God’s Commands

The Law is Good

Our generation has witnessed great social upheaval. Part of the legacy of the 1960’s has been the abandonment of any absolute moral standards. As with most other harmful trends, what takes place in society at large also infects the professing church of Jesus Christ. Whereas for centuries devout Protestant Christians have believed that the law and commandments of God have great relevance for their lives and conduct, it is now widespread opinion among evangelical Christians that this is no longer the case. Professing Christians glibly and gladly quote texts such as Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace,” and presume that it means that they never have to worry about any “Thou shalt not’s” again!

Such emancipated and enlightened souls despise, sneer at, or simply ignore the law which David, Christ, and Paul said they loved. David said that it is a mark of the godly man that “his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night”(Psalm 1:2). Someone might say, “But this is the attitude of an Old Testament saint !” That’s right; but it is also the attitude of the Lord Jesus Himself. If we will read our whole Bible, we will discover that David’s words in Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart,” were not simply David’s sentiment, but that they echo what is in the Messiah’s own heart (see Hebrews 10:5-7). Paul said that he delighted in the law of God in the inward man (Romans 7:22). Whereas many today say that the law is useless, negative, and harmful, Paul said that it is “holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12).

May God transform us by the renewing of our minds according to his word so that we will reflect not the godless and anarchistic attitude of the world toward his holy law, but the attitude of our Blessed Redeemer, who said it was his very food and drink to do his Father’s will as revealed in his commandments (John 4:34; 15:9-11).

Many Christians Ignorant of the Law’s Place

Are you a Christian who looks at God’s commands as something negative, burdensome and undesirable? Do you conclude therefore that they don’t apply to you? What is truly sad and ironic is that in some ways the world has a better theology when it comes to God’s laws and commandments than much of the professing church!

Once some years ago, the writer was driving down the freeway, and a car flew past going quite a few miles per hour in excess of the speed limit. The bumper sticker on the speeding vehicle proclaimed something to the effect that the car’s occupants were enjoying their freedom in Christ! Assuming that the car was not stolen, the driver seemed to be indicating his conviction that the commandment, “Honor your father and mother”—which means we must submit to all human authority—didn’t apply to him. Nor did such a command as, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1; cf. 1 Peter 2:13-14). When the world sees those who claim to follow Christ flagrantly disregarding His commands, their response is not to drool over the prospect that they might someday have such freedom for themselves. It is rather to call such people hypocrites! The world does not view the “Christian” fornicator, thief, murderer, or liar as liberated--let alone virtuous; rather, he views him as what he really is—a hypocrite. Why is this? It is because the world is discerning enough to know that someone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is obligated to follow God’s commandments (see 1 John 2:3-6).

Many professing Christians could learn something from Ted Koppel (who is no promoter of evangelical Christianity). Mr. Koppel, host of ABC’s Nightline, once lamenting our culture’s general lack of respect for authority and disdain for any moral absolutes, said, “When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai, it was not with the Ten Suggestions—it was with the Ten Commandments.” Think about it.

The Law Given by a Loving Father

One of the reasons that God’s commands have fallen into disfavor, even among those who call themselves Christ’s disciples, is that such folks think of the word commandment as synonymous with harshness, severity, and oppression. What Christians must remember, however, is that the commandments are God’s commandments. It is the Lord who is our Master. Our master is not Pharaoh, who made the Israelites produce bricks without providing them with straw. God’s commands are the commands of a loving Father. This is why Jesus could say, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). And this is why he could recommend that we take the same attitude toward His Father’s law: “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. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10-11).

Furthermore, our master is not Satan. The differences between Satan’s lordship and God’s are that 1) Satan has no commands for us to keep—he would rather we simply do as we wish; and 2) his service really is harsh—it leads to death (Romans 6:15-23; 8:12-13)! No, our Master is God, our heavenly Father. And because He is wise (He knows what’s good for us) and loving (He does what’s best for us), He gives us good and wise commands. Every Christian is a slave, then! The key is that he is Christ’s slave—not Pharaoh’s, not Satan’s, and not his own! He is God’s slave, and he boasts about it (cf. Romans 1:1; James 1:1; Jude 1:1, etc.).

Because every true Christian is God’s slave, and because God’s law is good, and because God causes his children to love his commands, the Christian has the relationship to God that is pictured in Exodus 21. There, the servant has the opportunity to go free, but instead he says, “I love my master, . . . I will not go out free.” Then it says, “his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever” (Exodus 21:5-6). May the Lord impart to us all such love for Him and His service.

Obedience to God’s Law Consistent with Grace

One of the reasons so many people have difficulty with the notion that Christians are obligated to keep God’s commandments is that they think that keeping commandments is contrary to salvation by grace. But the problem is really one of ignorance regarding the clear teaching of the Bible.

We must begin with the fact that the Bible teaches salvation by grace—that is, salvation is the work of God, not of men. You could never earn salvation. No matter how much you do, you will never deserve the favor of God. “By grace you have been saved . . . ; not of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9; cf. Titus 3:5). Give up every notion that you can ever even add to the worth and merit of Christ’s work, let alone save yourself.

At the same time, the Bible clearly teaches that Christians are under obligation to keep God’s laws and commands. It teaches this when it gives us commands instead of suggestions, when it makes demands instead of requests, when it prohibits things instead of simply warning against them, when it makes threats and lays down ultimatums instead of telling us what a nice thing it would be if we could find it in our hearts to do what is pleasing to God. Consider these statements: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15); “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). If you know your Bible at all, you know that these are not rare statements, but statements that are characteristic of the New Testament.

The Bible teaches that salvation is by grace alone. It also teaches that Christians must obey God’s commandments. The problem is not that there is a contradiction in the Scriptures. The problem may be that our Pharisaic hearts do not like the thought that we are obliged to do things for which we receive no credit!

Do you have a hard time trying to figure out how it can be that a Christian cannot be saved by works, but that he still must keep God’s commandments? Part of the problem is our sinful flesh. We all have enough remaining sin that we would make perfect Pharisees. That is, if we are going to be required to do something, we want to receive credit for it. When we are told that we are saved by grace, that means we get no credit for what we ourselves do. So when we hear that we must obey God, we say, “No, we don’t have to—we’re saved by grace!” I mean, who wants to do something for nothing, anyways?

If a Christian takes God’s commandments seriously and strives to keep them, how does he avoid the notion that he is earning his salvation and avoid the trap of falling into a works-righteousness? First of all, a true Christian is someone whom God has taught that he cannot save himself. So he has given up the religion of the Pharisee and now confesses that all his “righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). He trusts in Christ alone to save him. Secondly, even when he does obey, he does it out of thanksgiving to God for His having saved him. As Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments”(John 14:15). The Christian has a strong desire to show his love to the one who saved him, and Jesus tells him the best way to show that love: keep His commandments. There is no thought of earning anything or of obtaining merit, only of pleasing the Savior.

Furthermore, the Christian is conscious that the strength in which he obeys God and keeps His commandments does not come from himself—it is God’s own power which enables him. As the apostle said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). Even the desire to do God’s will comes ultimately from God and not from us! This is how the Christian can strive with all his heart and soul and strength and mind to obey his Lord and not be guilty of legalism. May God enable us all to believe the truth—the whole truth—and l ove it. And may none of us be guilty of taking credit for our obedience on the one hand, or of resenting and neglecting God’s commands on the other.