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The Ten Commandments in the New Testament

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“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3 1 John 5:3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
American King James Version×
).

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 Psalms 119:165-167 165 Great peace have they which love your law: and nothing shall offend them. 166 LORD, I have hoped for your salvation, and done your commandments. 167 My soul has kept your testimonies; and I love them exceedingly.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

There is simply no excuse for believing that Jesus came to abolish any commandments of God. 

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 behavior 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.

Yet God’s Word tells us that His law is “perfect” and His ordinances “are sure and altogether righteous” (Psalms 19:7-9 Psalms 19:7-9 7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. 8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
American King James Version×
). Accordingly, the enthusiastic author above again affirmed, “I will always obey your law, for ever and ever” (Psalms 119:44 Psalms 119:44So shall I keep your law continually for ever and ever.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

Does it matter whether we obey the Ten Commandments?

Finding the answer

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could ask Jesus Christ if keeping the Ten Commandments is still necessary, especially to receive eternal life?

Actually, that is not as difficult as it may seem. That question was directly put to Jesus, and the Bible preserves 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 Matthew 19:16-17 16 And, behold, one came and said to him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said to him, Why call you me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.
American King James Version×
). That is about as clear as one can be. Jesus said that He expects any who desire to receive the gift of eternal life to keep God’s 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 extrabiblical 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,” “Honor your father and your mother,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:18-19 Matthew 19:18-19 18 He said to him, Which? Jesus said, You shall do no murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and your mother: and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
American King James Version×
).

He briefly recited half of the Ten Commandments. He then quoted another command, from Leviticus 19:18 Leviticus 19:18You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
American King James Version×
, that summarizes the intent of the Ten Commandments and confirms the validity of the rest of the law. He was clearly referring to the law of God, not to the restrictions added by certain other religious leaders (Matthew 15:1-3 Matthew 15:1-3 1 Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, 2 Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. 3 But he answered and said to them, Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?
American King James Version×
).

Many people have heard that Jesus abolished the Old Testament laws. 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 fulfill 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 Matthew 5:17-19 17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, Till heaven and earth pass, one stroke or one pronunciation mark shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

Again, Jesus spoke 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.

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 fulfill in this passage means “to make full, to fill to the full” ( Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words , “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 (Matthew 5:21-22 Matthew 5:21-22 21 You have heard that it was said of them of old time, You shall not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
American King James Version×
), and lust is mental and emotional adultery (Matthew 5:27-28 Matthew 5:27-28 27 You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not commit adultery: 28 But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
American King James Version×
). Jesus expanded the intent of the Ten Commandments.

He also made it unquestionably clear that God treasures people who obey His laws. But anyone who transgresses His commandments quickly diminishes God’s favor toward him.

Jesus expects much more from us than lip service. He demands that we do as the Father 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 Matthew 7:21Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×
). Jesus plainly taught obedience to God’s law.

There is simply no excuse for believing that Jesus came to abolish any commandments of God. 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 Matthew 19:16-17 16 And, behold, one came and said to him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? 17 And he said to him, Why call you me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.
American King James Version×
).

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 1 John 3:4Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
American King James Version×
).

Paul taught obedience to the law

Some selectively use parts of the apostle Paul’s writings to say that he taught against God’s laws. Yet 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 commandments, Paul says, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters” (1 Corinthians 7:19 1 Corinthians 7:19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
American King James Version×
). The wording of the New Revised Standard Version 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 Romans 1:5By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:
American King James Version×
). 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 Romans 7:25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
American King James Version×
). The law of God was written in Paul’s mind and heart just as it is to be in ours (Hebrews 10:16 Hebrews 10:16This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, said the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
American King James Version×
).

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 Romans 7:12Why the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.
American King James Version×
). And “I delight in the law of God in my inmost self (Romans 7:22 Romans 7:22For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
American King James Version×
, NRSV). He calls it a “spiritual” law (Romans 7:14 Romans 7:14For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
American King James Version×
).

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 Romans 2:13(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
American King James Version×
, NIV). These are plain statements showing that Paul fully supported God’s law.

Those who opposed Paul were the first to falsely charge him with breaking the law. They introduced an accusation that has been repeated through the centuries.

In defending himself, Paul vigorously denied he was a lawbreaker of any kind. At one of his trials “the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove, while he answered for himself, ‘Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all’ ” (Acts 25:7-8 Acts 25:7-8 7 And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove. 8 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.
American King James Version×
).

In a similar setting Paul markedly told those judging him that He had continued to use the Old Testament Scriptures as the authority for his beliefs: “… I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets” (Acts 24:13-14 Acts 24:13-14 13 Neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me. 14 But this I confess to 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:
American King James Version×
).

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 Romans 15:18For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not worked by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed,
American King James Version×
, NIV). Paul kept the commandments of God. He taught them to Jews and gentiles alike.

Peter and John teach obedience

The apostle John clearly defines sin, telling us that “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4 1 John 3:4Whoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
American King James Version×
, KJV). Like Paul, John describes the saints as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12 Revelation 14:12Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.
American King James Version×
). 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 1 John 2:4He that said, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
American King James Version×
).

Peter delivers a similar warning. “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:20-21 2 Peter 2:20-21 20 For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. 21 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 to them.
American King James Version×
).

In the final chapter of the Bible, Jesus Christ through the apostle John (Revelation 1:1 Revelation 1:1The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave to him, to show to his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel to his servant John:
American King James Version×
) reminds us of the supreme importance of God’s 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 Revelation 22:14Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
American King James Version×
).

It is important that we believe what Jesus and His apostles said about their own view of the commandments of God. Once that is clear to us, then the reasonings of men cannot deter us from respecting and obeying those commandments from the heart.

God said to Moses, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O 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!
American King James Version×
). And Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10 John 15:10If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.
American King James Version×
).

Remember the advice in the first Psalm: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper” (Psalms 1:1-3 Psalms 1:1-3 1 Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law does he meditate day and night. 3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.
American King James Version×
).

The choice is ours

Each person must choose whether to obey the living God, who gave us the Ten Commandments. His standards can be the guidelines for our thoughts, the yardstick for our behavior. 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 Matthew 19:17And he said to him, Why call you me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.
American King James Version×
). 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 Deuteronomy 30:15-19 15 See, I have set before you this day life and good, and death and evil; 16 In that I command you this day to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that you may live and multiply: and the LORD your God shall bless you in the land where you go to possess it. 17 But if your heart turn away, so that you will not hear, but shall be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; 18 I denounce to you this day, that you shall surely perish, and that you shall not prolong your days on the land, where you pass over Jordan to go to possess it. 19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live:
American King James Version×
).

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