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 commandments:
"For this is the love of God, that we keep His 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, "You shall not 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?
Did the commandments exist 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.
"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned -- (For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses . . . ) " (Romans 5:12-14).
Three important points can be ascertained from this section of scripture:
Sin entered the world through Adam (verse 12)
Until there was law, sin could not be imputed (verse 13)
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 -- 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?
Which of God's laws did Adam and Eve disobey?
First, by listening to and following Satan's deception, they disobeyed the FIRST Commandment -- they put another god before the one true God. Second, they broke the FIFTH Commandment by dishonoring their Father (Luke 3:38). Third, they stole something that was not theirs, breaking the EIGHTH Commandment. Finally, they broke the TENTH Commandment 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 commandments being transgressed by Cain. In Genesis 4:8-9, we read that Cain murdered his brother, Abel (the SIXTH Commandment), and then lied to God about it (the NINTH Commandment). 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 the THIRD Commandment 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 of the commandments -- 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 Commandment 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, as the wording of the Commandment admonishes us (Exodus 20:8-11). What should our approach be? Was this Commandment 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?
To answer these questions, we need only look at the wording of the Commandment itself: "REMEMBER the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." (Exodus 20:8). Obviously, in order to remember something, it must be in existence to begin with. The wording of this Command clearly shows that what was given to the children of Israel was not new; rather, God was reminding them of something they had forgotten while they were enslaved in Egypt. In fact, God's Commandment to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai was not the first time they had to be reminded of the Sabbath since leaving Egypt. In Exodus 16, Moses and Aaron reminded them of the importance of the Sabbath by instructing them to gather a double portion of manna on the sixth day because God would not send any on the Sabbath day (verses 4-5). In verse 23, Moses emphatically states that the Sabbath day is a holy day to the Lord. Keep in mind this occurred well in advance of Israel's arrival at Mt. Sinai where the old covenant was made.
What is 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 -- He was 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 the fourth of God's ten commandments to "do no work" (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.
Some have attempted to impute that Jesus taught His disciples to violate the Fourth Commandment when He allowed them to pluck and eat heads of grain of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1). However, this belief has little biblical support. In the minds of the Pharisees, this was a violation (verse 2), but Christ knew it wasn't. There is no prohibition given in the Fourth Commandment against the light preparation and eating of a meal, or, as in this case, a small snack. Food is not even mentioned in the Commandment! Christ knew how to correctly keep the Commandment -- He was Lord of the Sabbath (verse 8) -- and He taught His disciples to follow His example.
Obviously, John (one of Christ's disciples) was taught the importance of God's laws. John writes:
"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)
And in 1John 2:4, he explains that if anyone says he knows Christ . . .
"He who says, 'I know Him,' and does NOT keep His commandments, is a LIAR, and the truth is not in him. " (1John 2:4)
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 -- 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!