1 Although the civil and religious portions of the Mosaic Law passed away with the death and resurrection of Christ, the Ten Commandments are still in force. Because of the widespread idea that even they have been abrogated, I shall support this contention from Scripture.
Every Commandment is repeated or clearly alluded to with approval in the New Testament Epistles. Following is a list of some of their occurrences in these letters:
The First (Ex. 20:3) in 1 Cor. 8:6,
The Second (Ex. 20:4) in 1 Cor. 10:7 and 1 John 5:21,
The Third (Ex. 20:7) in 1 Tim. 1:20,
The Fourth (Ex. 20:8-11) in Mark 2:27-28,
The Fifth (Ex. 20:12) in Eph. 6:2-3,
The Sixth (Ex. 20:13) in Rom. 13:9, James 2:11 and 1 John 3:15,
The Seventh (Ex. 20:14) in Rom. 13:9, Col. 3:5, Eph. 5:3, and James 2:11,
The Eighth (Ex. 20:15) in Rom. 13:9 and Eph. 4:28,
The Ninth (Ex. 20:16) in Rom.13:9, Eph. 4:25, and Col. 3:9, and
The Tenth (Ex. 20:17) in Gal. 5:26.
Each of these verses was penned long after Christ rose from the dead. If the Commandments were no longer in force, if God did not care whether people obeyed them, then for Paul, James, and John favorably to quote or to allude to them seems strange indeed. Further, if God had done away with them, then it is not wrong in His eyes for men to worship other gods, to bow down to idols, to take His name in vain, etc. On the other hand, if He is opposed to such behavior, then the Commandments that prohibit it still stand.
Another reason the Commandments are still in force is that the New Testament defines love for one’s fellow man in terms of the Second Table of the Decalogue. Romans 13:8-10 explains that a man who loves his neighbor will obey Commandments Five through Ten toward him–if you love your neighbor, you will not murder him, commit adultery with his wife, and so on.
The Fourth Commandment is not reiterated in the Epistles, because the Jewish Sabbath laws were abrogated at the death and resurrection of Christ (Gal. 4:9-10, Col. 2:16-17). The early church began to worship on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7), for on that day Christ rose from the dead. Thus, in this sense the Lord’s Day (Sunday) has replaced the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday).
2 The other two uses are the civil and the normative (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2.7.6-12 in 1:304-309]). My purpose here is not to defend their validity, but merely to explain them.
The civil use of the Law applies to unbelievers. Although it cannot save them, it can at least restrain some of their grosser wickedness. Though they do not love the Lawgiver, they do have some fear of His wrath and, therefore, do not give themselves over to the worst of their depravity. 1 Tim. 1:8-10 asserts:
But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.
If basketball star Magic Johnson, for example, had simply obeyed the Seventh Commandment, he would not have made himself the slightest bit better in the eyes of Holy God. But neither would he be HIV positive. Even though the Law cannot save, anyone who obeys it will have a better quality of life. He who fears its warnings will enjoy this life more, even if he never comes to faith in Christ.
The lives of many of America’s youth are silent testimonies to the fact that the Law has a restraining effect upon sin. The last three decades have witnessed huge increases in the number of teenagers who become pregnant outside marriage, abort their babies, carry guns to school, are killed by guns, contract AIDS, and take their own lives. Relatively few of these tragedies occurred as recently as the early 60s.
Why the big change? Among the reasons is that the Ten Commandments were removed from the public schools. When I was a boy, the Decalogue was posted in classrooms, and students recited them. Children were taught that certain actions and attitudes were wrong in the eyes of God. Although it seems doubtful that more than a minority of those children became Christians, few committed the gross sins so common in today’s high and even junior high schools. This is the civil use of the Law.
The normative use of the law applies to Christians. When Christ saves someone, the Holy Spirit writes the Decalogue on his heart. Heb. 10:15-16 reveals: “Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them.” Note that the Holy Spirit said these things to believers. The Christian simply does not want to do many things that lost people enjoy, because the Commandments are a part of his innermost being. He delights in obeying them, not because he is a legalist, but because he loves his Lord.
3 W. T. Conner, Christian Doctrine (Nashville: Broadman, 1937), 136.
4 A fascinating account of the Law doing its work as schoolmaster appears in the testimony of David Brainerd. God mightily used the Commandments in the conversion of this soul, who, by the plan of providence, became one of the most dedicated missionaries of all time. See Jonathan Edwards, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd (Chicago: Moody Press, 1949) 64.
5 I am assuming that, had the man faced his sin and despaired of his own righteousness, Christ would then have told him to trust in Him alone. It is especially instructive to realize that the Lord Jesus, who is love incarnate, did not try to pick fruit that was not ripe. He did not chase the ruler down the road and try to talk him into making a quick profession. How many of us pastors and evangelists use His restraint?
6 I have identified six evangelistic sermons in the Book of Acts. Peter preached two to Jewish audiences (2:14-40 and 3:12-26) and one to Gentiles (10:34-43). In contrast, Paul delivered one to Jewish hearers (13:16-41) and two to Gentiles (17:22-31 and 26:2-23, although the latter–his testimony before King Agrippa–may not be a full-fledged sermon). All six sermons contain the same four basic themes, although they do not have the same amount on each point. Paul spent much more time on the nature of God in his message to pagan philosophers (17:22-31) than he did when addressing Jews (13:16-41).
A composite of these messages’ themes is as follows:
God: That He is holy, He created everything, He owns us, and He holds everyone responsible for what he does.
Sin: That it is breaking the Decalogue, and everyone breaks it.
Christ: Who He is–the sinless God-man–and what He did–die on behalf of sinners and rise from the dead.
Repentance and faith–a faith that produces obedience to God.
J. I. Packer identified these four as the essence of the Gospel in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 57-73. Sadly, most modern evangelistic sermons, tracts, and methodologies omit some of these crucial truths. If the Apostles included them, so should we.
7 Charles H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1973) 30:15-16.
8 A similar example of walking someone through the Law appears in chapter 12 of Hell’s Best Kept Secret by Ray Comfort (Whitaker House). This chapter is reproduced in the pamphlet “The Law Was Our Schoolmaster” by the same author (Living Waters Pub., P. O. Box 1172, Bellflower, CA 90706). I developed my method independently of Mr. Comfort.