Does it matter whether we obey the Ten Commandments? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could ask Yahushua if keeping the Ten Commandments is still necessary, especially to receive eternal life?
The longest chapter in the Bible is an extended praise of God’s Word and law. “Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble,” it tells us. “I wait for your salvation, O LORD, and I follow your commands. I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly” (Psalm 119:165-167, NIV).
If only the whole world would view God’s law in that light! But, to our shame, the Ten Commandments have been rejected as the standard of human behavior by our society. Even many who profess to follow the Saviour today treat them as irrelevant because they have been taught that God’s law was abolished at Yahushua’s death.
Yet God’s Word tells us that His law is “perfect” and His ordinances “are sure and altogether righteous” (Psalm 19:7, 9). Accordingly, the enthusiastic author above again affirmed, “I will always obey your law, for ever and ever” (Psalm 119:44, NIV).
Does it matter whether we obey the Ten Commandments?
Finding the answer
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could ask Yahushua if keeping the Ten Commandments is still necessary, especially to receive eternal life?
Actually, that is not as difficult as it may seem. That question was directly put to Yahushua, and the Bible preserves His reply for us. “Now behold, one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So He said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments'” (Matthew 19:16-17). That is about as clear as one can be. Yahushua said that He expects any who desire to receive the gift of eternal life to keep God’s commandments.
The person then asked exactly which commandments Yahushua meant. Did He have the Ten Commandments in mind, or was He referring to the many extrabiblical dictates taught by other religious leaders?
Yahushua left no doubt. When asked which ones, Yahushua responded: “You shall not murder,” “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “Honor your father and your mother,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (verses 18-19).
He briefly recited half of the Ten Commandments. He then quoted another command, from Leviticus 19:18, that summarizes the intent of the Ten Commandments and confirms the validity of the rest of the law. He was clearly referring to the law of God, not to the restrictions added by certain other religious leaders (Matthew 15:1-3).
Many people have heard that Yahushua abolished the Old Testament laws. Here again He gives us His own direct response:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19, NIV).
Again, Yahushua spoke clearly and to the point. God’s law has not been abolished, and, according to Messiah’s own words, anyone who teaches so is directly contradicting Him and is in serious spiritual trouble.
Many assume they do not need to keep YHWH’s law because Christ “fulfilled” it. But these people fundamentally misunderstand Yahushua’s clear words. The word translated fulfill in this passage means “to make full, to fill to the full” (Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, “Fill”), and that is exactly what Yahushua did. He perfectly kept the Ten Commandments and completely filled their meaning. He showed their spiritual intent, explaining that unjustified anger equates with murder (verses 21-22), and lust is mental and emotional adultery (verses 27-28). Yahushua expanded the intent of the Ten Commandments.
He also made it unquestionably clear that YHWH treasures people who obey His laws. But anyone who transgresses His commandments quickly diminishes God’s favor toward him.
Yahushua expects much more from us than lip service. He demands that we do as the Father has commanded. Yahushua said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Yahushua plainly taught obedience to God’s law.
There is simply no excuse for believing that Yahushua came to abolish any commandments of God. On the contrary, when asked, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”
He responded, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16-17).
He explained that obeying the Ten Commandments is a prerequisite for receiving God’s gift of eternal life. One who repents is one who simply begins keeping the laws of God, because sin is the breaking of those laws (1 John 3:4).
Peter and John teach obedience
The apostle John clearly defines sin, telling us that “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4, KJV). Like Paul, John describes the saints as “those who keep the commandments of YHWH and the faith of Yahushua” (Revelation 14:12). He also gives us this sobering warning: “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
Peter delivers a similar warning. “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Yahushua Ha’Maschiach, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:20-21).
In the final chapter of the Bible, Yahushua through the apostle John (Revelation 1:1) reminds us of the supreme importance of God’s commandments to our eternal life. “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14).
It is important that we believe what Jesus and His apostles said about their own view of the commandments of God. Once that is clear to us, then the reasonings of men cannot deter us from respecting and obeying those commandments from the heart.
YHWH said to Moses, “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29). And Yahushua said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).
Remember the advice in the first Psalm: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of YHWH, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper” (Psalm 1:1-3).
The choice is ours
Each person must choose whether to obey the living God, who gave us the Ten Commandments. His standards can be the guidelines for our thoughts, the yardstick for our behavior. They can shape our minds and hearts. Or we can ignore them and choose another way.
In making our decision, we should remember Yahushua’s words: “. . . If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). YHWH admonishes us to consider our choice. “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love YHWH your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments . . . I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy 30:15-19).
DOES THE NEW COVENANT ABOLISH THE COMMANDMENTS?
The Bible tells us that Yahushua came as the Mediator of a new covenant (Hebrews 8:6). The popular belief that the New Covenant abolishes YHWH’s law reflects a misunderstanding of both covenants. YHWH tells us that He altered the original covenant and made “a better covenant, which was established on better promises” (verse 6). But it was not established on different laws. The law stayed the same.
There was, however, a weakness, or fault, in the original covenant. That fault was with the people, not with the law. “Because finding fault with them, He says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says YHWH, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah'” (verse 8). It was because the people “did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says YHWH” (verse 9).
In the Old Covenant YHWH wrote the law on tablets of stone. It was external, not part of the thinking and motives of the people. It was in their literature but not in their hearts. In the New Covenant YHWH writes the law in the minds and hearts of His people (Hebrews 8:10; Jeremiah 31:33-34).
To enable people to internalize His law—to love it and obey it eagerly and willingly—YHWH makes this promise: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). God’s Spirit enables His people to obey His laws.
People lacking the Holy Spirit are incapable of wholehearted obedience. Why? “Because the carnal mind is enmity against YHWH; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please YHWH” (Romans 8:7-8).
This is why the Old Covenant and the New Covenant differ. Paul explains that “what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh” God has accomplished by sending Yahushua, who overcame the flesh and “condemned sin [lawlessness] in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4; see also 1 John 3:4).
The International Critical Commentary, in reference to Romans 8:4, says: “God’s purpose in ‘condemning’ sin was that His law’s requirement might be fulfilled in us, that is, that his law might be established in the sense of at last being truly and sincerely obeyed—the fulfillment of the promises of Jer 31:33 and Ezek 36:26.1.”
In a footnote to Jeremiah 31:33-34 the commentary explains that this passage “is often misunderstood as a promise of a new law to take the place of the old or else as a promise of a religion without law at all. But the new thing promised in v. 33 is, in fact, neither a new law nor freedom from law, but a sincere inward desire and determination on the part of God’s people to obey the law already given to them …”
The following passages in the New Testament confirm, either explicitly or by example, that Yahuahua and the apostles viewed the Ten Commandments as a necessary part of Christian living.
First Commandment: Matthew 4:10; 22:37-38.
Second Commandment: 1 John 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 10:7, 14; Ephesians 5:5.
Third Commandment: Matthew 5:33-34; 7:21-23; Luke 11:2; 1 Timothy 6:1.
Fourth Commandment: Luke 4:16; Acts 13:14, 42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4; Hebrews 4:4, 9.
Fifth Commandment: Matthew 15:3-6; 19:17-19; Ephesians 6:2-3.
Sixth Commandment: Matthew 5:21-22; 19:17-18; Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:19-21; James 2:10-12.
Seventh Commandment: Matthew 5:27-28; 19:17-18; Romans 13:9; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 10:8; Ephesians 5:5; Galatians 5:19-21; James 3:10-12.
Eighth Commandment: Matthew 19:17-18; Romans 13:9, Ephesians 4:28
Ninth Commandment: Matthew 19:17-18; Romans 13:9; Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:25
Tenth Commandment: Luke 12:15; Romans 7:7; 13:9; Ephesians 5:3, 5.
YAHUSHUA’S NEW COMMANDMENT
Yahushua said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). Did Yahushua replace the clear definitions of the Ten Commandments with a new religious principle: that love alone can guide our lives?
Does this new commandment supersede the Ten Commandments and replace all other biblical laws? Yahushua clearly answered this fundamental question when He said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets” (Matthew 5:17).
Yet many people who believe in Yahushua as their Savior also believe this new commandment frees them from any obligation to obey God’s laws.
They misunderstand what Yahushua said and meant. The Holy Scriptures, in the Old and New Testaments, teach that we should love each other (Leviticus 19:18). Yahushua did not introduce love as a new principle. That was already in the Bible and a fundamental part of YHWH’s instruction to ancient Israel.
What, then, was new in Yahushua’s “new commandment”? Notice His wording. He said we are to “love one another; as I have loved you …”
What was new was His own example of love! The whole world has, in Yahushua, a perfect model of the love of YHWH in Messiah’s perfect example of loving obedience. Yahushua loved us so much that He sacrificed His own life for us. He Himself explained: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Yahushua came as the light of the world to illuminate the application and practice of the royal law of love. We no longer have an excuse for saying we don’t understand what to do or how to do it. He demonstrated what loving obedience is all about: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).
We comply with Yahushuas’ new commandment when we obey every commandment of YHWH in a genuinely loving manner and are willing to risk our lives for the sake of others.