Not The Smallest Letter Shall Disappear

[Blog number 2 on Ten Commandments] 

Not the Smallest Letter Shall Disappear

Exodus 20:3-17

Now that the U.S. courts have so successfully eliminated the Ten Commandments from the public square, some wonder if they are still relevant today. In fact, many people believe they are not. Even some Christians point to the Bible itself as proof that the commandments are antiquated.

Some Christians refer to Romans 6:14, which says, “We no longer live under the law, but under grace.” They interpret grace to mean “Sin to your heart’s content because God no longer cares. He will always give you grace.”

But to understand Romans 6:14, you must understand that there are three laws in the Old Testament: the moral law, given to all creation for all times; the civil law, given to Israel as a nation; and the ceremonial law given for Israel’s worship.

Because of Christ, the ceremonial law was abolished. The ceremonial law represented the system of religious observance that focused on sacrifices, offerings, purifications, and other rites. Under the ceremonial law, when the Israelites broke the moral law (the Ten Commandments), they had to make a sacrifice to receive forgiveness.

But through Jesus, the ceremonial law had been fulfilled. The sacrifices could cease because the ultimate sacrifice had been offered on the cross. The ceremonial law was no longer needed because Jesus had stood in our place and taken our punishment upon Himself. From the cross, He cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). And it truly was.

The civil law also ceased but for a different reason. The civil law represented the criminal and regulatory code for the nation of Israel. But the church of Jesus Christ is not a state. We have a King, and His name is Jesus (Yeshua). He rules over our hearts and our churches. We now are citizens of a spiritual kingdom and not a temporal kingdom. Moral law, not civil law, governs the church of Jesus Christ.

So when Paul says we “no longer live under the law,” he is referring to the ceremonial and civil law. Those are no longer binding on the Christian because we are now bound in Christ and His cross. Paul was not referring to God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments. The moral law remains in place.

But still, we are saved by Christ alone. We are far too imperfect to perfectly keep the Ten Commandments and, hence, we can never earn our way into salvation. So if we cannot perfectly keep the Ten Commandments, and if we are not saved by keeping them, they why uphold them?

To seek the answer to that, we can first look at what Jesus said in Matthew 5:18 (NIV): “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished.”

So, according to Jesus, the moral law is not diminished in the slightest. In Romans 3:31 (NIV), Paul asks a rhetorical question regarding the Ten Commandments. “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”

In the Old Testament, God used the Ten Commandments to call the Israelites to live like people who belonged to Him. Today, we are still called to live such a purpose. The Ten Commandments remind us that we are under judgment.

When we become desperate in our knowledge that we are lawbreakers and look for forgiveness and grace, we come to Christ and say, “I can’t save myself. I’m not acceptable on my merit. But for the sake of You, who kept the commandments perfectly, for the sake of Him, who paid fully on the cross the penalty for my breaking the law, please accept me.”

Without the commandments, I am like a man who feels a recurring pain in his chest but ignores it. He thinks it is nothing and doesn’t go to the doctor to get better. Like the man, we cannot desire to be healed without knowing that we are sick in the first place.

Jesus reminded us of our need to know we are sick. When the Pharisees gave Him a hard time about hanging out with sinners, He replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12).

Jesus calls to Him the sinners, the unacceptable. The perfect need not apply.

Once we recognize that we are unacceptable and beg for acceptance, then we receive the grace of God and are saved by His grace. It is then that God says, “Now that I have saved you from your sin, now that I have forgiven you the consequences of your breaking the law, I will empower you to obey My Commandments.”

In reality, God’s law keeps depravity in check. It warns people against wickedness. It discourages even the most evil person. It causes us to repent, to turn around, and head back in the right direction. Ultimately, God’s law drives people to Christ.

The law itself will not save you. It does not give eternal life nor does it have the power to transform our sinful nature.

But the law exposes sin. And sin leads you. It leads you to either continue in it and receive eternal judgment, or it leads you to repent of it and receive eternal life.

So we are left with a choice: judgment or life, keepers of the law or breakers of the law. The U.S. courts, ironically, have chosen lawlessness. What do we choose?