Is the 10th commandment impossible to keep?

If we didn’t have to make a living, wouldn’t life be so much easier? We wouldn’t have to worry about making enough money to survive, or be tempted into shady practices when money is tight. We wouldn’t have to take any job available to get by, or be saddled with huge debt from the cost of a competitive education. Dads wouldn’t have to spend so much time on the road away from home, and Moms wouldn’t have the conflict between home and job. We could relax more, spend more time with each other and do what we really enjoy doing.

But the story of Israel in the Old Testament shows us that even when God provides everything and there are no money worries at all, it doesn’t stop people coveting. Israel always wanted more. They coveted what the gods of other nations had to offer. They wanted their own king. They wanted to be free to do as they pleased, while expecting God to keep providing for them. And they complained bitterly when he didn’t come through as expected. No matter what God did for them, or how much he blessed them, they could never keep the 10th commandment.

But what’s wrong with coveting? Surely our desire for more, bigger and better is what makes our economies grow and living conditions improve. Take away coveting and what would get us up in the mornings to work hard and improve ourselves? Where would our world be without the incentives of self-interest, self-worth and self-gratification driving people to put their creative minds and talents to work?

Imagine people’s reaction today, therefore, to what Jesus told the young man in Matthew 19 – to give up all his hard-won wealth and give it to the poor. “Are you mad?” is one likely response, because what’s a life without gain to oneself? Life, even for Christians, is about the reward we get for our works, isn’t it? Why do anything if there isn’t some sort of reward in the doing, or reward at the end of it? – like leaving a legacy that tells of all the good we’ve done or what wonderful people we were, or the “feel good” sensation we get from serving, or the promise of the best seats in heaven. Take away the chance for a bigger and better reward and why be a Christian?

No wonder Jesus zoomed in on coveting in verses 16-24, because it’s the 10th commandment in particular that’s so impossible to keep. “But with God all things are possible,” verse 26, meaning life becomes so much easier with God – because the endless drive to want more is gone.


The law is “fully met in us” – meaning?

The law being fully met in us means we can obey God’s law like we’d love to, because God put it in us to love his law. “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law,” Paul wrote in Romans 7:22. At heart and core, Paul loved doing what God wished done.

Adam and Eve had no trouble tuning into God’s wishes and doing what God asked of them, either. But along came a serpent and turned them against God. And how easily it happened too. The serpent only makes one negative comment about God and they believe it. And suddenly, Adam and Eve can’t obey God anymore. Their minds are irreparably poisoned against God.

There was nothing they could do about it either. Neither could Paul. When he tried to do the good he so desperately wanted to do, he found he couldn’t do it, Romans 7:18 – “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” He discovered to his horror and embarrassment that “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me,” verse 21. So Paul wanted to do good – that was where his heart was – but there was this other power in his head twisting his mind to doing what he least wanted to do instead.

So there was one section of Paul’s mind that wanted to fully meet “the righteous requirements of the law,” Romans 8:4, but there was this other section of his mind that wouldn’t let him. It was war between the two (verse 23), and Paul hated it. He didn’t want a war between good and evil in his head. Instead he knew God’s law made sense, so that’s what he wanted to do.

And at heart and core so does every human being. We aren’t evil. God made us good. He gave us a nature that could love and trust him, and minds that love to do good. But there’s this other power out there that’s ever-present, and how easily it exerts its influence on us. It’s horrible. It makes us “hostile to God,” Romans 8:7, and creates a nature in us that “does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” But when Paul cried out for help to rid his mind of this evil influence, God answered (Romans 7:25). So God’s right there, ever-present too, ready at any time to “rescue” us, Romans 7:24, so that we are free at last to do what at heart and core we really want to do – which is live God’s law to the full.

We’re judged by the law?

In James 2:12 it talks of being “judged by the law that gives freedom,” and for Christians to “speak and act” with that in mind. The law, therefore, really makes us think about what we say and do.

But how does a law that makes us think about what we say and do give freedom? Surely law is designed to restrict our freedom, not give it. Most of the 10 commandments, for instance, start off with “Thou shalt not,” followed by an action or attitude we’d better not do. So we can’t just say and do whatever we want. And it’s the same with the laws of the land. Thousands of laws exist to modify and control what we say and do. And we’re judged by those laws. Break them and there are consequences.

And in context that’s exactly what James is talking about too. God created a law that modifies and controls what we say and do as well, described in verse 8 as the “royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.” But James is writing to Christians who aren’t living by that law at all. They aren’t loving their neighbours as themselves, made glaringly obvious in how they’re treating the poor people in the church. At church meetings they’re giving the rich people the good seats and making the poor sit on the floor (verses 2-3). The poor weren’t worthy of a seat, it seems, despite the fact that God himself had chosen these poor people (verse 5). It’s a blatant case of discrimination, favouritism and insult, all words that James uses here.

But what would’ve happened instead if everybody present at those meetings spoke and acted “as those who are going to be judged by the law” – the law that says “Love your neighbour as yourself”? It would have freed the church from discrimination, favouritism and insult. Imagine a place you could go where no one was concerned about their image, no one made you feel inferior, and no one judged you by your appearance. Imagine a school like that, or a family – or a church!

But that’s what God designed the law of “Love your neighbour” for, to show us how brilliantly it works when we all gear what we say and do according to that principle. It frees us from that awful, merciless, judgemental attitude that people so typically eye each other with in the world (verse 13), that creates snobs, bullies and other such nasty people who make life miserable.

But in the church we can be free of all that, because we speak and act with the Royal Law of love in mind. But that’s what love does. It “gives freedom.”

Aren’t the 10 commandments in the New Testament too?

Is there a verse in the New Testament that says Christians should keep the 10 commandments?

Apparently so, because James 2:8 says if we “keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, you are doing right.” Verse 10 then says if we keep “the whole law but stumble at just one point we’re guilty of breaking all of it,” and verse 11 then quotes two of the 10 commandments that broken make us a “lawbreaker.” So what could be more clearly stated than that?

But in context the law is only being used in James 2 as an example to illustrate a point. The point being “favouritism,” verses 1-5 and verse 9. Christians are favouring rich people and discriminating against the poor. But why would Christians favour the rich, James asks, when it was rich people who were exploiting them, the rich who were dragging them into court, and the rich who were “slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong” (verses 6-7)?

It’s even worse when Christians favour the rich at their own meetings and “insult the poor,” verse 6. How? By fawning all over the well-dressed person and ushering him to a good seat, but telling the poorly dressed person he can either stand or sit at your feet (verses 2-3). How humiliating! And how condemning too, judging the poor person as not even worthy of a seat (verse 4).

Some Christians couldn’t see anything wrong in what they were doing, however. So James compares what they’re doing to the law they’ve always known in Scripture that says “Love your neighbour as yourself,” verse 8. Because how could loving the rich but not loving the poor be truly loving your neighbour? It would be like loving your neighbour by fulfilling the “Do not commit adultery” law but ignoring “Do not murder.” To love one’s neighbour means keeping all the laws regarding one’s neighbour, just as loving one’s neighbour means loving rich and poor alike.

The context, therefore, is not about telling Christians to keep the 10 commandments, it’s about Christians dealing fairly, equally and mercifully toward their fellow human beings, and to judge people as God judges people, not as the world does (verse 5). And God judges people with mercy. “Mercy triumphs over judgement!” verse 13, and that’s the way it should be with Christians, James says, so the church is free of all that awful favouritism, discrimination and judging by appearances that the world so horribly indulges in (verse 12).

The commandments mentioned in this chapter, therefore, are not being issued as a command, but simply being used as an illustration.

“Christ is the end of the law” – meaning?

We’ve got a contradiction. In Romans 8:3-4, Christ “condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the RIGHTEOUS REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULLY MET IN US.” But in Romans 10:4, “Christ is THE END OF THE LAW.” So on the one hand Christ puts an end to the law, but on the other hand he died to make it possible for us to fully keep it.

So why would Christ make it possible for us to obey a law that we don’t actually need to obey because he’d put an end to it? But why would Christ put an end to the law when Paul said “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” in Romans 7:12?

Clearly, then, Christ did not put an end to the law. How could he when it’s he who made it “holy, righteous and good” in the first place? So what on earth does “Christ is the end of the law” mean instead?

In the context of Romans 10 it’s simple. Paul is talking about his fellow Jews who “did not know the righteousness that comes from God,” Romans 10:3. They didn’t understand how God makes people righteous, or how a person is made righteous. They thought the law made them righteous, and if they were “zealous for God” (10:2) in “pursuing a law of righteousness” (9:31) they could “establish their own (righteousness)” (10:3). In other words, they were relying totally on their own diligent keeping of the law to make themselves righteous.

But for all that diligent keeping of the law to make themselves righteous, they never “attained it” (9:31). Why not? Because “righteousness comes from God” (10:3) not from human effort, no matter how zealous a person is. Human zeal does not make a person righteous. Keeping the law does not make a person righteous. So what does make a person righteous? God does. Righteousness can only come from him.

Relying on the law, then, to make oneself righteous in God’s sight was “not based on knowledge” (10:2). What knowledge? The knowledge that only God can make a person righteous. So, Paul says, stop all that relying on the law to make yourself righteous and rely on God to make you righteous instead, which is exactly what the Gentile Christians were doing in Romans 9:30.

And then comes Romans 10:4 saying Christ is the end of the law. What it means, in context, is that Christ is the end of DEPENDING on the law for righteousness. Christ put an end to that, because depending on him would do the job instead – “so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” – IN HIM.

Should we keep the 10 commandments? (part 2)

It’s a shocking realization that the 10 commandments aren’t enough. They aren’t enough to cure a rich man of his love for money for a start, as we see in Matthew 19:16-26. Paul also talks of the law not being enough in Romans 8:3, “For what the law was powerless to do…” Powerless? You mean the law cannot solve our problems? Apparently not. And why not? Because, verse 3, “it was weakened by the sinful nature.” That’s another shocker, realizing there are parts of our nature that overpower the law. Our sinful nature is simply too strong for the law to control.

So what on earth are the 10 commandments for instead, then, if keeping them isn’t the solution to all our ills? Oh, they serve a great purpose, to point out – as Jesus himself pointed out in Matthew 19:26 – that “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Ah, so that’s what the commandments are for, to point out our need for God. Which is exactly what Paul said in Romans 8:3 too – “For what the law was powerless to do…GOD DID by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering…in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us.”

So there’s nothing wrong with the commandments, but the only way their “righteous requirements” can be “fully met” in us is by God sending his Son to “condemn sin in sinful man,” verse 3. Because “sin in sinful man” is a problem we are powerless to deal with. “With man this is impossible,” Jesus said, as anyone keeping the commandments can attest to, because in trying to keep them you soon realize how impossible they are to keep. How does one perfectly put God first in everything, for instance (the 1st commandment)? Or how do you ever stop being jealous (the 10th commandment)? And when are we perfectly honest (the 9th commandment)? Or when do we perfectly trust Christ to provide for our every need (the 4th commandment)?

When asking the question, then, “Should we keep the 10 commandments?” the answer is “Yes,” but unfortunately we can’t keep them. They’re impossible to keep. But even if we could keep them, they’re still no cure for our sinful nature, Galatians 3:21, “For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.” That’s the point, though, it CAN’T come by the law. But it CAN come “by the Spirit,” Romans 8:13, for it’s “by the Spirit “you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Like Jesus said, “With GOD all things are possible.”

Should we keep the 10 commandments? (part 1)

Even the New Testament tells us to keep the 10 commandments, so what’s all this stuff about the law being done away, or the 10 commandments no longer applying to Christians? And how much more clearly could Jesus have spelt it out than Matthew 19:17 when asked by someone, “what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” and Jesus replies, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

Well, that clears that up, right? The 10 commandments are still valid, still required and still just as important. But, hang on, what’s that Jesus is saying in verse 21? The young chap’s just told Jesus he’s kept all the commandments, so is there anything else he needs to do? And Jesus replies, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

What? Give all my lovely money to the poor? To heck with the poor, I’m keeping my money, and off the young chap goes, very sad, because he thinks he had it made keeping the commandments. But imagine if he’d been given eternal life at this point in his life. Into eternity he would have gone without a care for anyone else. He wasn’t into commandment keeping for anyone else anyway, he was in it for himself. A great neighbour he would have been forever!

And so much for commandment keeping too, when it’s no cure for selfishness. But it isn’t, is it, as Jesus points out in verse 23, when he says to his disciples “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” There’s no hope for a chap in love with money. All the commandment keeping in the world can’t cure that. He’s had it. No kingdom for him.

At which point, the disciples’ jaws drop. You mean all that commandment keeping they’d done since they were born didn’t guarantee eternity? That’s right, because if commandment keeping can’t cure even the most basic of human instincts, like the love of money, then what chance has anybody got of getting into the kingdom of God? Which is exactly the question the disciples ask in verse 25: “Who, then, can be saved?”

Jesus’s answer is another jaw-dropper. You’re right, he says, “With man this is impossible,” because human instincts are too strong. They’re incurable on human strength alone. All the commandment keeping in the world won’t solve selfishness, as this incident with the young man points out. So now what? If the commandments can’t cure us, what can?….(continues in Part 2)