Thursday, August 16, 2012

Are the Ten Commandments for Today?

Along with many members at Life Bible Fellowship Church, I have been doing a Bible read-through. We are in Leviticus right now, leafing through many of God's commands. Earlier, when we went through Exodus, we encountered the Ten Commandments. Reading through this section reminded me of how frequently we associate the Ten Commandments with the core of Christian morality. We post them at our churches, we fight to keep them in front of schools and courthouses, we have our kids memorize them.
All of this leads me to a question: Are the Ten Commandments for us today? Are they binding for Christians? Are they the centerpiece of Christian morality?

The Law and the Christian
Whether or not the Ten Commandments are the centerpiece of Christian morality is up for debate in this post. But what is not up for debate is that the Ten Commandments are the centerpiece of the Mosaic Law. They come in the context of God communicating his law to Israel. Following the Ten Commandments are laws about sacrifice, priests, food, cleanliness, holy days, marriage, sexuality, property, and a number of other topics.
So, a starting question is this: Is the Mosaic Law binding?
As a whole, the Christian answer is No. The New Testament consistently reinforces this truth. Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). It was a tutor, showing us our sin and bringing us to Christ (Galatians 3:23-25).  Jesus declared all foods to be clean (Mark 7:19, Acts 9:9-15). Sacrifice and the priesthood are no more because Christ is the ultimate priest and the ultimate sacrifice (Hebrews 5:1-10, Hebrews 9-10).
And Christians, since the time of Christ, have acknowledged this reality. We don't offer sacrifices, celebrate the holy days, keep the dietary laws, and observe the cleanliness regulations. We function as if the law is fulfilled and therefore done away with.

Some, But Not All?
Some, however, say that only some of the Mosaic Law is done away with. There is the observation that some of the Old Testament laws are ceremonial, dealing with cleansing and sacrifice and religious elements. Some of the laws are civil, dealing with life in a nation, issues of property and retribution. And some of the laws are moral, dealing with how people live uprightly before God.
The reasoning is that the ceremonial laws are done away with because Christ fulfilled them, the civil laws are done away with because we are not the nation of Israel, but the moral laws are still binding upon us today.
The problem with this is that the ceremonial/civil/moral tags are not biblical tags. They reflect an observation that we have about the laws, but the Bible itself does not label the laws this way.
And, on top of this, many of the civil and ceremonial laws seem to be treated as if they are as much a moral issue as the moral laws themselves. God is equally concerned with all of them.
When the New Testament says that Jesus fulfilled the Law, and therefore Christians are free from the Law, it is saying this about the whole law.
Including the Ten Commandments.

All of the Ten Commandments?
As you take in what may be some shock waves, let me just illustrate that we already practice this. First of all, do most observant Christians today keep the Ten Commandments? You might say, "Not perfectly, but yes." This isn't true, though. We tend to treat nine of them as if they are really important, and one as if it is not. Today, almost no Christians in the world remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
Someone might say, "Yes, we do. We worship on Sunday. Many Christians also intentionally do not work on Sunday out of observance of the Sabbath."
There are a couple of major problems with this argument, though.
Problem #1: Simply not going to work on Sunday is not keeping the Sabbath. If you read the Old Testament laws about the Sabbath, you will see that people were not permitted to travel, light a fire, gather sticks, or do a host of other things. While some of us might take it easy on Sunday, none of us are truly keeping the Sabbath.
Problem #2: Sunday is not the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the seventh day. Sunday is the first day. We worship on Sunday because that is the day on which Jesus rose. Saturday is the Sabbath.
And the New Testament clearly says that we are no longer bound to keep the Sabbath (Romans 14:5-6, Colossians 2:16-17). That is a part of the shadow (according to Paul in Colossians), and now the reality behind the shadow has come. The Sabbath was the picture, and now the real thing has come in Christ. We now celebrate the reality and not the shadow.

Do We Then Have No Law?
A couple of big questions come up when we start to take all of this in:
1. Are none of the Ten Commandments binding today?
2. Do Christians have no Law at all?
These questions are related, and the answer to both of them is found in what the New Testament says about the Law for believers. 
Christians don't have ten commandments; we have one. Our law is the law of love. Jesus said this in John 13:34: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." He reiterates this in Matthew 22:37-40 and John 15:12-13. John reiterates this command in 1 John 4:7-21. Paul reiterates this in Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:13-15. Christians now bind themselves to the Law of Love. Love God and, through his, love your neighbor.

Is Love Enough?
But isn't this horribly subjective? Can't people just say they're loving others through promiscuous sex, through appeasing false beliefs, and through a number of other vices? They can. But the New Testament brings clarity. You may realize that nine out of the ten commandments are consistently reiterated in the New Testament (as already stated, the Sabbath is not). Why is this? Because it is never loving to commit adultery. It is never loving to murder someone. It is never loving to steal from someone. It is never loving to bear false witness. The Bible directs us away from our puppy-dogs-and-ice-cream false definition of love to the the true definition of love, a robust sacrifice for others which is based on God's revealed truth.

So, In Conclusion
Do we keep the Ten Commandments today? Well, we keep nine of them. But the reason we keep them is not because they are the centerpiece of morality. They are not. The law of love fulfills Christian morality. The nine remaining commandments, as well as other imperatives in the New Testament, bring clarity to the law of love.
I want to suggest that we stop posting the Ten Commandments in our homes and churches. This is not because they are bad, but because this gives the impression that we are still living under law. "Believe in Jesus in order to be saved, and then do these ten things." That is not the gospel. The gospel is that the love of God, poured out through Jesus, sets us free to love others.

Perhaps we could replace our posters of the Ten Commandments with a poster of the One Commandment. Just a thought.


  1. Great post Dan. I was talking with a guy about this same thing awhile back. He argued that we still needed to obey the 10 commandments. I argued that OT laws aren't binding on us unless they are re-affirmed in the NT. I liked how you brought in the idea of the law of love as the overarching principle. Good stuff.

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