Is the Christian obliged to keep the Ten Commandments?


The question really relates to whether the Christian should keep not just the Ten Commandments, but any law! It arises from the supposition that the Christian, being ‘under grace’ is exempt from obedience to the law of God. The short answer is: the Ten Commandments are still applicable to the Christian, but not the other aspects of Old Testament Law. However, the reader must first have a clear understanding of what it means to be ‘under law’ and ‘under grace’ respectively. I refer you to the two short synopses on these topics (or the sound recordings) which will be helpful in this regard. The answer to this question, which deals with the relevance of God’s law for the Christian, presumes you have laid that foundation.

Firstly, let us examine the true believer’s understanding of ‘the law’. Under the new covenant, the true nature of the law becomes apparent. We come to the realisation that the law is spiritual. Let me explain by analogy. We are still required to offer sacrifices, but they are of a different nature and purpose. They are no longer sacrifices for sin, but sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise. The subjects of sacrifice are no longer animals or grain, but hearts and lives consecrated to God in service. God’s law is no longer to be found externally on tablets of stone or parchment, or even in our Bibles, as a visual reminder, but written on our hearts! We no longer need ‘the blood of bulls and goats’ to be offered for forgiveness of sin, but have merely to accept the provision of God’s own Son as our ‘once for all sacrifice’ for sin. We are not required to perform ritual washings before we come into the Lord’s presence. We no longer require temples in order to worship God, because we ourselves are the Lord’s temples and God does not dwell in temples made by human hands. The list is endless!  In essence, we no longer have to follow the letter of the law (that is, comply with every minute physical detail of its requirements) but now follow the spirit of the law. I have only touched on a few examples to help us see that the law is spiritual. In addition, we have come to the realisation that (as Paul discovered) the law is good. Just think about it! Would you approve of murder, or rape or child abuse, for example? Therefore, we must conclude that the law is good. Since it is both spiritual and good, and we are spiritual people, we now desire to keep it! The Holy Spirit himself teaches us that obedience is evidence of our love for God. Jesus’ words “If you love me keep my commandments” and “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and not do as I say?” now take on their true spiritual meaning.  Legalism is out! We  are no longer motivated  to keep God’s law for fear of punishment or to attain a righteous standing with God (as we would be required to do if we were ‘under law’), but because we have a deep desire and longing in our hearts to keep it. If that is the way we feel, we are truly ‘under grace’. We are being sanctified. Moreover, during this process we soon discover that sanctification is closely related to, and in fact is grounded in, obedience. Get the drift?

Secondly, we must understand which aspects of the broad spectrum of OT Law still apply to the person ‘under grace’. If we do not, we will still be in bondage to the righteous requirements of the law.  So let us examine some of those aspects. The ceremonial and sacrificial requirements of “The Law”, including its requirements for temple worship and its dietary and social constraints, do not apply to those ‘under grace’. The New Testament epistles give ample evidence of this. On the contrary, the Epistles clearly endorse all but one of the Ten Commandment without reservation or modification.

The exception is the Sabbath commandment. In place of the OT Sabbath, we have, under the new covenant, the Lord’s Day. (See Colossians 2:16 for Paul’s refutation of the OT Sabbath keeping). The obvious conclusion is that we are obliged to observe them. Having said this I must emphasize this important proviso: that the believer keep in mind, that the proper obligation to keep these commands is spiritual, not legal.

Some put forward the view that the Ten Commandments no longer require obedience because “Christ is the end of the law” (Rom. 10: 4 a). By this, they imply that believers do not need the law anymore!  However, the New Testament does not support this view. Proper exegesis of that phrase reveals the truth that those who still want keep the law in order to prove that they are righteousness and thus claim salvation, cannot be saved. The word ‘end’ does not mean termination, but rather the culmination or fulfilment. Jesus himself said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matt. 5: 17). What could be clearer?  Watch out for those who pervert the gospel and advocate antinomianism (lawlessness). They are false teachers.

In conclusion, if the law has not been done away with, if we have come to understand it as being both spiritual and good, why should we not want to keep the Ten Commandments?                                                                       

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