Which Commandments Do Christians Have to Obey?
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Which Commandments Do Christians Have to Obey?
Many believe Jesus taught that Old Testament laws were canceled or replaced.
[Steve Myers] If you’re like me you love a discount. I love a deal. You never know what might be waiting on the often overlooked shelves and corners of a thrift store. It’s always interesting, sometimes entertaining and occasionally an educational experience.
A while ago I stopped by a local thrift shop and began my search. I was looking through all kinds of oddities hoping I might find something valuable.
Then it caught my eye. It wasn't a useless trinket, a broken gadget or an old knickknack. It wasn't just any old junk item. There it was on a shelf amid the clutter of discarded decorations and cast-off curios. It seemed to me to be a priceless possession, but it was marked with a blue sticker that read only one dollar!
It was a charming plaque inscribed with the Ten Commandments, the law of God, certainly worth more. After all they are God’s guidelines to a successful life, yet marked for only a buck.
This brought a question to my mind, "How much is God's law worth to me?" What price do you place on God’s law?
The decoration reminded me that the most widespread controversy about the teachings of Jesus concerns God’s law. Do you think that Jesus’ instructions in the New Testament discounted or replaced the teachings of the Old Testament?
Most churches and denominations believe Jesus brought new doctrine that was very different from the instructions of the Old Testament. Many believe that Christ did away with the teachings of the Old Testament, in a sense casting them off to the thrift shop.
So, what exactly does Jesus have to say about the law? Has he relegated it to a quaint plaque? You need to know the surprising answer. Stay tuned to this edition of Beyond Today as we help you answer the question, “Which Commandments Do Christians Have to Obey?”
Do you think that the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament canceled or replaced the teachings in the Old Testament? What was Christ’s attitude toward the laws of God recorded in the Old Testament?
Most religions believe that Jesus’ taught that the Old Testament laws are no longer binding on Christians today. Were His teachings altogether different from the instructions in the Old Testament? Many think Christ annulled the teachings of the Old Testament so they should be cast off like that plaque in the thrift shop.
But should they? What exactly does Jesus have to say about the law? Should Christians obey the law?
I was visiting with someone not too long ago and we got into a conversation about God’s law and which Old Testament laws apply today. It went something like this. As we began to talk, she told me she felt Jesus nailed the law to the cross so she didn’t have to worry about it. I asked her, “To what laws are you referring?” She focused on the Saturday Sabbath. She told me that the seventh day Sabbath observance was done away at the crucifixion and that old law was no longer necessary. “In fact,” she said, “didn’t Jesus Himself say that He fulfilled the law?”
I wanted to help her understand what Christ and really what the Bible teach in the New Testament about the law of the Old Testament.
I realized that she was making the same mistake that most Christians, and Jews alike for that matter, make about the teachings of Jesus. Both hold the mistaken idea that Jesus departed from the teachings of the Old Testament especially in regard to law.
I mentioned to her there’s no doubt that Jesus disagreed with the religious leaders of His day. But did you know that He didn’t disagree with Old Testament Scripture? Christ made a crystal clear statement about the law in the New Testament.
So we turned to a section of scripture that’s the longest recorded statement of Christ’s teachings. It’s often called the Sermon on the Mount. This is where we can find His view toward the law of God as recorded in the Old Testament.
Here’s what Jesus said, “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).
I explained because Jesus’ preaching was so different from that of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, they were the religious leaders of His day, some mistake what Jesus did. His real intention was to challenge them. Jesus showed that their example and teaching were contrary to the teachings of the Bible.
Christ said, “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” You see, Jesus had no intention of destroying the law of God, not doing away with it or nailing it to the cross. He even tells us not to even think such a thing. "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.”
Now my friend thought about that for a moment and then asked me about the term “the Law and the Prophets.” What exactly is that talking about? I described that it was an expression commonly used for the Old Testament Scriptures. Far from being opposed to the Old Testament Jesus said He had come to fulfill “the Law and the Prophets.”
“So fulfilling the law is not finishing it and ending it?” she asked me. “Isn’t that what Jesus meant when He spoke of fulfilling the law? Since He said He would fulfill the law, I guess we don’t need to keep it any longer.”
I said, “Well that’s what so many people believe, but it’s just not the case. When you look up that word translated “fulfill” in a lexicon it will show you that it means “to make full, to fill up, to fill to the full” or “to complete” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 2002, Strong’s number 4137). In other words, Jesus said He came to complete the law and make it perfect, or in other words to show its true meaning.
“So you’re telling me that Jesus didn’t mean that He ended the law by fulfilling it?” I said, “Exactly! Christ said He came to show its true meaning and make the Law perfect. One Bible translation puts it this way. “Do not think that I have come to do away with or undo the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to do away with or undo but to complete and fulfill them” (Amplified Bible, Classic Edition AMPC). That ties in with what it says in Isaiah 42:21. It says, “He [Christ] will magnify the law, and make it honorable.”
You might ask, “How did Christ magnify or complete the law? What did He do?” He magnified it by showing the spiritual intent of God’s law. That’s so important to realize. Jesus demonstrated how the law continues to have a spiritual application, even today. Actually in a way it made it even more difficult to keep, not that it was no longer necessary.
So you see our Savior showed that deeper meaning, that spiritual meaning and purpose of God’s law. He set the example by meeting the requirement of the law by obeying it perfectly in thought and in action. He obeyed the letter of the law and its spiritual intent.
If you take an honest approach to the Bible, you’ll clearly see that this is true. Jesus himself demonstrates it a moment later right here in scripture, he demonstrates that teaching of the spiritual application of specific commandments. Notice how He does this in Matthew 5:21. He says, “As you know, long ago God instructed Moses to tell His people, ‘Do not murder; those who murder will be judged and punished. But here is the even harder truth: anyone who is angry with his brother will be judged for his anger’” (Matthew 5:22). You see here Christ showed the spiritual application of the law and that it applies today. The spiritual application of “do not murder” is, do not even be angry.
So as we continued our discussion, she thought about what Christ taught. After a moment she said, “I was always taught that it was nailed to the cross. I know there’s a passage that talks about that.”
Well I had to agree. There is a passage that states that something was nailed to the cross. But was it the law?
We looked at that verse that’s found in Colossians 2:14. It refers to Christ “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (NKJ)
When we examine this passage, is it really saying that God’s law was wiped out or nailed to the cross? Are the commandments done away?
When you have a question about a Bible passage, we always have to remember to read those verses that go before and after it and by looking at the context of the scripture we find the verse before it identifies what Christ’s death wiped out. “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13).
So what’s the real problem? It’s our trespasses. In other words our sin is the real issue. It’s not God’s law. Only sins are wiped out and nailed to the cross, not the law of God.
This becomes clearer by looking at the next phrase “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us” (Colossians 2:14).
What are the requirements against us? It’s NOT God’s law. It’s the penalty of the law.
The word here means “an opinion, or a (a public) decree” (Robert Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries, 1999). When you realize the background you’ll find a better understanding. In fact, there’s a historical aspect that’s very interesting about this passage. Back in the day, this expression referred to an official handwritten sentence or a charge against someone for breaking a law.
Notice this translation: “He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” (NLT) The Living Bible also clearly renders this verse, “He took this list of sins and destroyed it by nailing it to the cross.”
Jesus did in fact take something out of the way and it was nailed to His cross. He is our Savior and He took the penalty that we deserve. We deserve death for our sins. He died for us and that through Him we can be forgiven. He told exactly the same thing to us in Acts 3:19. Peter said, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (NIV). It’s also recorded for us, “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My own sake; And I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). So when these various passages are taken together it begins to give us a clearer understanding of Jesus and the Law.
It was evident, evident that my friend began to recognize that she was dedicated to becoming a faithful student of God's Word. She said she understood that the Bible is more than just a collection of old poems and letters and we talked about the fact that the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, fit together in such an amazing way. It is the inspired Word of God and it must be our guidebook for life.
Now as we discussed these passages we zeroed in on another part of the statement that was made by Jesus about the Law. It’s found in Matthew 5:18. He said, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
Jesus had just gotten done saying, “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” Now He makes His meaning even clearer. Jesus compares the permanence of His law to the stability of heaven and earth. Another translation of the Bible puts it this way, “Indeed, I assure you, as long as heaven and earth endure, not even the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with until its purpose is complete.” (TPT)
Doesn’t it become apparent that Jesus did not come to annul or abolish the law? He taught that as long as there are still fleshly human beings that God’s law is necessary. So, Christ teaches it is unchangeable; it’s immutable and can only be fulfilled, not revoked.
Now it was about this time in our discussion that I asked, “Do you believe that the 10 commandments are still to be kept today?” She told me that she felt that at least some of them applied now. She commented, “I was taught from the time I was a little girl that I should tell the truth, and not steal. Don’t covet what doesn’t belong to me.” But when it came to “remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy,” she said, “I was always under the impression that the Sabbath command was somehow no longer required.”
That’s when our talk turned to the very next passage in Matthew 5. It’s a powerful verse. Jesus taught that even our future depends on our attitude toward the Commandments and our obedience to God’s holy law. “So whoever sets aside any command that seems unimportant and teaches others to do the same will be unimportant in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches what the commands say will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19 GW)
Doesn’t Jesus make it obvious? He says that those who continue in law breaking and also teach others to break God’s law, will not themselves be in His Kingdom at all.
As we spoke about it I mentioned if someone truly wants to be a follower of Christ and ultimately be in His Kingdom, they do have a continual obligation to obey and to uphold God’s law. He says that we shouldn’t minimize the law of God. Not even by the tiniest bit, not even the crossing of a “t” or dotting of an “i.”
That’s how much Jesus valued the law. He says that He disapproves of those who downplay even the very least of the law’s commands. Who would want to disappoint Almighty God? Yet on the other hand, honor will be given to those who teach and obey His commandments.
We know that Jesus obeyed the commandments of God perfectly. So it follows that His servants must keep the commandments and teach others to do the same. It’s no wonder it is recorded for us twice in scripture, “I am the LORD, I do not change.” That’s Malachi 3:6. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
This brought us to a crossroads in our discussion: whether or not Christians have to obey the 10 commandments. More specifically the controversial commandment number 4. It seems that no biblical command has stirred as much controversy as the Fourth Commandment. That’s God’s instruction to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” found in Exodus 20:8.
First we talked about some of the misunderstandings, some of the misconceptions about that passage:
- Some believe that Jesus replaced the Sabbath and He now is our “rest.”
- Others believe the Sabbath is abolished and we can worship on any day or any time we choose.
- Some think Jesus annulled all of the Ten Commandments but that nine were reinstituted in the New Testament, all except the Sabbath.
- Most traditional Christianity believes that the Sabbath, the seventh day of the week, was replaced by Sunday, the first day of the week.
We both agreed that we should stick to the facts that we could find in our Bibles. I was glad that she wanted to find the truth right from the pages of Scripture, in view of Christ’s practice. So what was His attitude and teaching about the Sabbath day?
As we dug into the Bible, one of the first things we noticed is that Jesus’ custom was to attend the synagogue for worship on the Sabbath. Luke 4:16 says, “Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. As usual he went into the synagogue on the day of rest—a holy day. He stood up to read the lesson.” (GW) This was His regular practice. His habit, it was to observe the Sabbath and on this particular Sabbath Day He even announced His mission as the Messiah.
It also came to my mind that after the Crucifixion, the Apostle Paul continued to observe the Sabbath. He worshipped and also taught on the Sabbath day. The New Testament records: “Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead…” (Acts 17:2-3).
As we studied this, we found that neither Paul nor Jesus never so much as hinted that they didn’t need to keep the Sabbath or that they should somehow worship on a different day.
We also noted that the religious leaders of the day, they hated Jesus and wanted Him dead. They undermined what was most important in the law of God. They also added many meticulous rules, regulations and traditions to the Sabbath commandment. So many that trying to keep it as they demanded became a tremendous burden for people rather than the blessing God had intended it to be.
It was in this setting that Jesus gives the true purpose of the Sabbath. He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Christ powerfully declared His authority to say how the Sabbath should be observed right in the next verse: “Therefore, the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).
The importance of this statement might get away from us at first glance. But examining what Jesus really taught reveals the significance. Jesus Christ takes His rightful place as the One who gave the law of the Sabbath. Did you know that He is the One who created the Sabbath by resting on it at the very beginning? (Genesis 2:3).
No wonder Jesus said “the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” because “all things were made through Him.” John 1:3
That left us with a question. Why would Jesus do away with something that He had personally created for the benefit of every human being? Christ was saying that He gave the law to man in the first place, so He knows why it was commanded and how it was intended to be observed. When He spoke, it was from the authority He inherently possessed as the great Lawgiver. Doesn’t it make sense that Jesus would not annul or do away with His own law?
As we were concluding our conversation, we took note of the unity between the Old Testament and the New Testament in the Bible. At the beginning, Jesus created the Sabbath and gave the commandments. When the Church began, Paul taught that we must obey. “For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified” (Romans 2:13).
Then, toward the end of the Bible some 60 years after the death of Christ, the apostle John was inspired to write about it as well. He answered the question, were the Ten Commandments abolished? Are Christians expected to keep the commandments?
Here’s what’s recorded for us all: “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’” (1 John 2:3-4).
That’s a forceful statement. That’s one that’s emphasized right to the final chapters of the Bible. Notice what’s found at the very end of Scripture. In Revelation 12:17 it says, true Christians are described as “those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” No doubt, faith and observing God’s commandments go hand in hand.
In His final message in the very last chapter of the Bible, Jesus Christ once again emphasized the law. “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work…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 22:12-14). The Bible itself concludes with an emphasis on obeying the commandments of God and the rewards that come with obedience.
As we were concluding our discussion I wondered if I helped her to realize that Jesus didn’t abolish the Law but came to give it its true meaning, showing the spiritual intent. I think my friend began to more deeply see Christ’s example and the importance of obeying God’s law today.
Our conversation, made me once again appreciate the wonderful truth of God.
How much do you appreciate that Jesus took the list of our sins and blotted them out? How much do you appreciate that we can be forgiven? Do you appreciate that we have the opportunity to show ourselves as true followers of Christ by obeying and upholding God’s law and the understanding that assembling together, worshipping together, must honor Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath?
I prayed she could see the importance of God’s commandments today.
It is biblical fact. There is great blessing for those who do His commandments.
It is a serious mistake to think that Jesus annulled the instruction of the Old Testament, especially regarding the Ten Commandments. The biblical truth is that Jesus not only faithfully obeyed all the commandments but taught His disciples to obey them.
To more clearly understand this biblical fact and so much more we have prepared an eye-opening, free Bible study aid: “The Ten Commandments.” This valuable, free booklet will enhance your understanding of the standards and values God revealed long ago that have vital meaning for you and all people today.
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Hi! I’m Steve Myers. We would love to have you come and visit and worship with us. We have hundreds of congregations around the United States and across the world. We’re committed to growing in our relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, as well as fellowshipping with each other. We’ve found God’s way is the best way to live. We’re looking forward to meeting you soon. Come and join us!
In my trip to the thrift shop I learned more than the fact that “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” It made me think of the ultimate treasure. That plaque with the 10 Commandments engraved on it reminded me that God has given all of us the treasure of His law. Even though it was a bargain, selling for just a buck, that certainly didn’t reflect the true value of its meaning.
How can you set a price tag on the Law of God? Well, in a way you can by following the example of Christ. We can by our actions, we can declare that God's law is priceless to us. He doesn't want us to obey Him just because we have to or just because the price is right. He wants us to obey because we love Him and we love His commandments.
Christ stressed how important that is. He said, “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” (John 14:21).
Jesus holds us as Christians to a higher standard of conduct than simply following the letter of the law. He expects us to live by its full spiritual intent. He upheld the Old Testament as God’s inspired Word and the keeping of the commandments remain a requirement for Christians today.
That’s our program. Thanks for joining me. Don’t forget our free offers. Be sure to tell your family and friends about Beyond Today. Tune in again next week and join us in praying, “Thy Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today, I’m Steve Myers. Thanks for watching.
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