The Ten Commandments are a subset of scripture that permeates the whole. The Law is both Old and New Testament and is the basis for all our dealings with God. The preacher wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Let us hear the conclusion of the matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments” (Eccles. 12:13). This Old Testament verse seems to be at odds with what we think we know about the New Testament. We are living in the dispensation of grace and we are accustomed to singing songs like “Free from the law oh happy condition…” How does this agree with the statement that keeping commandments is the whole duty of man? The conflict can be resolved only by recognizing the different spheres of law and grace. They are not opposed to each other. They work seamlessly together to give us the full picture of how God brings us to salvation.
The song says we are free from the law, but this has nothing to do with our obligation to obey it. We are free from its condemnation. We are free from the consequences of its unrelenting justice as it insists that all transgressions against the holy God must be satisfied. This satisfaction is achieved for us by Christ’s perfect obedience which is transferred to us by faith. His goodness becomes ours, and thus we stand perfect before the judgment bar of the law. We are free from condemning justice but never free to disobey the law. As Paul said, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Rom. 6:1). In our salvation more than ever, we recognize the whole duty of man is to keep God’s commandments. No one who truly loves God will sidestep any command and regard it as unimportant.
The gravity of the law is momentous as God gave Israel the most important document in history. It was accompanied by His personal presence. It was direct as chapter 20 in Exodus shows and intended to speak to each individual. Earthquakes and thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai showed the power of God and the reverence that must be observed for His holiness. It had not been written yet, but Israel knew “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31).
We tend to believe that because of God’s grace law is relaxed and therefore we need not fear God any longer. It is okay to speak of God like a tired old grandfather whose sternness has played out over time. He is not at all serious when He tells us we must obey. This is a terrible mistake. Grace has not calmed God and taken the bite out of His rebukes. Grace heightens the responsibility of obedience. Without grace, we are ignorant of His ways. Though without excuse for disobedience at any time, surely with right understanding comes more serious responsibility.
This is not an abstract. The person saved by grace recognizes this truth. God put it into his heart in his regeneration. Lack of obedience reveals a lack of saving grace. The person who says, “Free from the law oh happy condition” and by this he means I am free from condemnation therefore I need not be concerned for the way I live—that person has never experienced the saving grace of God.
Make sure you evaluate your understanding of God’s law. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). This is equivalent to saying, “If you keep my commandments, you prove you have been touched by my grace.” He never meant this as an option—that any can be saved without it. Christ is not just a Saviour who keeps you from the condemnation of the law. He is also the Lord that requires absolute strict obedience. He will not be one without the other.
Pastor V. Mark Smith