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In my dialogues with others about grace, forgiveness, and our new identity in Christ, the question is often raised, “What about the commandments? Don’t we have to keep the commandments?” Let’s look at the Ten Commandments for a moment:
1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
2. You shall not make any carved images to bow down to.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. You shall not covet what belongs to another.
A fairly daunting list, but that’s only ten, and in very simplified, easy form. Jesus came along and said that to hate someone in our heart is the same as murder, and to look upon someone with intent to sexually desire them is the same as adultery. Then the Apostle Paul comes along and says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for her.” That makes “Don’t commit adultery” look like child’s play. Husbands, love your wives sacrificially, patiently, lovingly, never giving in for a moment to selfishness or being a tyrant or passivity or a harsh word. Likewise, “Do not steal” in the New Covenant becomes “give, give, give,” the opposite of stealing.
The Law as given in the Old Covenant is actually a condescension on the part of God. He makes a lot of concessions. He doesn’t say that ruminating on a thing like sexual desire for someone not our spouse or hatred of another human being is wrong. He deals largely with actions at that point, except for a few key points – coveting (ruminating on desire for what others have), and having no other gods before God (inner atittude).
Note that none of these commands say, “Try not to commit adultery” or “Husbands, try to love your wives…” They clearly and absolutely give the imperative.
If you are one of those who has tried to be good, giving it your all, either you have not reached your saturation point, completely crumbled, and given up on your own effort, or you have hit that wall. If you haven’t, it is likely you won’t fully hear what I am saying here. But it may become relevant later when trying to “Be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect” has done its full work. If you have hit that wall and been broken of thinking you can be good by your own effort, then what I have to say is for you.
Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law perfectly. He lived out each one of these commandments, the living embodiment of God’s Law – God’s living Word, the Logos. Now, Jesus makes a lot of statements in the Gospels, saying odd things like, “I can do nothing of Myself” and “The Father in Me does the works” and “If you’ve seen Me, you seen the Father.” Paul echoes these statements in his epistles, saying equally strange things like, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God…” and “All the fullness of the Godhead lives in Christ in bodily form, and you are filled full in Him.”
Romans 6 says we died in Christ on the Cross – we were put in Him, and we died to the old life; the old man literally died. We resurrected in Christ, and the new man became operational. The old man was a union between the false spirit in Eph 2:2, and the new man a union between the one true God and man, a gift from God to anyone and everyone who will take it.
So what does this mean, as new creations? For us, the old has gone, the new has come. What does it mean?
It means that now we have a new inner Source – God Himself.
The Word of God is God-breathed. Therefore only God can unlock and reveal its mysteries.
Likewise, the goodness, the righteousness stated in the Bible’s commandments is really a statement of who God is. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. That kind of love. Where does that kind of love come from? It comes from God alone, for God is love. Wives, respect your husbands. Where does that respect come from? It comes from the Spirit of the Son, who respects the Father.
So as a new creation being, we have the indwelling Spirit of the Father, Son, and Spirit. That Trinity is the core of our new identity, the God who has come to us to live in a co-operative union with us, a unity.
But unless I know I am completely weak, unable to do any eternal good in and of my human effort, I cannot know God as my Source. God’s power is perfected in weakness; in order for God to flow from us, we have to come to the end of thinking we’re independent selves who can be good like Christ if we just try harder.
So what are the commandments? They now become promises God makes to us. I will have no other gods before Him. How is this possible? By putting my faith in Christ within me to make that unseen Fact a temporal reality. To not only refrain from stealing, ever, but to give, give, give? How? By relying on Christ as my provider and sustainer, the Source of everything I need for life and godliness. If I trust Him, I won’t have any need of stealing; in fact, I’ll be able to give and give, because His resources are limitless. Who needs the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” when he is trusting Christ within himself to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, to cause him to give himself for her? So “Do not commit adultery” is superseded by something which goes beyond the mere behavioral command.
Christians should read the Old Testament, but in a new mindset – the mindset of a new creation man. The commands tell you who you really are, even if your behavior does not always show it. Ask and trust the Lord of your behavior to change you in that area, and persevere in faith, and He will always be faithful to do it. The Spirit of God intends to take us far beyond commandments in loving God and others.
Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.