The Ten Commandments in the New Testament
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" (Psalm 119:165-167, NIV).
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" (Psalm 19:7, 9). Accordingly, the enthusiastic author above again affirmed, "I will always obey your law, for ever and ever" (Psalm 119:44, 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). 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" (verses 18-19).
He briefly recited half of the Ten Commandments. He then quoted another command, from Leviticus 19:18, 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).
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, 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 (verses 21-22), and lust is mental and emotional adultery (verses 27-28). 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). 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).
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).
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). 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). 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). The law of God was written in Paul's mind and heart just as it is to be in ours (Hebrews 10:16).
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). And "I delight in the law of God in my inmost self (verse 22, NRSV). He calls it a "spiritual" law (verse 14).
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, 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).
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).
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, 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, KJV). Like Paul, John describes the saints as "those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" (Revelation 14:12). 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).
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).
In the final chapter of the Bible, Jesus Christ through the apostle John (Revelation 1:1) 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).
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). 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).
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" (Psalm 1:1-3).
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). 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).
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