A Clay Jar

Encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:12 NIV)

The Ten Commandments & Christianity

As a Christian, am I supposed to obey the Ten Commandments and all the other laws in the Old Testament? Just some of them? Or can I pretty much ignore them? Many Christians that I know would say yes to the first question. Until you looked at the materials tag on their clothing, then they would change their answer to the second choice. Few would likely admit to ignoring the Old Testament law altogether. Yet in reality, I think most of us really do in practice. We do generally follow some subset of the Old Testament law. But I suspect that is more coincidence than design. Most likely what we are really doing is following the moral standards of the culture we grew up in. And for me, they were somewhat similar to the moral teachings of the Old Testament.

But regardless of how we actually respond to the initial questions; how should we respond? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say #3, I can pretty much ignore them. After all, Paul told me that I am no longer under the law, but am under grace; and he belabored the point quite extensively in Galatians.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Fulfilling the Law

But, you might ask, what about Jesus’ statement, in Matthew 5:17-19, that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it? This is oftentimes used to argue that we should still be living in accordance with the Old Testament law. A law code that included the Ten Commandments. But is that really what he meant by this statement?

Look at the rest of Matthew 5 and see what Jesus says. Six times you see him saying something to the effect of “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you …”. Some of these were concerned with traditions. But many of them were dealing with OT laws. And that includes two of the Ten Commandments. Jesus is not countermanding any of these laws, But he does give fresh meaning to them. And he does it as one who has a higher authority than the Law, as one who is not bound by it.

Let’s look at another of Jesus’ teachings concerning the OT Law. In Mark 7:14-19 Jesus shares what makes a man unclean. Notice that it does not include the food he might eat. The conclusion made by the author of Mark is that Jesus has declared all foods as being clean. And one does not have to read much of the OT Law to know that this statement is in serious conflict with the dietary portions of that law. If Jesus was demanding adherence to the OT Law, surely he would have not told us we could eat what we wanted.

The Intent of the Law

How could Jesus be both fulfilling the Law, and negating part of it? Unless fulfilling the Law meant something other than advocating that we should still be living under that Law. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus meant that what the Law was intended to do, he himself actually accomplished. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law.

So just what is the intent, or purpose, of the Law? Paul has a very interesting discourse concerning the purpose of the Law in Galatians 3:19-25. In this passage, he says that the Law was given because of our sinfulness. And that it was in effect until Christ had come (3:19). In verses 21-22 he says that the Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith. And now that faith has come, we are no longer under the Law.

So if the purpose of the Law is to bring sinful man to faith in Christ. And its purpose has been fulfilled when one comes to faith. Then has Christ not fulfilled the Law for me? Indeed, the Law is still about, it is not abolished. But it is no longer applicable to me. It has accomplished its purpose and is no longer in charge.

Sacrifice

A significant requirement of the OT Law was concerned with animal sacrifice. And a significant amount of that dealt with sin and its forgiveness. When I would break the requirements of the law, sacrifice was required to bring me back into right standing with God.

The first 18 verses of Hebrew 10 discusses these OT sacrifices. And it compares them to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Of most significance is that the blood of bulls and goats was unable to really deal with the sin in our lives. That resulted in the requirement that they be offered repeatedly. And this is unlike the sacrifice of Jesus. It was made once and was able to permanently deal with sin. And now, with my sin dealt with by the blood of Christ, there is no longer any need for sacrifice.

Here again, we see a fulfillment of the Law. The OT sacrificial system was simply pointing ahead to the more perfect sacrifice of Jesus. And once that had been made, the OT sin sacrifices, an integral part of the Law, no longer had any value.

The Jerusalem Council

One of the early conflicts in the new church dealt with the question of applying the Law to Gentile believers. Just exactly what was required for a Gentile to be in a relationship with God? Was faith alone sufficient? Or was adherence to at least some part of the OT regulations still required, in particular circumcision? Circumcision actually predates the Law and is not actually a part of it. Nevertheless, the issue is still a valid one for this discussion. Should I be concerned with the requirements of the OT? Or not?

Acts 15 finds the early church wrestling with this problem. And the result of this council is the recognition that circumcision, and the OT Law, are not applicable to Gentile believers, which includes me. The council recommended a handful of suggestions to keep them from being offensive to Jewish believers. But there was no requirement imposed on the Gentiles to follow the law. Either to come to faith or to live as believers.

So What About It?

All this is not to say that I am free to do whatever I want as a believer. I don’t believe that at all. But as a disciple of Jesus, it should be sufficient for me to follow his teachings. And they are, interestingly enough, summed up in a pair of passages from the OT:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40 NIV

Rather than get hung up with a bunch of rules to live by, simply seek to love God with all I am. And look out for the best interests of those around me.

Conclusion

For what it’s worth, I have no argument with any of the Ten Commandments. Although I must admit to struggling with some of the rest of the Law. In my life, I generally do fairly well with keeping this set of commandments. Even though it is not done intentionally as a way to be acceptable to God. But I find it disturbing that so many people get bent out of shape over having the Ten Commandments removed from courthouses and schools. And most of those folks probably couldn’t even tell you what all 10 even are. Let’s focus on loving God, and our neighbors. And not try to enforce, or advocate, a code of conduct that we ourselves don’t follow for the most part.

Disclaimer

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

If you have found value in this post, please consider subscribing to A Clay Jar so that you don’t miss any other posts. 

2 thoughts on “The Ten Commandments & Christianity”

  1. When we read Bible we do not see distinctions between diffrent kinds of Laws. But there are few different sets of Law(s) that New Testament talks about. Poul said that Law of God is perfect, and on the other hand he talks about not being under the Law. Is it the same Law he talks about?
    If law is foundation, can we build a house without it?
    I like how Ray Comfort explains it. (The Way of the Master)
    God Bless,
    S.N.

    Reply
    • That the OT Law is God given, and perfect, does not mean that I have to be in subjection to it. Once the law has accomplished its purpose, in bring me to Christ, I am free from its dominion and able to serve God under his grace.

      James (1:25) does talk about looking steadfastly into the perfect law that gives freedom, but that would seem to be different than the OT law that leads to slavery (Galatians 3:23-25).

      Reply

Leave a Comment