“Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.” (Exodus 20:13-17)
Earlier in this series on the Ten Commandments, we considered how the specific Commandments could be divided into two parts, or tables; the first comprising the Commandments dealing with man’s relationship to God and the second regulating man’s interactions with his fellow man. While we have spent the last few posts focusing on the details of the first table, I would like to turn our attention now to more of an overview of the second.
Much could certainly be said about each individual Commandment of the final five. How hating our brother renders us guilty of murder (1 John 3:15); how lusting in our hearts convicts us of adultery (Matt. 5:28); or how the man who covets is really an idolator (Eph. 5:5, Col. 3:5). Much could be said, indeed. While a great deal of the remainder of the Book of Exodus (along with Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) provide commentary and insight into what specific actions were covered by each of these Commandments, the New Testament cuts straight to the heart of the matter, briefly capturing the essence and spirit of the Law with the simple, familiar axioms with which many of us are acquainted. Consider the Lord Jesus’ summary of the Law in His Sermon on the Mount:
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
Or, in another place, when questioned over what the “great commandment of the law” would be, Jesus responded to the Pharisees:
“…Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Rome a concise commentary upon the entire second table of the Law with these words:
“For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Romans 13:9)
If there be any other commandment (and there certainly are; over 600 specific laws and statutes were listed in the Torah), it is briefly comprehended in what? In love toward others. To love God and love others is to fulfill the Law in its entirety. Though the Christian is not under the burden of the Law of Moses itself, he is under the Commandments of Christ, that is, to love the Lord and extend the love of God to others.
Since the earliest days of the Church, two extremes have drawn like a magnet the hearts and minds of many who would follow Christ. On the one end are those who have seen little difference between the Old Covenant and the New. They have believed that the Law of Moses must be kept, or at least kept to the best of one’s ability, in order to receive or maintain Salvation in Jesus Christ. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who hold that the Law has absolutely no relevance whatsoever in the life of a Christian and that practically every page to the left of Matthew 1 in our Bibles are merely residues of a bygone era. Some have gone so far as to say that God is actually glorified by our gratuitous breaking of God’s Commandments because it affords Him the greater opportunity to manifest His grace toward us.
Like so many other aspects of the Christian life, the truth is found closer toward the middle. The Law of Moses is a part of the Christian’s spiritual heritage, for it is through the Law that the same God we serve today dealt with the nation of Israel. Contrary to what many Christians have been taught, the Law of Moses was never repealed nor was it brushed aside at the coming of Christ. Jesus came not to destroy or overturn the Law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). The Law of Grace in Jesus Christ has never abolished the Law of Moses, it has merely superceded it. The Law still broods cruelly over anyone who would step out from under the covering of grace.
So what does all this mean for those in Christ? Must we seek to follow the tenets of the Law? Should we? Can we? Even if we accept that Salvation can only come, not by the merit of obedience, but by the unmerited favor of God born by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, is there, in fact, any advantage in attempting to obey the Law? Does following the letter of God’s Commandments given at Mt. Sinai avail the Christian anything?
The moment that we bind ourselves to a burden which is not intended for us to bear, we begin to walk, not in liberty, but in bondage. The message of the New Testament with regards to the Law is that God intends for our hearts to be in right standing toward Him, letting the indwelling Holy Spirit fill us with love toward God and man. The idea is not that we will refrain from murdering, or stealing, or committing adultery because the Law forbids it, but because a person who has the love of God will not do such things!
Wherever the Ten Commandments are mentioned in the New Testament, they are inevitably expanded and enlarged. Not because the Christian is under more restrictive Law, but because he has been given the Spirit of God to strengthen him to obey, not just the letter of the Law, but its intent. Never was man intended to keep the Law by his own strength, but the Law was given in order that we might know just how sinful we really are. Apart from the strengthening of the Holy Spirit, we are powerless to obey God!
The Christian is not instructed to obey the Law of Moses so that he might become a child of God, he obeys the Law of Christ because he is a child of God. We love God, not because we are commanded to, but because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). We are not expected to live under the guidelines of the Law of Moses, but we are expected to exhibit a life of holiness and obedience to the Lord by allowing the Lord to live through us. For when the Holy Spirit is indwelling us, filling our lives with His fruit, we will live a life pleasing to God and in accordance to any law and commandment He has given:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,