In this article, I intend to explore and answer the question, “How can Christians live in light of the Ten Commandments?” by examining the purpose of the law within the larger story of redemption in the Bible. Christians are no longer under the law but under grace (Romans 6:14). We have been released from the law (Romans 7:6) and its tutelage (Gal. 3). Christ didn’t come to abolish the law but to uphold it (Matthew 5:17), since He is the end of the law (Rom. 10:4). This explains why Christians are freed from the curse of the law through the finished work of Jesus.
The Ten Commandments provide a roadmap for how Christians ought to live. During Jesus’ ministry, He repeatedly talked about the Ten Commandments and their importance for ethical living. One example of this is in Mark 10:17-22, where He repeated the second table of the law to the rich young man. Other examples include the Apostle Paul in Romans 13:8-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11. In addition to this in Romans 7:12 Paul taught that the commandments, even under the New Covenant are holy, righteous and good. Jesus also taught that He is the fulfillment of all of Scripture (Matthew 5:17-20, Luke 24). Dr. Jim Hamilton helpfully comments, “In this declaration of his name, Yahweh announces his mercy and his justice: this is his glory, and this glory of Yahweh is reflected all throughout the Old and New Testaments.”[i]
Living in light of the Ten Commandment requires seeing that the whole Bible is about the person and work of Jesus. Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 53 and other texts indicate that Jesus came and died in the place of sinners and for their sins. Jesus is coming again to rule and reign over a New Heaven and a new earth from the throne of King David. In the Old Testament, the people disobeyed God and treated His commandments as if they were just another perfunctory religious activity. As Christians, we can do the same if we don’t understand that we are saved from sin and to the Lord Jesus. What I’ve been describing shows up especially among some Christians who think that because they’ve been saved by sovereign grace, they can live however they want. The Apostle Paul counters this idea in Romans 6:1 by stating, “May it never be.”
There are three points I want you to consider pertaining to the purpose of the law. First, Jesus came not to destroy the law but to fulfill its demands. Through His sinless life and death on the cross, He fulfilled the civil, ceremonial and moral laws. Christians, today, can obey the moral law by the grace of God. The only way for anyone to obey God is to be born again.
Second, Christians through the Holy Spirit are empowered to live by the truth of the Word of God. Jesus, the God-Man not only lived a sinless life by dying in the place of sinners and for their sins but also perfectly obeyed the Law, performed miracles and gave His people the power to obey Him through the Holy Spirit. Through Him Christians can resist sin and put it to death by understanding how He resisted sin in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:1) and prayed in the power of the Spirit (Luke 10:21). The Holy Spirit convicts God’s people of their sin and points them to the finished work of Jesus. Jesus is now our High Priest and Intercessor before the Father. In this role, He functions as our advocate (1 John 2:1-2) while praying for us to stand strong in His grace.
Finally, seeing Jesus in all of the Scriptures helps us to understand not only the nature of the law but its purpose or design. The Holy Spirit empowers God’s people to proclaim the sinfulness of man (Romans 1-3) in order that they might make known to sinners how they can be declared not guilty through Jesus, who transfers sinners from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus. Through Jesus’ finished work, He makes a people who were once not His people, His people by giving them a new identity (Romans 6) through which they can fight indwelling sin (Romans 7) by realizing they will ultimately one day, as they grow in Him, become like Him (Romans 8). The only way believers are able to live in obedience to the Ten Commandments is because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection since He is the fulfillment, goal, and end of the law.
[i] James Hamilton, God’s Glory In Salvation Through Judgment A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2010), 104.