My wife and I saw this meme on a billboard while we were traveling yesterday and it got us to talking about how we, as followers of Christ, relate to the Ten Commandments. This particular meme was originally push-back to Ted Turner’s infamous “Ten Voluntary Initiatives” in the 90’s. But my point here is not about this particular meme but about the premise of the argument itself.
Before I get to that, here’s another less famous meme I saw on Facebook recently:
“Hell awaits all Christian liars. Repent.”
What’s particularly troubling about this one was how many Christians responded with comments like “Amen!” and “Yes!”, as if this would be good thing, even if it were true. I’m continually perplexed by how many sincere followers of Christ have such a fundamental misunderstanding of what (or Who) saves us from such a fate.
Of course, they construe this particular sentiment from Revelation 21:8, but if we’re going to “pluck” this passage out and read it with wooden literalism, then we must also pluck out our eyes and cut off our hands if they cause us to sin (Matt.5:29; 18:9), or other similar direct commands given in Scripture, which if taken with the same literalism would also totally negate the cross of Christ.
The more interesting question is about the relevance of the Ten Commandments to followers of Christ. And I want to emphasize before I continue that they do represent the moral heart of God. Even atheists agree we should not steal, kill, lie, covet, etc.
But to answer the question, we need to first understand the radical differences between the Old and New Covenants. I don’t want to repeat everything I said in “Clarifying New Covenant Confusion” (you can refer to that post for further explanation), but there are a few differences worth mentioning here:
Under the Old Covenant, the people of Israel were the covenant keepers; under the New Covenant, Jesus is the covenant keeper.
Under the Old Covenant, sin was dealt with through continual sacrifice; under the New Covenant, sin is taken away forever and remembered no more by God.
Under the Old Covenant, the Law was written on stones; under the New Covenant the true nature of the Law is written on human hearts.
Under the Old Covenant, we were kept by keeping the Law; under the New Covenant we are kept by Christ (we were placed in Him).
The Old Covenant is about behavior modification which made us sin-conscious; the New Covenant is about the New Creation which makes us God-conscious.
It just seems strange to me that this would even need to be explained to Christians since these are some of the most fundamental aspects of Christianity.
So, here’s the thing: whether the Ten Commandments are requirements or suggestions is irrelevant. That argument absolutely misses the point. The real issue is explained by the following two considerations from Galatians:
When we try to make the Ten Commandments requirements for our right standing with God, we’re not obeying God; we’ve actually alienated ourselves from Christ and have fallen from His grace:
4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. (Gal.5:4*)
But when (and only when) we put our trust in Christ by faith, yielding our hearts to His indwelling Spirit and cooperating with His workings in us, we will produce fruit that looks like other-centered, self-giving love, which is the fulfillment and the whole intent of the Law in the first place:
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal.5:14*)
Under the Old Covenant, obedience to the Ten Commandments was a requirement; under the New Covenant such obedience is the fruit of the Spirit.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Gal.5:22-23*)