Many think that the law of Moses is our standard. Christianity involves being like Christ, and that means a far higher standard than the law. We are to take on the principles of the kingdom of the heavens. The “Son of man from heaven” will have heavenly principles. The law represents a perfect standard of conduct for man on earth. The church is heavenly in origin and destiny, so it will have that character. The law prohibits those tendencies that a man in the flesh will fall into. Grace teaches us positive, heavenly principles. A Christian does not steal; not because the law prohibits it, but because he belongs to Christ! A believer "has been made dead to the law by the body of Christ, to be to another"; we have a new husband, Christ, as we are told in Romans 7:1-4. Yet it is only such a person - one dead to the law and possessing the Holy Spirit - that is able to meet the righteous requirements of the law, see Romans 8:4. Indeed, we are expected to exceed its demands, as we see below.
The ten commandments are a summary of that whole body of teaching delivered to Moses by Jehovah. For example, “Thou shalt not steal” involves all forms of appropriation of another’s property. It does not just forbid “break and enter”. Moses spoke of a man’s animal wandering into a neighbour’s property. The latter was responsible to return it, not just keep it and say: “I did not transgress”.
Let us compare each of the commandments with what we grace now teaches. To show the point more clearly, we will consider the last five commandments, those that deal with conduct towards our fellow man, then those that affect God. See Exodus 20.
Thou shalt not kill [murder], Exodus 20:13. That is good as far as it goes, but it is only the absence of what is negative. The Lord spoke in John 7:38, “He that believes on me, as the scripture has said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. But this he said concerning the Spirit which they that believed on him were about to receive; for the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified”. The believer in this period becomes a channel of wisdom that leads to life. Where does the scripture say that? Try Proverbs 18:3, “The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters, and the fountain of wisdom is a gushing brook”.
Thou shalt not commit adultery, Exodus 20:14. Again, this is the absence of a sin. In Christianity, each husband is exhorted to love his own wife “even as the Christ loved the church, and has delivered himself up for it”. What a positive direction and what a high standard is given to us! It is not merely “do not fail”, but love one’s wife to that extent.
Thou shalt not steal. Perfect in its place, but this has not produced anything positive. In Ephesians 5:28, we are told “Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him toil, working what is honest with his hands, that he may have to distribute to him that has need”. The thief becomes a giver! This is a complete reversal. When a person gives, three parties benefit. Firstly, the one who gives gets a blessing - It is more blessed to give than to receive, Acts 20:35. Secondly, the recipient gets the gift. Thirdly, the recipient gives God thanks - God receives praise. This last point is brought out by Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:12. The gift from Corinth was not only a matter of filling a need of the saints at Jerusalem, but “also abounding by many thanksgivings to God; they glorifying God …” The receivers gave glory to God.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. Again in Ephesians 5:25 we get a positive injunction, “Wherefore, having put off falsehood, speak truth every one with his neighbour”.
Thou shalt not desire thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not desire thy neighbour’s wife, nor … anything that is thy neighbour’s, Exodus 20:17. The answer to lust and covetousness is to be satisfied, to be thankful. This is to characterize a Christian – “Be filled with the Spirit …giving thanks at all times for all things to him who is God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”, Ephesians 5:18-21.
Now we will consider those first five commandments that relate to man’s responsibility towards God.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me, Exodus 20:3. In Christianity, we have an expanded revelation of God - as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Writing to Corinth about things sacrificed to idols, Paul states that “there is no other God save one” and “yet to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him”, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6.
Thou shalt not make thyself any graven image, or any form … thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them, for I Jehovah thy God am a jealous God, Exodus 20:4-5.
We have Christ dwelling in the heart by faith, so a Christian does not need an external icon to worship. In Christ we have God manifest in flesh, an object for our affections and homage. However we also are warned by John (1 John 5:21) “Children, keep yourselves from idols”
Thou shalt not idly utter the name of the Lord thy God, Exodus 20:7
We go beyond just refraining from using that name idly – “By him [Jesus] therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually to God, that is, the fruit of the lips confessing [or, praising] his name”, Hebrews 13:15.
Remember the sabbath day to hallow it. The sabbath here stands for the whole sacrificial system. Sometime the expression “sabbaths” is used. In Ezekiel 22:8 it states, “Thou hast despised my holy things, and hast profaned my sabbaths”. We are exhorted “by the compassions of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your intelligent service”, Romans 12:1. A Christian is to live with the will of God and the honour of Christ’s name before him at all times, not just once per week, or at certain times of the year. They held the feast of unleavened bread along with the Passover annually. Paul tells us that the feast of unleavened bread represents “sincerity and truth”. We should “celebrate” that feast every day of the year.
Honour thy father and thy mother … Exodus 20:12. This commandment comes in the five that relate to Israel’s responsibility towards God. Our parents represent God to us. They may not always do that well, but the principle is there. God has placed his authority where we are loved. This is re-affirmed in Christianity. We are to respect all authority (government); God has established it - see Romans 13.
Now, if you want a “do not” in Christianity, it is: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which ye have been sealed to the day of redemption”, Ephesians 4:30. How refined is that? How much more demanding than the law of Moses. Scripture tells me that it is only true believers in Christ (those that have the Holy Spirit) that can maintain the righteous requirement of the law - see Romans 8:4, “in order that the righteous requirement of the law should be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to flesh but according to Spirit”.
This paper does not deal with the place that the law has in God’s ways. It merely addresses those who believe that it is the ultimate standard of conduct. The application of the law - to whom and when - will be the subject of another article.
MM October 2007