Are the Ten Commandments no longer RELEVANT?

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Can the ten commandments bring liberty? A generally accepted principle among many professing Christian churches is that all aspects of the old covenant served to point the nation of Israel to the coming sacrifice of Jesus Christ; once that sacrifice was made, the entire package of old covenant laws became obsolete. According to this concept, adherence to a written code of laws, like the ten commandments, is not relevant to Christianity because Christ now writes the laws He wants to be obeyed on our hearts.

Can Law bring Liberty?

Indeed Christ, through the prophet Jeremiah, foretold that He would write His law on our hearts under the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:33; Hebrews 8:10), but does this mean that we will automatically obey God's law (e.g. the ten commandments) simply by accepting in faith that Jesus is our personal savior?

Let's notice what one of the inspired writers of the New Testament had to say about this. The apostle James states that unless we are doers of God's word and not just hearers (James 1:22) we are deceiving ourselves (James 1:22). In verse 25, he tells us how to be doers of the word, which is by looking into the perfect law of liberty and continuing in it. In other words, we are to LOOK into God's inspired word, the Bible, to find the "perfect law of liberty" and then KEEP that law!

Does this contradict Christ's statement that He will write His law on our hearts? Of course not! However, it does provide insight into the way in which Christ writes it. It shows that, upon our acceptance of His sacrifice, Christ does not simply turn us into spiritual robots who automatically have knowledge of what His law is and how to keep it. Rather, after conversion, He expects us to study the Bible so that we can understand the perfect law of liberty and then abide by it. As we make a diligent effort to do this, He through the Holy Spirit, writes His law on our minds (by leading us to an understanding of the law) and on our hearts (by empowering us through the Holy Spirit with the self-control to keep the law).

 
 
 
 
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But what is the perfect law of liberty to which James referred? In Matthew 22:36-39, Christ reveals what the two of the ten greatest commandments in the law are. First, we are to love God with all our heart, soul and mind; and second, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Although this tells us that the overall principle of the law is outgoing love toward God and fellow man, it does not give us the details of how we are to show that love.

Upon acceptance of Christ's sacrifice, should we expect Him to fully transform our minds so that we immediately know exactly how to love God and fellow man, or should we follow the admonition of James by looking into the Bible ourselves to find the law which reveals the details of exactly how to show love?

In 1John 5:3, the details of how to love are defined in relation to obeying the ten commandments. To which of the ten was John referring to? Undoubtedly, to the laws of GOD which, when transgressed, result in sin (1John 3:4). The apostle Paul tells us plainly which ones these are. He writes that he would not have known what sin was except the law told him not to covet (Romans 7:7). This directly references one of the laws found in Exodus 20, the same ones James was referring to when he wrote about the perfect law of liberty.

If God's laws are to be kept by Christians, their importance must transcend the physical covenant made with the ancient nation of Israel. As such, we should expect to find examples of them either being kept or being broken by men and women who lived prior to Moses and who were not involved in the old covenant. Do such examples exist in the Bible?

Existing before Moses

Did the law exist BEFORE the time of the Exodus? A good place to begin is in the Garden of Eden. Paul tells us it was there that sin first entered the world (Romans 5:12-14). Three important points can be ascertained from this section of scripture:

  1. Sin entered the world through Adam (verse 12)

  2. Until there was law, sin could not be imputed (verse 13)

  3. Death reigned from Adam to Moses (verse 14).

For Paul to make these statements means that there had to have been a law in place from the very beginning. If there had been no law, there could not have been sin (verse 13 and Romans 4:15). Keep in mind that sin is the transgression of the law (1John 3:4). There was definitely sin before Moses was born because its penalty was administered upon every man and woman from the time of Adam forward (verse 14 and Romans 6:23). The sin that was committed was no different than the sin Paul wrote about in Romans 7, as it all led to death.

If the ten commandments are God's eternal law that, when transgressed, leads to death, Adam and Eve must have transgressed them when they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 3. The question is, however, which ones?

Broken laws

Which of God's commandments did Adam and Eve break? By listening to and following Satan's deception, they disobeyed the FIRST one by putting another god before the one true God. They broke the FIFTH one by dishonoring their Father (Luke 3:38). Because they stole something that was not theirs they broke the EIGHTH law. Finally, they broke the LAST of God's commands by lusting for the food, and coveting the wisdom it could bring them. Shortly after creation, the first two human beings had already transgressed four of the commands found in the decalogue!

In the very next chapter of Genesis, we find examples of two more laws being transgressed by Cain. In Genesis 4:8-9, we read that Cain murdered his brother Abel (breaking the SIXTH one), and then lied to God about it (breaking the NINTH one). Before the fourth chapter of the Bible comes to a close, six of the commandments have clearly been broken. What about the other four?

In Genesis 35:1-4, we find that Jacob's household had been breaking the SECOND Commandment by worshipping graven images. Jacob admonished them to get rid of the gods which they held in their hands (verse 4). In Leviticus 18:27, we learn that the men who lived prior to the generation with which God made the old covenant broke God's THIRD law by profaning the name of God (verse 21). The example of Joseph in Genesis 39:7-9 shows that the SEVENTH Commandment against adultery was in full force long before the old covenant. In Joseph's mind, the act of adultery was unquestionably a sin against God (verse 9).

To this point, clear illustrations have been given that nine of God's laws were fully in effect prior to the old covenant. The only one which has not yet been covered is the Fourth law, which is to keep the Sabbath holy. Undoubtedly, this is the most controversial of all of God's laws among Christians today. Though most will at least acknowledge that we would be better off if we kept the other nine commands, very few believe the Sabbath has any relevance to our modern world. In fact, most "Christian" organizations flatly deny this Commandment by observing the first day of the week instead of the seventh. What should our approach be? Was this law merely a part of the old covenant, or does it, as the other nine, transcend the old covenant and apply to all people of all eras?

The NEW Covenant

It is abundantly clear that God's law is not confined to the old covenant. Specific examples from the Bible make it evident that they were in effect from the very start of the human race. They formed the core of the old covenant not because they pertained only to the nation of Israel, but because they form the core of all peaceful, happy human existence. As such, they also form the core of the new covenant. In Matthew 19, a young man asked Jesus what he should do in order to have eternal life (verse 16). In verse 17, Christ answered him by telling him to keep the Commandments. In the next two verses, Christ told the man which ones He was referring to by giving five specific examples from Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.

As Isaiah prophesied in Isaiah 42:21, Christ did not come to earth to nullify or make obsolete his Father's laws. Rather, He magnified them and made them honorable by illustrating in His daily life how to perfectly keep them to their full spiritual intent. This was true even of the much-maligned Sabbath Commandment. Christ's custom was to study and teach from the Bible on the Sabbath day (Luke 4:16-17). Though He also performed works of service for others on the Sabbath, nowhere in the Bible can an example of Jesus working at His job so that He could support Himself or His family be found. Christ did have a job as a carpenter (Mark 6:3), but He did not work at that job on the Sabbath. To have done so would have been in direct violation of God's law (Exodus 20:10). Christ realized that devoting the Sabbath day every week to the worship of God is still beneficial to humans.

In the Olivet Prophecy, Christ admonished end-time Christians to pray that they would not have to travel to a place of safety on the Sabbath day (Matthew 24:20). Obviously, this clearly indicates that the Sabbath Commandment is still relevant under the new covenant.

Obviously, John (one of Christ's disciples) was taught the importance of God's laws (Revelation 22:14). And in 1John 2:4, he explains that if anyone says he knows Christ but does NOT keep the commandments is a LIAR!

Could anything be more clear? Though many attempt to deny it, the Bible plainly shows that God's laws are not unique to the old covenant. Rather, they comprise the eternal, immutable laws set in place from the very beginning which reveal to mankind how God expects him to live. In a dying, chaotic and increasingly violent world where uncertainty has become the norm, nothing could be more refreshing than to understand what God expects of us. As we come to greater understanding about the truth of God's eternal law, we are given freedom unsurpassed by anything. We gain the freedom of knowing what we can do to please our Creator (John 8:32). And finally YES, the ten commandments ARE relevant in today's world!

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