Are The Commandments Still Relevant?
In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul compared two ways of being made right, or justified before God: Law and Faith. Those who sought to be justified by Law believed that by keeping the commandments, they could make themselves acceptable to God. This, Paul said, is not possible because no one can ever keep the commandments perfectly and everyone who attempts to justify themselves in this way will come up short. “By the works of the Law,” he concluded, “no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight” (Rom. 3:20).
While law-keeping cannot justify us, Paul went on to say, faith in the work of Christ can: “Now the righteousness of God has been made known apart from the Law…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:21-24). The good news of the gospel is that God does not demand that we justify ourselves by keeping the commandments, something we could never do. Rather, in his grace, he has provided justification for us by offering his son as a sacrifice for our sin; and he offers it to us as a gift. We are justified, then, not by keeping the commandments, but by trusting in what God has done for us through Christ.
This wonderful truth has led many to conclude that God’s gracious gift of justification through faith in Christ has rendered the commandments obsolete and irrelevant. Paul anticipated this line of thinking, asking, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Rom. 6:16a). He answered that question emphatically, saying “By no means!” (Rom. 6:16b). His point is clear: the fact that we are not justified by keeping the commandments does not render them unnecessary.
Paul goes on to explain that the commandments were never meant to justify us. Rather, their purpose is to teach us how to be godly. Before we were justified we were slaves to sin, and no amount of law-keeping could change that. Now that we have been justified, however, we have become slaves to righteousness, and the commandments teach us what righteousness is. So, he said, “you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18). Obedience to God’s commands cannot justify us, then, but it is still a vital part of a life of faith. As James said, “faith itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jas. 2:17). In other words, we show ourselves to be people of authentic faith, who have been set free from slavery to sin, by living as “slaves” to righteousness, which God defines for us through his commands.
The commandments, then, are tremendously important, because they help us to understand what a life of obedience to God looks like, but it is about more than a mere “slavery” of obedience. The commandments instruct us not only about what God wants of us, but about how to live well. Good parents do not give commands to their children because they want slavish obedience from them. Rather, the commands we give our children are intended to protect them from hurting themselves and others, and to guide them into a life that is good and healthy.
In the same way, the commandments God has given us contain the wisdom of God to teach us how to live well. As the psalmist has said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). The commandments teach us how to live; how to love God; and how to love our neighbor (Mt. 22:36-40).
Far from being obsolete and irrelevant, then, the commandments show us the way to life because they offer the wisdom of God as our guide. Thanks be to God, not only for the gift of justification which makes it possible for us to be reconciled to God, but also for the gift of his commands to guide us in the way of truth and life!
Pastor Jon EnrightMarch 1, 2020