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Have God's Moral Laws Disappeared?

A Study of the Moral Laws Still Relevant for Believers

Ten Commandments

by Dennis Pollock

Many people do not associate Jesus with a moral code or the idea of divine commandments. Since He came as an emissary of grace, they assume He surely is not interested in telling us what to do, or especially in rebuking us for wrong behavior. Indeed, in their minds wrong behavior and unlawful actions hardly exist anymore. Our one commandment is to believe in Jesus, and having believed we are no longer liable for our actions past, present or future.

Such folks would do well to look a little more closely at the gospels. Jesus did and still does have a morality which He espouses and demands. The concepts of right and wrong are as relevant today as they were when Moses received the ten commandments on that awesome and fiery mountain so long ago. It is certainly true that we are not saved by keeping God's commands, but neither are we exempted from embracing them and following them just as we follow Jesus. The Jewish ceremonial law has passed away for the believer in Christ and we are free from the guilt of eating ham sandwiches, enjoying a lobster dinner, wearing shirts made of two different fabrics, or failing to appear before the Lord three times yearly in Jerusalem. But this does not mean that all the divine commandments are meaningless to Jesus and those who would follow Him. To trust in Jesus and to follow Him as Master is to receive not only Him personally, but also His words and commands. Jesus could hardly have been more explicit in this, declaring, "If you love Me, keep my commandments."

Morality is summed up by the concept of lawfulness. A popular song from a previous generation has the phrase, "It's against the law" repeated over and over again, and this is in essence the nature of morality. A moral code is a set of laws or commandments which clearly define things which are and are not lawful. Every religion and even nearly every group has its own moral code. Even outlaw biker gangs and mafia families have moral codes, although much more liberal than most religions. Likewise in the Bible we find such a code, indeed a far more extensive code that you can find nearly anywhere else, containing many hundreds of things to do and things we must not do spelled out in the Old and New Testaments. John the Baptist preached this moral code, calling Israel to repent, to change their minds and their actions for breaking the divine laws. In fact he got himself jailed and ultimately killed for preaching this moral code, when he addressed King Herod with the words, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." He did not say it is not nice or not kind or not appropriate… He said it was unlawful. Such a statement declares that a moral code has been broken; an immoral act has been done.

Evidence of Jesus' Morality in the Gospels

Let us consider the morality of Jesus as revealed in the four gospels. In the first account, Matthew's gospel, we do not have to wait long to get a great big dose of morality. After sharing some things about the birth, childhood, and launching of Jesus' ministry, Matthew records the longest sermon by Jesus we have in the Scriptures. It is known as the Sermon on the Mount and it is packed full of morality. Jesus is declaring what He expects of those who would be His disciples. It is filled with exhortations toward right behavior and warnings about wrong behavior – in short it is the morality of our Lord Jesus.

We find that He expects more of us than was asked of the Israelites of Moses' day, and uses the phrase, "You have heard… but I say…" He tells us that not only must we refrain from murder, but being angry with a brother without cause will be enough for us to face judgment. Not only must men refrain from adultery, but even looking at a woman with lust must be strictly avoided, lest we be guilty of "heart adultery." He has all sorts of things to say about prayer and fasting, about forgiving our enemies, about calling people names, refusing to take oaths, and sharing our possessions with those who ask us. He speaks about worry, divorce, alienation from our brothers, avoiding stumblingblocks, turning the other cheek, the proper way to give to the poor, refusing to lay up our treasures on the earth, and putting God's kingdom first.

Our Lord Jesus expects His followers to obey Him. He tells His disciples, "Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:47). To take a great interest in Jesus and call Him Lord, to constantly read His words, attend church services which exalt Him, and talk to others about how much we love Him – all the while flatly disobeying some of His clear and express commands is both illogical and wicked. And yet many do this all the time. Such hypocrisy is like an American who loves to read the history of our nation, studies the constitution constantly, and gets teary-eyed while seeing our red, white, and blue flag waving in the breeze – and yet all the while is selling national secrets to our terrorist enemies who are plotting the destruction of our nation.

Out of the Heart

Another example of the morality of our Lord Jesus is found in His statement about wickedness proceeding from the heart of men. In Matthew 15 He says:

For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man… (Matthew 15:19,20)

Jesus is without a doubt declaring that certain activities are still unlawful, even in this new covenant which He is establishing – things such as murder, adultery, fornication, stealing, lying, blasphemy… According to Jesus, these activities spring from corrupt and wicked hearts, and defile men and women. The things He mentions are not especially surprising or revolutionary. They were unlawful in Moses' day and it would seem are still unlawful for those who follow and trust in Jesus. Eating bacon with our eggs may now be OK with our Creator, but murder, adultery, lying and stealing are still prohibited and looked upon as wicked and unlawful. Even under a dispensation of grace, morality seems to have survived; it apparently still has relevance! We may not be saved by being moral, but neither once we are saved by grace through faith, are we exempted from living morally. And woe to that man or woman who assumes that salvation is a license to sin cheerfully, heartily, lustily, and without consequences, now that they profess Jesus. The Scriptures tell us, "Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (2 Timothy 2:19).

The Great Commission

When we think of the Great Commission, we mostly think of Jesus' command to take the gospel to all the nations, but there is a part of that commission that we don't consider so much. Jesus not only tells us to preach Him to the nations, but He gives us strict instructions about what we are to do with those freshly converted, newly baptized believers: "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20). He does not say we should teach them to Continue in sinmemorize what He has spoken, or even to meditate on what He has said. The new disciples must be taught to observe all that He has commanded His disciples. Yes we should read and ponder the words of Jesus, but we must also determine to actually put them into practice. What use is it to memorize the verse about turning the other cheek, if every time we are criticized or mistreated, we fly into a rage and give them back what they have given us, with interest? Of what point is it to read Jesus' words about not lusting after women, and then spend hours looking at Internet pornography every week? Is our Lord giving us these instructions as loose guidelines, never really expecting us to actually follow them? I think not.

When we read the New Testament epistles, we find that they are laced with commandments and exhortations of various kinds. Of course, we wouldn't need these words and commands if we truly followed Jesus' commands to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves. But because we are so extremely talented at justifying our own wicked behavior, the Holy Spirit felt it necessary to have Paul and the others to spell out what the life of love actually looks like. No, we are not asked to follow Moses' ceremonial laws given to the Jews, but we are commanded to:

  1. Be kindly affectionate to one another. (Romans 12:10)
  2. Distribute to the needs of the saints. (Romans 12:13)
  3. Weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)
  4. Repay no one evil for evil. (Romans (12:17)
  5. Live peaceably with all men, as much as depends on us. (Romans 12:18)
  6. Bear one another's burdens. (Galatians 6:2)
  7. Serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
  8. Flee sexual immorality. (1 Corinthians 6:18)
  9. Let no corrupt word proceed out of our mouths. (Ephesians 4:29)


I could go on all day, but you get the idea. One thing is clear: God has a lot to say about how his people are to live, and there are still such things as lawful and unlawful acts. To receive Jesus is to receive His morality – as revealed in the gospels and in the New Testament epistles. And since the Holy Spirit is the inspiration behind every New Testament book, it is not necessary for us to think that Jesus' commands carry any more weight than those which Paul was inspired to write. All come from the Holy Spirit and all are meant to be obeyed!

What's the Difference?

If there was a moral code for the people of Israel, and there is a similar (although not exactly the same) moral code for the Christians to follow, what is all this talk about grace? And does not Paul tell us that Jesus took the "handwriting of requirements" (the law) away, nailing it to the cross? If the law is done away with, why should we be concerned with morality at all? Why not "continue in sin that grace may abound?"

This we must see: God's moral laws have not disappeared. Indeed it would not be possible for them to disappear, since they spring from His very nature, and are simply an extension of who He is. The prohibition against murder was a reality in the days of Cain and Abel, it was law in the days of Moses, and it is every bit as valid today. Bible-reading, praise-singing, home-fellowship attending Christians today are no more free to murder their neighbors, cheat on their spouses, lie, steal, or curse their parents than the Israelites who initially received those ten commandments, written with the finger of God. The Bible tells us that God sent His Son Jesus to die on our behalf, "that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 10:4).

What has changed is our way of entry into the family of God, and means by which we live continually in a state of justification in His sight. Under Moses, the favor and acceptance of God was conditional upon keeping the law: "You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, which if a man does, he shall live by them" (Leviticus 18:5). It was a fair system, but no man ever lived up to it, not Moses, not David, nor any of the prophets.

Jesus came bringing a new, superior covenant and means of receiving God's acceptance. His was the means of faith: "Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). The law, God's moral code, no longer has anything to do with our acceptance in God's sight. In this sense it has been "nailed to the cross." But although it has ceased as a means of entrance into God's favor and kingdom, it is still relevant as the way of life for those who have found new life in Jesus. Indeed it is closer to us than ever before, for the Scripture tells us that God puts His moral laws in our minds and writes them on our hearts when we are born again. Although not justified by God's laws, the new believer in Christ finds a tremendous, nearly irresistible passion to obey and please God. This is the work of the Holy Spirit and if it is not present, it is certain evidence that genuine salvation has never taken place. When we have been truly born again, it is the law of God, written on our hearts, which causes us to "will and to do for God's good pleasure."

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