5 Modern Myths About the Ten Commandments
1. The Moral Law is The Ten Commandments
One of the things that inspired this post was reading the counter-arguments CharismaMagazine posted against Hyper-Grace. In one of their more popular posts, 8 Signs of Hyper-Grace Churches, the author, Joseph Mattera, uses “the Law” interchangeably with “Ten Commandments.”
I’ve seen countless Christians make this same mistake, thinking that when the Bible speaks of the Law it’s only (or mostly only) referring to the Ten Commandments.
The disheartening truth is that although the Ten Commandments are a part of the Law, they’re a very small part. In fact, There are a total of 613 Laws in the old covenant, and the Ten Commandments only make up 1.6% of that total! Click To Tweet Worse yet, if you break even one of that 1.6%, you’re guilty of breaking it all.
To speak of the Ten Commandments as if they are the sum of the Law is deceptive, to say the least. Look what Paul told Galatians.
“For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” – Gal. 3:10
And look what James told those he was writing to.
If you try to live by the Ten, you're required to live by the other 603 as well. - James 2:10 Click To Tweet You can’t say, “I try my best to keep the Ten Commandments!” but have tattoos, piercings, enjoy bacon, or even wear T-shirts that are 50% cotton / 50% polyester.
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” – James 2:10
Do you enjoy the smell of bacon in the morning? Guess what? You’re guilty of breaking the whole Law!
“He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart.” – C. S. Lewis
The Law is all or nothing, not pick and choose. You either obey or break every jot and tittle, there is no in between. It’s no wonder Paul said people who try to live that way are under a curse! (Gal. 3:10)
2. Grace Gives Us The Ability To Uphold The Ten Commandments
People say, “Grace doesn’t take away the Law, it gives us the ability to obey the Law!” I agree with the saying in a sense, but most people who say this kind of thing are trying to defend their own efforts to obey the Law, which misses grace entirely.
Titus 2:11-12 says “Grace teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness.” The focus there is on grace, not Law.
Christ came to take our focus away from the Law because the Law puts our focus on us instead of Him. The Law makes us self-conscious instead of Christ-conscious. Click To Tweet As as Adam showed us in the very beginning, a self-conscious man runs from God, not towards Him.
When we acknowledge who we are in Jesus, we uphold the Law by nature because it’s “written on our hearts.” (Heb. 10:16) It’s not because grace compels us to try harder than ever.
“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” – Romans 8:3-4
All the requirements of the Law have already been met in us. Not because of our own effort to obey, or a stronger resolve to obey the rulebook (both of which is living according to the flesh), but because we have “resolved to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2.)
One of the natural responses to Jesus is saying no to ungodliness. Not out of a pressure to please God, but out of an acknowledgment that you and Him are one. (I’ve written more about the issue of sin here.)
3. Christ Didn’t Come to Abolish The Law (i.e. The Ten Commandments)
One of the most popular counter-arguments to the “modern grace message” is where people use Matt. 5:17 to say, “Jesus came to fulfill the law, not abolish it! We’re not under Law, BUT we still have to keep it!”
Firstly, that would have been like God telling the Israelites, “You don’t live in Egypt anymore, but you still have to live by their rules!” How much sense does that make? We’re in an entirely new country.
Secondly, look at the definition of “fulfill” in Strong’s concordance.
Christ came to fulfill the Law, yes, but in the context of His ministry this meant to complete the Law (live up to it), and to preach the Law in its fullness.
Let me elaborate.
The Pharisees (like many today) watered-down the Law and made it sound doable to feel like they could accomplish it on their own. Consequently they defeated the purpose of the Law: to bring you to the end of yourself upon realizing that no matter how spiritually-minded you think you are, you will never fulfill the Law!
Read the Sermon on the Mount from beginning to end and you’ll see that Jesus starts out by making the Law harder than they thought it was.
“You heard it said ‘don’t cheat on your wives’? Ha! If you even think of another woman lustfully, buddy, you’ve done the deed!”
“You heard it said ‘do not murder or you’ll be judged’? Well if you even get angry at your brother, you will receive judgment.”
Over and over, “You have heard it said (easy-peasy)… but I tell you (impossible).”
Now look carefully. You’ll see that Jesus is transitioning away from principles of the Law and into principles of the Kingdom (“turn the other cheek,” “give to anyone who asks,” etc.).
He’s talking to an old covenant Jewish audience and leading them in repentance with some well-placed sleight-of-hand. While they’re focusing on the new-found impossibility of keeping the Law—and likely finally feeling the true weight of the impossibility—He quickly switches out the old bad news for the new good news, planting new covenant seeds in the freshly tilled soil of old covenant minds. And at the proper time He will reap His harvest.
It’s wisdom. It’s the way Hollywood leads you in film, and you never see it coming! Do you notice that before the happy ending there’s always a climax of drama?
A boy and girl who grew up together will get along great, then one day their relationship will fall apart and everything will get sad, but then they inevitably get back together. The happiness of the ending is emphasized by the emotional roller-coaster you just went through with their break-up. What’s better? When you see them happy together, you forget all about the breakup!
The bad news, the tear-jerking, emotional roller-coaster is that you could never keep the law. You will never get to God by keeping a list of rules or doing a bunch of spiritual chores. So sad! How will I ever get to God if I can’t obey the rules and do all the things my teachers said I need to do to keep him pleased and happy? Good news! Jesus did all of that for you!
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, – Eph. 2:6
And, God raised us up with Christ, and [God] seated us with him in heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
How did you get to God? Through your own will and determination? Through your own fasting and praying? Nope! You hitched a ride to the Father in the big-enough-to-fit-all-of-creation vehicle of Jesus.
Christ is the happy ending that makes you forget about the Law. Not so you can go live without the law, because all of the law is now written internally on your heart, instead of externally on stones and scrolls. But it’s not longer the focus, Jesus is.
Back to the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus wasn’t encouraging them to try harder to obey the Law, He was discouraging them from thinking they could keep it at all. We see this in the example where He said the only way they could avoid lusting after a woman would be to cut off their hands and gouge out their eyes.
“That was an illustration!”
Indeed. It was an illustration of how impossible it is to keep the Law. That if you want to keep it, you better start cutting body parts off and get a lobotomy, because a single lustful thought in your heart makes you guilty of breaking, not just the Ten, but the whole Law.
Is the Law Obsolete?
So is the Law “abolished”? In the English sense of the word, yes. In the Greek sense of the word (is it destroyed?), no. But it only remains in place for unbelievers (1 Timothy 1:9), to be used as Jesus used it in the Sermon on the Mount.
We don’t force people to obey the Law through threats and fear, but we show them through love and Grace that they could never get to God that way.
It doesn’t matter if you are a good person. I’ve met tons and tons of good people who are Atheists, or other religions. Good isn’t the point, it’s the problem! Everyone, whether they believe in Jesus or not, thinks that their being good should earn them good things. But that leads straight on through to ego again because hey! I did a gooder thing than this other guy, so I deserve a better reward! (Matt. 20:12)
Just look at the internet when a celebrity says or does something silly. Everyone gets in on publically shaming and humiliating them. In emphasizing their bad, my good look that much better! Good isn’t always a good thing when it comes from conceit.
Through the Law we only get the good (or bad) that we deserve; through Christ we get the good that He deserves. It’s a way better deal!
When the Law is preached properly it will lead to faith in Christ (who all of the Law is fulfilled in). Don’t mistake that for fear because you’re coercing people into obeying the demands of the Law so they don’t receive His wrath. It’s not the same.
4. Going Back to the Ten Commandments Will Save America From God’s Wrath
Nowadays it’s common to hear popular preachers say that because of homosexuality and abortion, all of the natural disasters that happen (even terrorist attacks) are because God is angry at people who have turned from His laws. The only remedy to this problem is to plaster The Ten Commandments on the front of our courthouses, otherwise watch out!
This idea again takes the focus away of Jesus. It says that His work wasn’t good enough, and in order to keep God off of our backs we still need to try really hard to not only keep those Laws, but put them out in public places to ward off the wrath of God like a malevolent spirit.
Can you see how silly that is? It makes obedience to the Law the standard for God’s grace instead of understanding that Christ Himself is the standard.
Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but through me.” We get to the Father through Jesus, not Moses. [tweetable alt=””]We get grace because of who He is, not what we do. (Rom. 11:6)[/tweetable]
5. The Ten Commandments Are the Moral Standard For Right Living
Another major error made in the “8 Signs of Hyper-Grace Churches” article is referring to the Ten Commandments as the moral standard for right living.
The implications that come along with this statement are that we should focus our own effort on living up to the Law (the Ten commandments, as defined by the author) instead of focusing on Christ’s effort fulfilled in us.
Is each individual Law the moral standard for living? No. Do you think wearing only 100% cotton T-shirts makes you anymore holy? Who does that benefit? The point is not the details but the overall objective.
What’s the primary goal of the whole Law?
Paul gave many reasons for why the Law was given: to increase sin-consciousness (Rom. 3:20), to increase sin (Rom. 5:20), to hold people over until the time of faith (Galatians 3:24-25), and more. And what did Jesus say? “These scriptures all point to me.” (John 5:39) Any interpretation of scripture that doesn't find its conclusion in Christ is flawed. Click To Tweet If your interpretation of the Law points to you, it’s an inaccurate interpretation.
Christ fulfilled every detail of the Law, but He also told us the sum of the Law: “love God and love your neighbor.”
What does “sum of the Law” mean? It means that if you put all 613 Laws into a math equation and added them up, the answer you would get is, “love God and love your neighbor.”
In other words, the entire purpose of everythe Law is to point you to one goal: love God and love others. It’s not merely about keeping a collection of rules just to be keeping a collection of rules, it’s about love.
The Pharisees kept the Law, but they missed “love God and love people,” so their efforts were in vain. But it’s really not their fault because the Law is powerless to change the heart of anyone.
Look at the equation to the left. Which of those numbers is most important? The answer (18), right? The two 9’s are useful to get me to the answer, but I only need them until that point. After that my focus changes. Does it mean the equation (9+9) is bad? Of course not! Those numbers did their job and pointed me to the answer.
However once I’ve found the answer, I have everything I was looking for.
You don’t write the whole equation on your tax form before you send it in, you only write the answer you get from the equation because that’s the only part that’s important. The government doesn’t care how you got to the answer as long as it’s accurate.
In the same way, people don’t need to know every detail of the Law, they only need to know the sum.Most people already have their own equations (questions), what they’re looking for is the solution.
Each individual command of the Law was important for its purpose (it gave an equation that led to the answer), but now that we know the answer, it’s pointless to return to each individual rule that made up the equation.
“So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” – Galatians 3:24-25
The Law promotes fear of punishment, which hinders you from being made perfect in love.
Since with the Law you get good when you keep it and bad when you don’t, you’re constantly anticipating punishment and failure. But perfect love drives out fear when we realize that in this world we are like Jesus.
Let that sink in for a moment. The Father treats you no differently than He treats His Son.
We love because He first loved us. His love for us is never a response to our love for Him, but on the contrary our love for Him and others is a response to His love for us.
If you’re lacking love and living in fear, you don’t need more Laws, you need more love. By that I mean you need to figure out how much you are already loved! How do you do that? Read scripture and look at how the Father loves His Son—He loves you just the same! (1 John 4:17-19)