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How many times have you heard that the Ten Commandments are no longer necessary today? Or that since Christ said that He came to "fulfill the law" (Matthew 5:17), Christians are not obligated to them any longer. Or that the Ten Commandments were given to Israel, not modern America. The list could go on. Many Christians, unaware as they are of the Old Testament, make all sorts of bizarre remarks to avoid facing up to the fact of God's law. The pertinent question has been phrased many different ways, but essentially it is this: "If not God's law, which law? And if not God's law, why not?" In other words, if God's law has been set aside, which one do we put in its place? And, if we claim that God's law is no longer binding on individuals, where do we get our biblical justification for claiming this? The answers have been many and varied, but they have seldom been convincing.
One of the immediate problems facing today's Christian seeking answers to this question is the constant focus and lip-service given in the modern church to "grace." It is a common misconception that "grace" is somehow at odds with "law." In our modern age of fuzzy definitions, grace has come to mean the opposite of law, in the same way that love is the opposite of hate. But the opposite of law is "lawlessness," or "anarchy," or as the book of Judges says, "every man doing what is right in his own eyes" (17:6; 21:25). And since, according to the Bible, grace is "not getting what we deserve," the opposite of grace is "getting what we rightfully deserve;" in this case, the opposite of grace would be God sending us to hell for our sins.
Some modern teachers even go so far as to speak of the "god" of the Old Testament as one of law and demands, while the "god" of the New Testament is the warm and cuddly one of grace and cupcakes. In a well-intentioned (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt) attempt to reconcile what they believe to be contradictory concepts (i.e. law and grace), they end up splitting the Bible in two, ripping the historical context and foundation of the New Testament right out from underneath it. The Old Testament is absolutely essential to a proper understanding of the New and the centrality of God's law is essential to a proper understanding of the Old. It is our sin—the breaking of God's law—that sends us to hell, not the law itself. It was God's grace, evident throughout both the Old and New Testament, that sent Christ to stand in our place—the sinless for the sinful, the innocent for the guilty. Grace was God's plan all along, as Genesis 3:15 makes abundantly clear. St. Augustine said it well: "The New is in the Old concealed and the Old is in the New revealed." The Bible is a whole, it cannot be separated.
But what about the Ten Commandments? How do these seemingly ancient laws, given to a group of desert nomads 3500 years ago apply to our modern situation of airplanes, personal computers, and indoor plumbing? Hasn't life become extremely more complex and difficult than it was for the wandering Israelites? Well, no it hasn't. Life has always been complex and difficult since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden. It is the sin in man's heart that makes life difficult, not his tools or technology (or lack thereof). God knew that life for all generations could be summed up quite easily in ten "words." In fact, Jesus even summarized the Ten down to Two: "Love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30–31). What could be simpler than two laws? Surely man can memorize and obey two simple laws, right? The entire history of mankind indicates quite clearly that he cannot.
In his new book, The Rule of Love, J.V. Fesko makes the point that the Ten Commandments should never be viewed as a stone tablet of God's "dos and don'ts," but as an eternal revelation of His love. Most Christians have trouble understanding this because the word "love"—much like grace and law—has come to mean something entirely different in our culture than what it means in the Bible. Love is obedience and commitment. Love—as defined by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13—is patient and kind and is not arrogant. It does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in truth; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Most importantly, it never fails. This is what Christians should be thinking when they say that "God is love." Love is not lawless, love is lawful. Love is doing what God commands. Jesus said if we love Him, we will obey His commandments (John 14:15). Love is trusting that God knows best and that His Word is truth. Love is the Ten Commandments.
Throughout his book, Fesko constantly reminds the reader to keep the historical, covenantal, and redemptive context of the Ten Commandments in mind. In eleven short chapters, he deals with each of the Ten Commandments separately, as well as an important introductory chapter on the Prologue to the Commandments (found in Exodus 20:1-2), which is often overlooked or given little notice in most modern discussions of the Commandments.
Fesko is also ever diligent to bring the teachings of Christ into his book. Christ taught often about and continuously challenged his first-century listeners to think through the implications of the Ten Commandments. His Sermon on the Mount is a classic example of using the Ten Commandments as a sermon illustration, driving home the point that the law has always been about the heart not mere actions. Jesus not only condemned the legalism of the Pharisees with His sermon, but also a surface level understanding of the Commandments. The point of the law has always been to drive us to Christ, a point Fesko does not let his readers easily forget.
If we recognize that we must first look to Christ when we hear the Law's condemnation of our sin, we will receive the greatest hope and assurance knowing that our standing before God is secure...we are declared righteous in God's sight by faith alone in Christ alone by God's grace alone. Through Christ and the Spirit, however, we are enabled to fulfill the law...Because of who we are in Christ, we can manifest the righteousness of the Law. (p. 134)
Confusion about the relationship of the Christian to the law is certainly evident in most churches and denominations. It is high time that Christians stopped swallowing the sugar-coated pill of being "under grace, not law" and took time to do their own study of what the Bible teaches about the subject. The Rule of Love would be a good starting place, as Dr. Fesko includes a Scripture index, review questions, and an healthy heaping of food for thought in his short but insightful study. It is by no means an exhaustive work on the topic, but it is a very good point of entry for the beginner. It is also a very good refresher course to the not-so-beginner.