Another Good Question – Should We Still Obey the 10 Commandments?

Gerry Breshears, one of my theology professors from seminary, likes to word things in a way that initially shocks most Christians. He does this to get our attention and make us think deeper than we often do about Scriptural truths. The message he preached this past Sunday at Harvest from Acts 15 was no exception.

That message led a Harvest member to ask me a good question: do Christians still need to obey the Old Testament law? Since I know all Christians, including me, wrestle with similar questions, I'm posting it here as part of my series of posts titled Another Good Question.

I explained that one can think of 3 categories of the OT Law: the civil/criminal law (e.g. death by stoning is required for murder), the ceremonial law (e.g. kosher dietary restrictions & animal sacrifices), and the moral law (e.g. the 10 Commandments). It is commonly understood that the first two categories of law have served their intended purpose and are no longer in force. But since the moral law reflects God’s character it is still a good guide for the behavior he wants from us today. So yes, “moral” laws like the 10 Commandments still reflect God’s standard.

But the story doesn’t end there, and I think I need to add to my initial response to my church friend. What was missing was the fact that while the content of God’s behavioral standards hasn’t changed, the way we interact with those standards has changed. And it has changed dramatically.

This change can best be described as changing from an external focus to an internal one. Or, changing from a behavior focus to a heart focus.

The whole force of the New Testament lays this out so it’s difficult to select just a few passages of Scripture to demonstrate this shift in focus. The whole Sermon on the Mount certainly comes to mind (Matthew 5-7), as does Jesus’ statement that the whole Law can be summed up in the single word “love” (God and neighbor). Paul shows the same understanding when he insists that we are free from the Law (such as in Galatians) but then he insists that we don’t run off into lives of sinful abandon (Romans 6:15-23; notice “from the heart” in verse 17). We could go on.

The point is this: the life God wants from us is not obedience to a list of do’s and don’ts. What he wants is your heart to be completely dedicated to the passionate pursuit of himself. In other words, we find that God's standards are still very much in force (licentiousness is ruled out), but those standards are not strict rules of obedience (legalism is also ruled out). How's that for a bit of intellectual tension?

So, while the 10 Commandments are still a great guideline for the character of a Jesus-follower, it is important to note that we don’t obey them as an external regulation that is forcibly changing our behavior. Rather, we joyfully conform our lives to that revealed standard out of a passionate desire to please and more accurately mimic our King.

Confession time: I think there’s a little legalist inside every Christian, and mine always becomes aroused when these discussions take place. How’s your little legalist doing? :)


Jeff said...

It's good to hear from you. And good to know how you're doing. We'll definitely have to catch up sometime.

Jeff & Tracy Cary

Melissa said...

You write! imagine that! :) i am excited to read up on what you are writing on here.

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