man had the most pressing question in his life: how can he inherit eternity? He got his opportunity when he met Jesus.
‘Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “…You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’ Mk 10:17-19
And which commandments did Jesus mean by referring to a few of them? The Ten Commandments, obviously! Now, I hope no one is naive enough to say that Jesus did not mention the Sabbath, and so that’s not really important to gain eternal life. He did not mention about not coveting a neighbor’s donkey either. Nor did he say anything about not bowing down to a statue or having an additional god. The Lord just mentioned a few so the man can have no doubt which set of commandments he meant.
Jesus did not first say, ‘Believe in me, and you shall be saved’. You want eternal life? The very first thing Jesus asks you to do is start keeping The Ten Commandments. And what the Lord commanded, let no bishops’ council or emperor’s decree, nor your pastor’s convictions, put aside.
What about the subject of justification by faith and salvation by grace that fills the book of Romans and Galatians?
‘Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law…Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe…being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.’ Rm 3:19-28
Who are under the law now? Those who have not died to the law by the death of Christ on the cross. Those who have died with Christ in baptism and are risen with him to a new life are not under the law given through Moses but under grace. Their righteousness is from God, not from their efforts in keeping the law.
So because our righteousness is no more by keeping the law, but by our faith, does that mean there is no more law in force? Is it null and void for Christians?
‘Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.’ Rm 3:31
‘Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.’ Rm 7:12
Can a Christian sin? ‘Of course, not!’, every Christ follower would exclaim. Must a Christian keep the law? Here I don’t hear a unanimous answer, but the Bible answer is clear: ‘Of course, yes! A Christian must keep the law because he should not sin. For sin is the breaking of the law, transgressing against God’s commandments’.
‘Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.’ 1 Jn 3:4 KJV
Sin is the breaking of The 10 Commandments! And no Christian who continues in sin can expect to inherit eternal life.
‘What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?…Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.’ Rm 6:1-2,12
Now what about the doctrine that says we are not under the law but under grace. Does that not free us from the requirements of the law?
‘for you are not under law but under grace.’ Rm 6:14
So how shall we reconcile the two doctrines? We are not under the law, but under grace. But although we are not under the law, we cannot break the law, because if we break it we commit sin.
Here is the simple truth. ‘We are not under the law’ means the law has no more authority over us to put us to death as a penalty for breaking it. It is no more the law who decides how our lives should be regulated on earth, but Christ. As far as the law’s life and death power over us is concerned we are dead to it, and the new life we have is entirely lived under a new system – Christ living his life in us. And because he lives in us, it is he who enables us to keep all the requirements of the law without breaking the least point in it. It is no more we keeping the law, but Christ keeping the law for us.
If we try to build our righteousness by keeping the law, it becomes a curse to us. We will never be justified – made righteous – by the law. We can be righteous only by the sinless life of Christ living in us.
‘For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse…But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith”…Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us’ Gal 3:10-13
‘I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.’ Gal 2:20-21
Christ living in us means we are keeping the law on the God level, in the spirit of the law, nor in the letter of the law as required under the Old Covenant. We have been delivered from the physical requirements of the law, so that Christ can meet the spiritual requirements of the law in us.
‘But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.’ Rm 7:6
You want eternal life? The very FIRST thing Jesus asks you to do is start keeping the Law, summed up in the Ten Commandments.
Keeping God’s Law under the New Covenant is far more stringent and comprehensive than keeping it merely in the letter under the Old Covenant. Cutting off the foreskin is only a one-time pain for Godly men of yore, but cutting off the fatty part of the heart is excruciatingly painful, and is comparable to cutting off a hand or gouging out the right eye. No man can do it himself. But praise God, Christ can do it for us, and through Christ we can cut off every unhealthy part in our spiritual life, and the Holy Spirit will balm and calm our every pain of extirpating sin.
‘Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.’ Dt 10:16
‘If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you…And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you’ Mt 5:29-30
It all means one thing: Christians must keep all of The Ten Commandments according to the standards of Christ, in the supreme spirit level.
A bornagain child of God should not break any of God’s commandments, because he should not sin. But if he breaks any in his weakness, the law has no authority to penalize him, because the penalty was paid for in double by Christ. He is not under the law but under the grace of God, who will immediately forgive him for Christ’s sake.
Usually a faithful law-abiding Christian is not even aware that he is keeping all the laws of Christ. It is a subconscious way of life for him, as he is led by the Holy Spirit. But whether he is conscious of keeping the law or not, he is keeping all of The Ten Commandments every second of his life. Christ keeps it to the full in him. He just has to submit to his Savior who will do it all for him.
Let no man deceive you into thinking that any of God’s commandments, even the minor ones, are not binding on God’s people. If a person thinks he can break the least of the laws and enter the Kingdom, God will forgive him his ignorance and let him enter his Kingdom – only because the penalty for breaking that law has been paid by Christ. But his attitude of thinking that the least commandments – the minor statutes and little precepts – are not important will place his position in the Kingdom among the least of the saved people, not among the great ones.
‘Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called LEAST in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.’ Mt 5:19
Precious child of God, love and keep every commandment in the Bible with all your heart, with all your might and with all your life. Next to your willingness to lay down your life for him, keeping all his commandments is the best way to show God that you love him to the utmost.
‘If you love Me, keep My commandments…He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.’ Jn 14:15,21
Loving God’s Law – his wonderful commandments – with all of one’s heart is the most joyous experience in a man’s life. For by loving God’s Law, we are loving God.
‘Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies.’ Ps 119:97-98 NIV
‘For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.’ 1 Jn 5:3