Christians and the 10 Commandments

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Eric Liddell“And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” The life of Eric Liddell is among my favorite stories from church history (albeit recent). We can almost hear the tune to the award winning “Chariots of Fire” movie that highlighted the Olympic year of 1924, when Liddell did something that was absolutely unheard of in athletic history. He was quickly dubbed, “The Greatest Athlete in the World,” after he annihilated the previous 400m world record, coming across the finish line in 47.6 seconds.  He was the first in history to run the race at a full sprint. In his own words, “I run the first 200m as hard hard as I can. Then, for the second 200m, with God’s help, I run harder.”

It was a startling accomplishment, and a record that stood for another 12 years, in large part because both coaches and athletes refused to believe that sprinting at such a distance was possible. And remember, these were the days of cinder and dirt tracks, not the fast-gripping rubber used today. For one, dirt tracks give underfoot causing fatigue. For another, and a more significant factor, was the amount of traction dirt tracks provided. By comparison, think of the difference between dirt track racing and NASCAR. If you watch the YouTube video below of the actual footage of Liddell’s race, you can actually see the dirt kicking up as the athletes raced around the final turn. But it was not Liddell’s athletic career, which is considered one of the greatest of all time, that made him famous. It was his faith.

Liddell died on the mission field in a labor camp in China. His biopsies showed a massive brain tumor, but he was a man who was willing to give up fame and fortune for the cause of Christ. It is unfortunate though, that we typically only remember him as “the man who wouldn’t run on Sunday.” Now, that’s not a bad thing per se. In fact, I wish that more Christian parents would consider the lesson they’re teaching their children when they allow them to miss the corporate worship service Sunday after Sunday during their sport’s season. By their practice, they show that Sunday worship is not the most important event of the believer’s week. But the problem with Liddell’s theology, was that he believed that Sunday was the Christian’s “Sabbath,” and that the Law did not permit work (or sports) on Sunday. This brings up an important issue, and a difficult one for many Christians.

What is the relationship between NT believers and the OT Mosaic Law?

It seems like we keep some of the OT Law, but not others. Why?

christ-is-the-end-of-the-law-of-mosesChristians across the board recognize that there is something different about their relationship with the Law and the OT Israelites. After all, we obviously don’t keep the whole Law. Some try to argue that there is a distinction between ceremonial, civil, and moral law. This is typical of Covenant Theology. They argue that Christians are not obligated to keep the ceremonial or civil law, but they must still keep the moral law. Often, the 10 Commandments are put in this category of “moral law,” and they are therefore as equally expected to be kept by NT believers as they were for OT Israel.

The problem with this argument is that it has no Scriptural basis whatsoever. In short, it’s a view that’s flat out wrong.

that awkward moment

Scripture clearly presents the Mosaic Law as one indivisible unit. Yes, moral, ceremonial, and civil laws appear within the Law, but to divide it as such, or to separate the 10 Commandments from the rest of the Law, does injustice to the purpose of the Law, and is a concept foreign to Christ and the Apostles.

Remember that there are 613 total laws in the Mosaic Law, and James tells us that “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (2:10). In other words, breaking one single command of the Mosaic Law makes one guilty of breaking all 613 in the eyes of God. That’s right, any one point. There’s no distinction between ceremonial and civil law, from moral law there. That includes the 10 Commandments – no distinction there either. “The unity of the Mosaic Law leaves only two alternatives-either complete deliverance from or complete subjection to the entire system.”1

law

Paul affirms this as well in Galatians 5:3, “And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision (i.e., places himself under some of the Law), that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law” (emphasis mine). To place Christians under some sort of “moral law” or the 10 Commandments is a complete contradiction to Paul’s whole argument in Galatians. “We are not under the Law” (Rom. 6:14)! Can that be any more clear? And yet, that doesn’t mean antinomianism. Far from it! We are under the greater Law of Christ, who fulfills the Law (note, however, while not abolishing it because the Law reflects His character), requiring obedience (which by the way, includes the hundreds of commands in the NT).

Remember the context of the Mosaic Law (including the 10 Commandments). It was given to the nation of Israel (cf. Ex. 19:3; 34:27), and the purpose of the Law was to reveal and expose sin (Rom. 3:19-20; 5:20). Paul even refers to the Law as a “tutor,” which in itself is a rather helpful illustrative word. A tutor in the first century (much like today) took care of a child until the child reached maturity. Then the tutor is no longer needed. So, for Paul, the Law was simply a temporary tutor until Christ!

Now, in the church age, NOT living under the Law is actually a sign of being led by the “Spirit” (Gal. 5:18). That is not to say that some Christians aren’t led by the Holy Spirit. All Christians are (Rom. 8:14-15), which means that all Christians are free from the Law. All Christians are instead under the Law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:20-21).

Romans 7 is especially fascinating, since there may be some who might think, “Well… the 10 Commandments should have a special place for Christians.” That is only true insofar as by being obedient to Christ you may also be obeying some of the 10 Commandments, but let me point out that obeying the 10 Commandments does not mean you are obeying Christ! Paul says in Romans 7:4 that we are “dead” to the Law – that is the whole Law, and in vs. 6 he says we are “released” from it – including the 10 Commandments since Paul even uses the commandment “YOU SHALL NOT COVET” as his example (vs. 7). ten commandmentsFurther, Paul teaches that the Mosaic Law, including the 10 Commandments passed away and has been replaced by the “New Covenant” (2 Cor. 3:6-11). He calls them the “ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones.” That’s right. The stone tablets Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai – Paul calls them the “ministry of death” and they have passed away to the New Covenant. Thus, it is now totally “obsolete” (Heb. 8:13). That is not to say it’s unimportant. Indeed it is as “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16-17), but Christ has “abolished” it (Eph. 2:15), and has “nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:14).

Some say that surely there is some applicability to the OT Law though, or that it can be used for a general rule of life. Paul teaches the exact opposite. Note what he says in 1 Timothy 1:8-10:

But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous man but for those who are lawless…

So, what’s the good in the Law? Zilch for the believer – the “righteous man.” The good in the Law is restricted to those who are lawless. In other words, the benefit of the Law for the believer is that we can use it to show that people cannot be saved or live a godly life by it! It’s “applicability” to believers is limited to serving as a reminder that we cannot be justified or sanctified by it. We cannot be saved or grow in Christ-likeness by it.

Again, none of this means that Christians are “free” in the sense that they can do whatever they want. Unfortunately, WAY too many “Christians” think that. It really doesn’t matter. They think they have their fire insurance. Let me say that I vehemently oppose that so much so that I would venture to call it heresy, and I would question their salvation. A proclamation of salvation is illegitimate if your life is uncharacteristic of a life given to Christ. You are NOT under the Law. You are free from the Law. That’s true, but you are a slave of righteousness. You are under the New Covenant. You are under the Law of Christ.

  1. Aldrich, Roy L. “Has the Mosaic Law Been Abolished?” Bibliotecha Sacra, vol. 116 #464, Oct. 1959, 325.
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