Are Christians today required to keep the Ten Commandments?
In Matthew 19:16, Jesus was asked what must be done to inherit eternal life. His answer: "If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments" (verse 17). Jesus then listed several, including enough of the Ten Commandments to make clear which commandments He meant: "'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'" (verses 18-19).
Today some people will tell you that keeping the commandments was fulfilled by Christ and obeying God's law is therefore no longer required. But notice what Jesus Himself had to say about this idea: "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17).
Some try to deny His plain, simple statement by interpreting the verse to mean the law was not abolished until Jesus came and fulfilled it. They then interpret "fulfill" as "bringing to an end," "superseding" or some other synonym for "abolishing." In essence they have Jesus saying, "I did not come to abolish the law, but to abolish it."
Jesus, on the other hand, said heaven and earth would disappear before the smallest part of the law would do so (verse 18). He said the law would continue until everything is accomplished. Because the fulfillment of many biblical prophecies of Christ's second coming is yet to occur (the prophecies have not yet been accomplished), we know the law has not ceased to exist.
The truth of the matter is that Jesus was speaking to people who believed in keeping all of the Ten Commandments. He reaffirmed the necessity for all who come to Him to do likewise. In Matthew chapters 5-7 Jesus explained how God intended for the Ten Commandments to be kept. By giving this explanation and exemplifying it in His life, He was fulfilling a prophecy about Himself from Isaiah 42:21: "The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law and make it honorable" (King James Version).
The word fulfill in Matthew 5:17 means "fill up," "make full," "fill to the full" or "complete." Jesus came to magnify, or fill completely full, the meaning of God's law. Jesus' teaching that a man who lusts after a woman has already committed adultery in his mind represented Jesus' magnification of all of the Ten Commandments. He explained the full meaning—the spiritual intent—of the commandments. He showed that He expects more than just a legalistic, letter-of-the-law approach; He also expects a submissive, yielded mind focused on love for God and love for our fellow man.
Jesus further clarifies: "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" (verse 19).
Clearly, fulfill does not mean "abolish"!
Another common misunderstanding is that the New Testament Church came to believe that it is not necessary to follow Christ's example of obeying the law. But His apostles, who were personally taught by Him, certainly did not agree with this idea.
The apostle John said: "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (1 John 2:3-6).
Even the apostle Paul, who is most often cited by those attempting to do away with God's law, himself refuted this erroneous idea, saying, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1). Far from condemning the law, Paul said, "The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12) and, "I delight in the law of God" (Romans 7:22). Indeed, he said that "keeping the commandments of God is what matters" (1 Corinthians 7:19).
We must avoid reading our own ideas into the Bible. Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, our Savior warned against trusting our own ideas instead of the laws of God: "'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men ... All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition" (Mark 7:6-9).
We, too, must be sure we follow Christ's example instead of our own ideas!