Over 3,400 years ago, a momentous event took place in the history of the people of God. Through mighty miracles displayed in dramatic fashion, the most powerful nation in the world, Egypt, after being broken and shamefully humiliated, let God’s people go so that they could worship at the mountain of the Lord and learn to fear their God.
On the top of the mountain, God codified the Ten Commandments with His own finger on two tablets of stone. He reminded His people of the covenant made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He told His people what He expected from them. The way in which they lived their lives would indicate whether they really were His people or not. Their allegiance and obedience to His laws would signify that they were His, and they would find favor in His sight and be blessed.
But they were warned if they were disobedient, He would consider them rebellious and would disregard them as His own. Instead of blessings and life, they would incur curses and death.
Fast forward to the world now
Today, most of mankind has decided to reject God’s commandments. Most of mainstream Christianity claims that the law was only for the Jews, and these Christians believe that they are free from keeping the law. They are quick to cite Romans 8:2 (“free from the law of sin and death”), Romans 7:6 (“delivered from the law”) or Romans 10:4 (“Christ is the end of the law”). They wrongly substitute a watered down idea of grace for any attempt at works, and many use the motto “Once saved, always saved.”
Salvation is a free gift by God’s grace, so we can’t begin to earn salvation. But God will not give grace to someone who is not repenting of his sins and is not submitting to God and His laws. People who are trying to obey God’s laws often give in to temptations and sin, but if they are truly sorry, God will forgive them again and again. God knows our hearts. If we are not accepting the rule of God’s laws over our lives and trying to obey, God will not continue to forgive.
For a long time, there has been a lot of confusion over the Ten Commandments and whether or not they have been abolished by God.
There are two questions that need to be answered by the Bible in order to understand the remedy to the confusion. First, does the New Covenant abolish the commandments? Second, what exactly are the Ten Commandments?
Does the New Covenant abolish the commandments?
In the Bible study aid The Ten Commandments, produced by the United Church of God, this controversy is discussed. One passage reads, “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 God’s law reflects a misunderstanding of both covenants. God tells us that He altered the original covenant and made ‘a better covenant, which was established on better promises’ (Hebrews 8:6). But it was not established on different laws. The law stayed the same” .
In Hebrews 8:8, God tells us that the fault was not with the law, but rather with the people (“For finding fault with them...” emphasis added throughout). In verse 9, we read, “because they did not continue in My covenant...I disregarded them, says the Lord.” God did exactly what He said He was going to do if they didn’t obey: He was going to disregard them as His own. In Hebrews 8:6, it tells us that Christ is the Mediator for the New Covenant. Let’s observe Christ and see what He was proposing for a better covenant. Let’s see if He was planning on abolishing the commandments.
Christ’s explicit instructions
In Luke 18:18-20, we read of a ruler who approaches Christ and asks Him what he must do to obtain eternal life. The Greek for “eternal” in this verse is aionios. This same Greek word is used in John 3:16 where it reads, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The word “everlasting” is referring to inhabiting the eternal Kingdom of God. This man is asking Jesus Christ how he can obtain aionios, or eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
In Luke 18:20 we see the response of Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’” Clearly, Christ is telling him that if he wants to enter into the Kingdom of God, he must obey the commandments. Jesus Christ here lists five of the Ten Commandments as an illustration of the relevance of all the commandments, which are seen in the way He lived His life.
In 1 John 2:3-6, the apostle John gives us a crystal clear rendering of whether or not the commandments have been done away with. In 1 John 2:3-4 we read, “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.”
If we don’t keep His commandments, a relationship with Jesus Christ will not, and cannot, exist. In 1 John 2:5-6 we read, “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.” We know how Jesus Christ walked because of what He told that ruler about how to enter into the Kingdom.
Christ isn’t going to tell someone to go one way while He decides to go a different way. Christ said that there is only one way, and if anyone else tries to enter any another way, he will be considered a robber or a thief (John 10:1-4). He came to set the example for us to follow, as John clearly points out.
A parable provides additional support
In Luke 13:23, Christ was asked how many would be saved. He told them a parable to answer the question, explaining, “When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from’” (Luke 13:25). Christ is telling them that a relationship does not exist between those who are knocking and the Master of the house.
Christ continues in Luke 13:26, “then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’” They are then going to try to convince the Master of the house that He should know who they are. They are mistakenly thinking that preaching about, worship of, and service to Jesus Christ is sufficient when they are of little value if there is not first submission and obedience.
What Christ is telling us is that there’s something missing: there’s something that they’re not doing; there’s a reason why He doesn’t know who they are. It doesn’t say that they acted upon what they heard by obeying.
And finally, in Luke 13:27: “But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.” The Greek word for “iniquity” used here is adikia. This same Greek word is used in 1 John 5:17: “All unrighteousness [adikia] is sin…” And sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).
What Jesus Christ is saying is that He will refuse to acknowledge lawbreakers—and by refusing to do what we know we should do, we are in fact breaking the law. If we deliberately continue to break the law, we will not be able to have a relationship with Him, which means we will not be able to enter into the Kingdom. This is very serious.
The Ten Commandments remain the standard
In Galatians 5:19-21, we are given a list of the workings of the flesh, and those who practice such things will not enter into the Kingdom of God. Every single item on that list is directly related to the breaking of the Ten Commandments. Paul is telling us that there is still a penalty for breaking the law that will bring cursings and death.
The Ten Commandments teach us what should be our greatest priority in life because they show us how to love God and how to love people, which are the two Great Commandments. They are a key to a relationship with our Creator, and they provide a foundation for success. They teach us, among other things, that life is a precious gift, and to protect the marital relationship, and to practice truth as a way of life. The Ten Commandments teach us God’s way of life and must obviously be kept in order to inherit eternal life.
What exactly are the Ten Commandments?
We know what the commandments do, what their intent is, the meaning of them, and the necessity of keeping them, because we have the clear command from Christ and the apostles to obey them. But what are they?
Let’s have God tell us from the Bible, His word, which is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
Psalm 145:17 (KJV) says that God is holy; Romans 7:12 says that the law is holy. 1 John 4:8 says that God is love; Romans 13:10 says love is the fulfillment of the law. Matthew 5:48 says that God is perfect; Psalm 19:7 says the law is perfect. John 4:24 says that God is spirit; Romans 7:14 says the law is spiritual. Psalm 145:17 says that God is righteous; Psalm 119:172 says God’s commandments are righteousness. Deuteronomy 32:4 says that God is truth; Psalm 119:142 says the law is truth. Psalm 25:8 says God is good; Romans 7:12 says the law is good. Genesis 21:33 says that God is everlasting; Psalm 111:7-8 says that the law is everlasting. Deuteronomy 32:4 says that God is just; Romans 7:12 it says the law is just. 1 John 1:5 says that God is light; Proverbs 6:23 says that the law is light.
Whoever attacks God’s law is attacking God’s person and His character, since the law clearly is His character. Everywhere God goes, His law goes. What are the Ten Commandments? They are God’s very character and His nature. God does not change; He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
Conclusions to make for our lives
God is telling us that if we want to be in His family and in His Kingdom, we have to become like Him. His law describes Him. He wants His values to be our values; He wants us to take on His character. When people look at us, they should be able to see the reflection of Christ.
Those Christians who turn aside from keeping the commandments are essentially saying, “We don’t want to be like God, but we want to be in His Kingdom and His family.” The Bible gives very strict warnings about this kind of misguided and wrong thinking. You cannot have the Kingdom of God without His commandments.
The commandments have not been abolished nor done away with; they are living spiritual laws. The apostles clearly taught this, and Jesus Christ’s authority confirmed it. The word of God has made this issue incontrovertible and unmistakably clear.
Let’s heed God’s commandments; let’s do His will. Let’s follow the example of Jesus Christ, and let’s keep God’s holy commandments, for they will bring blessings and life to all who keep them.