That’s a shock. Aren’t we supposed to obey the Ten Commandments? Well … only if you don’t do something else first.
The sweeping plan of God for your entire life and for all of humanity can be shown in these steps.
It’s a panoramic view of the Bible.
For various translations, go to biblegateway.com.
1. Direct knowledge of God
It is seen in the Garden of Eden and God’s perfectly intimate relationship with the first humans, Adam and Eve, our parents. God walked in the Garden with them and communed with them. He was their guide and teacher about knowledge and truth. He was their guide, bringing them to himself. He was their conscience. They didn’t need their own conscience.
2. Knowledge degraded
But then the snake—picked up in Christian Scriptures as Satan—told womankind that she needs the knowledge of good and evil, in other words, to develop her own sense of right and wrong apart from God. The snake told her she needed her own conscience. God was withholding this human-centered gift from her.
Then the Fall (Gen. 2:15-3:24). Intimacy degrades, except in bits and pieces for a remnant (no. 3, next).
In fact, God wiped out all of humanity, except one remnant, in the Flood (Gen. 6-9).
Talk about a big failure on humankind’s part!
Humankind was (and is) broken. That’s the big failure.
God came up with a new way to handle human reality–its deep flaws.
3. Knowledge of God through the Sinai Covenant and law-keeping
The Ten Commandments are God’s Great Compromise with humankind’s big failure.
However, there’s an immediate problem. Can anyone perfectly keep, say, the Tenth Commandment—not to covet? It goes right to desire. Who doesn’t covet once in a while? You may not act on your covetousness every time, but don’t you get in the rat race to keep up with your neighbor because you want what he has?
What about the First Commandment that says not to worship other gods? Didn’t ancient Israel fail by disobeying this standard? Didn’t they incorporate Canaanite deities into the worship of Yahweh? Didn’t an Israelite king sacrifice a child (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6; cf. 23:10 when the Law told them not to do this (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5)?
Israel failed to keep the Law of Moses. They suffered his judgment, but not before God sent prophets to warn them of it.
4. Prophecy about a new path toward intimacy with God
God needed another way to help people.
Those verses in Jeremiah promise the New Covenant, one that is written on the heart. It will save us from judgment for our failures and sins.
5. Knowledge of God through the New Covenant and life in the Spirit
Christ ushered in the New Covenant, ratified it with his blood, much like various Old Covenants; for example, the Abrahamic one (Genesis 15) was ratified with an animal sacrifice.
For Paul, life in the Spirit is the Renewed Ideal in Eden of sorts–even better, now that Christ ushered in the New Covenant. We can enjoy God being the source of our conscience.
The classical verses in Galatians 5 for the life in the Spirit that produces the fruit of holy living, which used to be commanded of us by the Old Law of Moses, are as follows:
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. (Gal. 5:16-18)
Note the last sentence: When you are being led by the Spirit, you are not under law, and in the context of the entire epistle the Law of Moses is included in the general category.
Another great passage is 2 Corinthians 3:7-18. It’s quite a stark contrast between the two ways: life in Christ v. life under the fading glory of the Ten Commandments.
Paul was indeed talking about the Ten Commandments and their fading glory in 2 Cor. 3:7-18, for these two verses side-by-side say so: 2 Cor. 3:3 and Exodus 34:28. The tablets of stones in both verses refer to the material on which the Ten Commandments were carved.
For the believers, it’s all about being in Christ, not their law-keeping.
6. Knowledge of God and the mixture of flawed humanity
You’re walking along in the Spirit. Then bam! You fall in love with someone other than your spouse. You even believe the Spirit led you to this other person.
You’re deceived. Now what?
For Spirit-filled believers who sometimes walk in the flesh and confusion and ignorance—who are sometimes overcome by human reality that pulls them down, and who refuse to see the right path, the New Covenant Scriptures are filled with commands.
These verses are given in the imperative in Greek. Imperative means command (for examples, see Ephesians 4-6 and watch for the commands).
The Ten Commandments and other biblical moral law are for Spirit-filled believers (and people in society) who are still stuck in harsh and confusing and sinful reality. For an adulterer, the Sixth Commandment applies–don’t commit it.
But in no way are you distant from God in your failure. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more (Rom. 5:20). He’s right there with you.
For biblical references that say Spirit-filled believers who live in confusion and ignorance can be placed under these commands, please click on The Language of Law in Paul, written by yours truly (scroll down to no. 14).
Also see: The Law in Paul’s Theology
But usually these New Testament commands are reminders of what we should do in our daily life; they’re not always about our big personal failings.
How does this post help me know God better and grow in Christ?
The answer is seen in this summary:
- Humankind was perfectly intimate with God in the Garden.
- Humankind failed–big.
- The Old Law of Moses embodied in the Ten Commandments is God’s Great Compromise with humanity’s big failure. People are confused, so they need the Law, as a child needs a guardian (Gal. 3:23-29).
- In addition to the Ten Commandments, you have all sorts of moral commands in the New Testament to guide you out of your confusion or in your regular daily life.
- However, here’s the higher way: God bestows on you grace and love and the free gift of righteousness by faith, not by works or law-keeping. You are now fully grown sons and daughters, not children or slaves needing the guardian-law (Gal. 4:1-7).
- Therefore, the ideal and best path for all of us is to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-25), the restoration of intimacy with God, reflected in Genesis before the Fall. The Spirit in us cries, “Abba, Father!” a cry of intimacy (Gal. 4:1-7).
The Law–the Ten Commandments and the moral law in the New Testament–comes in second to life in the Spirit. And certainly we don’t keep the laws to gain approval from God. He already loves us, even when–especially when–we admit we can’t keep his rules and then call out to him for grace and mercy.