“I am not bound to the law because I am under the new covenant of grace.” The arguments of whether to follow things recorded in the Old Testament or do away with them are ripe in our day. Massive manipulation from pastors and men in leadership has cast doubts upon the Word of God. Among these things that many would defame are the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).
After the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites came to the wilderness, at the foot of God’s mountain, and started their worship of Yahweh as he desired. However, to achieve this, God had to make them unique – different from the nations in the wilderness – in customs, behaviour, way of worship, and societal order (Genesis 12:3, 7; 17:4, 7-8; 22:17). To achieve this goal, God handed Moses the Ten Commandments that summarized the whole scope of God’s expectations for the nation that would reflect His works and character. We know that God never changes (Hebrews 13:8, James 1:17) and that whatever expressed his works and character in the past is eternally reliable because these things do not change regarding our God. He is who he has always been and does what he has always done. So, how do we relate to the Ten Commandments today?
The Ten Commandments and the New Testament
When you look at them closely, the Ten Commandments can be split into two portions: those that call us to relate with God objectively (Exodus 20:1-11) and those that call us to relate with fellow men appropriately (Exodus 20:12-17). If we want to dismiss the Ten Commandments, we ought to find a place in the New Testament where we are discouraged from pursuing a functional relationship with God and encouraged to live riotously with our neighbours.
A closer look at the life of Jesus and the apostles’ teachings show us that these two form the core of the Christian life. Jesus said it when asked about the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40). Let us see how these commandments are captured in the New Testament and why they apply today.
- You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3, Deut. 5:7). God commands against worshipping anything that is not God. Only the LORD – YAHWEH – is living and true. Israel had learned that through the great works performed by the hand of God through Moses in the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 4-11). They had seen the Red Sea parting (Exodus 14), manna from heaven (Exodus 16), water from the rock (Exodus 17), and many more signs that the LORD gave through Moses. All other nations’ gods had not seen anything like it, and God had confirmed that He alone was and is the one true God. Jesus, when he walked this land, echoed this commandment. In Matthew 4:10, 22:37-40, Jesus proclaims, “You shall worship the LORD your God.” Paul proclaims to the Corinthians and his son in the faith, Timothy, that there is only One God and Father (1 Corinthians 8:6, 1 Timothy 2:5). In the Old and New Testament, we have only one true God.
- You shall not make for yourself a carved image. You shall not bow down or serve them. (Exodus 20:4-6, Deut. 5:8-10). In the depravity of their minds, nations had plunged into idol worship, crafting carved images of people, animals and other forms and bowing down to them. The apostle John gives a straight charge to his readers in 1 John 5:21, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” Paul affirms this command in most of his letters that idolatry is as sinful as it was back in the day. (Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-20; Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). In the Old and New Testament, idolatry is a sin.
- You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7, Deut. 5:11). Swearing and calling the name of the LORD for no reason was not allowed in the camp of Israel. Why? Because the name of the LORD was holy and was to be held in high regard. It was the name unique to God, unlike any other name. I AM THAT I AM! No other name has power over all the dark powers. Today we hear the name of the LORD being used as a cuss word in movies and daily speech among the ungodly (but also among the saints). Jesus warns against blaspheming and swearing. (Matthew 5:33-37; James 2:7). There is no allowance in both the Old and New Testament for us today to misuse God’s name in our speech.
- Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11, Deut. 5:12-15). God gave instructions about the Sabbath day and rest because He also rested after the work of creation. Rest is a crucial part of man’s existence in this life. Rest brings recuperation and restores our body functionality. However, primarily, the Sabbath day is for worship – reflecting upon the goodness and providence of God. It was made holy by God. In his days, Jesus did not do away with the matters of the Sabbath but brought the true meaning of what the Father meant. In Mark 2:23-28, Jesus clarified that the point of the Sabbath was not for men to be caught up in the things to do or not to do. The Sabbath was made for rest and worship, and that goes beyond not lifting things or cooking food. Jesus observed the Sabbath day for worship and for doing good to others. In Hebrews 4:9, the writer reminds us that there is a better Sabbath rest for those in Christ.
- Honour your father and mother that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12, Deut. 5:16). As far back as time can tell, the value of the parents has always been high in the sight of God. Parents are the ones God has given the responsibility of raising God’s young children. It is a noble task that must be regarded highly. To this, God gave the command that children should honour their parents. Fast forward to the New Testament, where Jesus and the apostles do not let this charge go. Christ rebuked the teachers of the law (Matthew 15:4-9; 19:19) for dishonouring their parents and claiming that they upheld the law. He was keen on people upholding this commandment. Paul raises the issue of disobedience to parents as one of the sins of wicked people (Romans 1:29-30), sins that cause God’s wrath to be revealed. He echoes this command in Ephesians 6:1-3 when he calls us to obey our parents.
- You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13, Deut. 5:17). This particular one needs no explanation. Human life is sacred, and no one has the right to take it. God alone can take us back home since He is the one who brought us here. Jesus talked against murder, even as narrowly as anger against a brother (Matthew 5:21-22). Paul echoes the same sentiments in Romans 1:29-30; 13:9. The rule stands to date.
- You shall not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14; Deut. 5:18). Men and women who sleep with other people’s spouses were considered sinful from the start because they were going against what God had designed for marriage. Jesus raised the bar higher by saying that even a lustful look is as bad as the action (Matthew 5:27-28), while Paul goes ahead and gives a warning in Romans 7:2-3 to the spouses (particularly touching on divorcees). We may twist and turn these scriptures, but we know that scripture says what it means and means what it says.
- You shall not steal. (Exodus 20:15; Deut. 5:19). Thieves were encouraged not to steal from others because that is evil before the eyes of the Lord. Paul in Ephesians 4:28 calls the thief to stop stealing and instead work with their hands to provide for their needs. Peter calls such people ‘busy bodies’ and evil-doers. Under no circumstances can stealing be allowed in society, just as it was not allowed then. Stealing is not just a bad thing; it is a sin.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour (Exodus 20:16; Deut. 5:20). Giving a false testimony is malicious, deceptive, and accusatory. Peter accused Ananias and Saphirra of this evil (Acts 5:3-4) because they lied about the price of the land they had sold. They may not have implicated someone, but the Spirit of God is vexed when we get into deceitful practices. They died in the presence of God. Paul in the New Testament calls us away from a life of lies and challenges us to speak the truth with our neighbours because we belong to each other (Ephesians 4:25).
- You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, house, servants, animals or anything that is not yours (Exodus 20:17; Deut. 5:21). To covet is to want what you cannot rightfully have; to desire unlawfully, or to secure illegitimately. It is also called lust. God, in his providence, has afforded us different things. To covet is ungrateful because it is like pointing back to God and telling Him that he has not treated us as well as our neighbour. However, that is not true, so going after our neighbour’s things is prohibited. Jesus reminds us that life is more than the material things we have (Luke 12:15); hence we should not find ourselves in comparison games.
We are not only responsible towards God to honour and acknowledge Him in all ways but also to our fellow neighbours to respect and treat them with Godly honour. We cannot dismiss the Ten Commandments by alluding to the era of grace because all these commandments are echoed clearly in the life of Christ and the writings of the apostles. Paul says that the commandment is good and holy (Romans 7:12). Psalm 19:7-11 says that the Law of the Lord is good for us. Let us walk in the fullness of these commandments. He who has called us to walk in them is always faithful.