Most believers agree that we should keep the Savior’s commandments. The divergence in understanding comes when we try to answer the question: Which commandments does He mean?
We see wisdom and benefit to following His instructions regarding faithfulness to our spouse, kindness to our enemies, and integrity in our word. We have been taught that these “moral” commandments still stand, but that the “ceremonial” and “civil” laws have been abolished. But is this actually what He taught?
To find out, we can read on a bit further in this same chapter of John.
The words of the Savior were the words of the Father.
“Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:24)
The Savior didn’t speak His own words, but the words of the Father. He wants us to follow the words of the Father. And what exactly were the words of the Father?
When the Father gathered Israel together to speak His commandments to them, He said to Moses:
‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.’ (Deuteronomy 4:10)
All the words that followed were written down by Moses!
In case this doesn’t quite convince you, let’s look at another verse that proves this same thing.
The commandments of the Savior were the same commandments the Father gave to Moses.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
What exactly did he command to be observed? The answer can be found just five chapters earlier.
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” (Matthew 23:1-3)
When I first understood what it was the the Savior was saying here it blew my mind!
The scribes and Pharisees would sit in a special seat called the seat of Moses, where they would read from Moses’ writings. The Savior says, “Do and observe whatever they read from the law of Moses. But don’t follow after the example of the scribes and Pharisees, because they preach the law rightly, but they don’t practice it.”
The Savior tells us to follow the law as written by Moses, and He condemns the Pharisees for having the law but not doing it!
This makes perfect sense in light of other things He said regarding the Scribes/Pharisees and the law:
- “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said … But you say … thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” (Mark 7:8-13)
- “[Like whitewashed tombs] So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:28)
- “If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46)
The Savior’s highly favorable disposition towards the law also makes perfect sense in light of His self-stated purpose in regard to the law.
The Savior didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fully preach it.
“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. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes 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 does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19)
We usually think of the word “fulfill” as meaning “ending” or “finishing.” In our minds, the Savior didn’t abolish the law, but He did it perfectly so that it was finished upon His resurrection. (Which in all actuality is just a gentler way of saying that He abolished it.)
But when we look at all that the Savior taught in his ministry on earth and combine that with an examination of the meaning of the word “pleroo” which was translated “fulfill” in this verse, we come up with an understanding that doesn’t contradict any other part of scripture: The Savior taught the law in fullness, in its pure form. He obeyed all the commandments written down by Moses and taught His disciples to also obey them because He is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (“Whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” v.19)
For the purposes of this post, we’ll leave it at that for now, but a very interesting, more detailed study on this verse is coming.
The understanding that the Savior wants us to keep His commandments, which are the commandments of the Father, which are the commandments written down by Moses, fits in perfectly with the concept of the New Covenant.
The New Covenant is an internalization of the Old Covenant.
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
In Christianity, the New Covenant is usually made to be something entirely separate from the Old Covenant. It seems that we have missed the point that the New Covenant was going to put the law on our hearts.
We believe that God isn’t really concerned anymore with the mundane issues of clothing, food, and specific days of worship and rest that He was so “hung up on” in the Old Covenant. We believe that we can disregard these literal, physical commands because He was really getting at deeper spiritual issues.
But according to scripture, God is really concerned with the mundane issues of our lives. He has always been after a physically and spiritually set-apart people. He gives physical commands that do impart spiritual wisdom to the discerning (like these for instance), but He never minimizes the physical requirements.
God’s plan for the New Covenant was actually to give us a new heart upon which He would write His law and to give us His Spirit to cause us to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules (Ezekiel 36:26-28). He was never planning to discontinue His laws. He wanted them to be even more ingrained in us so that we would cherish them just as we cherish Him. He wanted them engraved on our very hearts.
No such thing as “moral” vs “ceremonial” vs “civil” laws
Add to all of this the fact that there is no Biblical mention of “moral” laws or “ceremonial” laws or “civil” laws, and the picture becomes pretty clear. To God, His law – all of it – is His law. And He wants His people to obey it.
But somewhere along the way, men have devised an un-Biblical distinction in the law to show that we are not obligated to the majority of the commandments given by God in the Old Testament.
Take the 10 commandments, for example. Christianity has determined that nine of these commandments are “moral” laws that still stand, while the Sabbath law is a “ceremonial” law that no longer applies. But how did this differentiation come to be? Was there any indication in God’s word that this was so? Quite to the contrary, there is ample evidence that the Sabbath will continue on even past His second coming.
To be clear, there are certainly commandments that only apply to certain people. There are commandments for the priests that do not apply to anyone else. There are commandments for women that do not apply to men. There are commandments that apply to the temple, which doesn’t exist today.
But when men take commandments, like the Sabbath, that apply to everyone (sons, daughters, male servants, female servants, livestock, and sojourners) and create a distinction so that we no longer “have” to obey it, we are on very dangerous ground. We are walking in the way of the Pharisees who left the commandments of God to cling to their own traditions.
More on the Sabbath issue soon, too.
This is a great 3 minute video by 119 ministries that also explores the man-made division of the law.
For the dubious…
For those who are still not convinced, I have an upcoming series just for you where we’ll explore New Testament verses commonly used to show that the law has been altered or abolished. So, stay tuned!