If we are redeemed under the New Covenant, do Christians obey the 10 Commandments, or not? What’s the answer?
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
It sounds like a simple question: do Christians obey the 10 Commandments?
Simple may be how it sounds, but it is an answer that must be weighed carefully.
The 10 Commandments have their rightful place in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, there are 2 risks when it comes to obeying the 10 Commandments, and each risk can lead to heresies that are alive even today.
So what are these risks, and how do we guard against them?
Risk 1: Dismissing the 10 Commandments
The first risk is treating the 10 Commandments as if they have no value for us.
Paul tells us in today’s passage that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, and that the law is unable to save us.
Because there is freedom from sin in Christ, some have interpreted this as Christians not having to obey the 10 Commandments. After all, the 10 Commandments are connected to the Old Covenant, and we are redeemed through the New Covenant under Christ.
It is true that Jesus Christ has initiated the New Covenant by His “once-and-for-all” sacrifice for our sins on the cross (Hebrews 10:11-14). This sacrifice replaces the sacrificial system under the Law of the Old Covenant and provides a sin offering for believing Jews and Gentiles alike.
And as the passage today says, this sacrifice declares an end to sin’s control over us. So, if sin has no control over us, and we trust Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, does that relieve Christians from obeying the 10 Commandments? After all, if sin has no hold on us, what value does the Law have for us?
Jesus Himself reminds us that He did not come to abolish the Law, but rather to fulfill its purpose. He also says that anyone who teaches and obeys God’s laws will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. But in the very same moment Jesus warns us that unless our righteousness is greater than the Pharisees, we will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:17-20). More on that in a minute.
Clearly, Jesus has a reverence for the 10 Commandments and the Mosaic Law. As part of the Godhead, this shouldn’t be a shock to us, since God is consistent in His nature across all time (James 1:17).
If Jesus had a reverence for the Law, so should we. But not to the point of the second risk.
Risk 2: Idolizing the 10 Commandments
The second risk is treating the 10 Commandments as if obeying them will ensure our salvation.
Christ honored the Law, but He stopped short of taking a legalistic view towards it.
Think of the numerous times in the Bible where Jesus challenged the Pharisees’ thinking and tradition regarding the Sabbath.
Does Jesus say if Christians obey the 10 Commandments and the Mosaic Law, that will bring us salvation? Absolutely not. But what He does say should get our attention.
Immediately after saying our righteousness must be greater than the Pharisees, Jesus reveals what this looks like in the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus says, “you have heard it said” 6 times, and 6 times he follows with “but I say”. Each time He takes the original intent of the Mosaic Law and takes their adherence to another level entirely.
Reference this graphic. Note that Jesus doesn’t stop with obeying the 10 Commandments. He includes references from Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.
It makes sense that Jesus would show us the insufficiency of the Mosaic Law to bring salvation, just as Paul speaks of in our passage today. To do so brings more focus on the true means of salvation, through Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.
However, it’s incomplete to say that Jesus is only doing this. While it is true that we cannot attain our own righteousness, Jesus is indeed giving marching orders for His followers to obey.
Jesus is illustrating the radical way how He desires for His followers to completely surrender in obedience. Not as a seal of our salvation, but as evidence.
Obeying the Commandments of Christ
Christ calls us to an even higher standard. Obedience does not go away with the advent of the New Covenant. It is every bit as important as it is in the Old Covenant and serves the same purpose; to reveal who are the true followers of God. Obedience is a mirror reflecting the soul of a disciple, revealing Christ in us.
We should certainly take obedience seriously since Christ takes it seriously. And yes, it can be overwhelming to think about. Graciously, Jesus shows us the path to obeying all His commandments when we follow the two greatest ones.
Yes, true Christians do obey the 10 Commandments. Not in a legalistic way, but rather by living in the New Covenant and obeying the commands of Christ.
As we have just seen, the 10 Commandments and the Mosaic law are the seeds of Christ’s teachings.
What we discover through the lens of the New Covenant is that the Mosaic Law does not rescue us; only Christ and His work on the cross can do that.
As Paul says in today’s passage, as we follow the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to obey the commands of Christ. We may not always do it perfectly, but God is there for us as we submit wholly to Him, for apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5). When we follow the disciplines of a disciple of Christ, we open the path to submit and stay connected to Him daily.
Here are more verses about following God in obedience: