The commandments, laws and rules within Christianity.
How they actually affect Christians.
Very different when compared with Judaism and Islam.
It is recommended that readers should first gain a quick overview of Christianity by accessing the first article in this section of the website, “Christianity explained”, before reading this article.
This particular article firstly explains the context of rules, laws and commandments within Christianity. It then describes how Christians principally know right from wrong. Lastly, it presents Christian views on the cost of disobedience or wrongdoing, i.e. committing ‘sin’.
It is necessary, before going on, to highlight some important issues. Rules, laws and commandments of Christianity need to be understood in that context. Within Christianity, there are two major factors relating to how God deals with us in regard to our wrongdoings (sin).
Firstly there are the ‘rules, laws and commandments’ that were laid down for our guidance; for an understanding of what God expects of us.
The second factor is ‘grace’, a term that encapsulates God’s unconditional love for all humankind and his forgiving nature. (Grace is more fully explained in the article, “Justified and saved by grace.”)
2. UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT
So, let us look at the context of what is deemed to be ‘right and wrong’ within Christianity.
2.2 Obeying the rules
This article does explain later that even though Jesus has paid for whatever sins we Christians commit in life we cannot just ignore our ‘obligations under the law’.
Just as importantly, we also need to understand that the law within Christianity is not to be just followed blindly with a view to being ‘saved‘ (again, eternal life after physical death). That is ‘behaving ourselves’ in life does not mean we automatically go to heaven after death. There is more to it than that … and I will explain shortly.
However all Christian denominations expect that each of us Christians must make a real attempt to repent from our sinful ways. That is to change ourselves for the better, whenever we knowingly ‘backslide’ into wrongdoing.
2.3 The big picture
Summarising Christian beliefs, faith in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour essentially comes first, in relation to being saved (going to Heaven). But importance is cautiously applied to the law within Christianity none-the-less.
It is also worth making clear here that our Lord wants, more than anything else, for each of us to have a deep personal relationship with him; to walk closely with him. Clearly, if we do this, then the risk of sin (wrongdoing) within our lives is greatly reduced.
3. ESTABLISHING THE LAW
For most Christians, knowing right from wrong is not as simple as accepting every rule or command within the entire Bible. Whilst standards given to us by Jesus throughout the Gospels of the New Testament should be followed, many laws contained within the Old Testament, e.g. what we may or may not eat, are not seen as important. (Of course all Old Testament laws still have significance to Jews, and are an important part of their covenant with God.)
3.1 The Ten Commandments
Although not all laws within the (pre-Jesus) Old Testament apply to Christians, some definitely do. Most Christian theologians see the Ten Commandments as the core of acceptable (pre Jesus Old Testament) law, i.e. moral laws that certainly have ‘relevance’ to all Christians. They are summarised below:
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven or on earth.
- You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
- Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
- Honour your father and mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
- You shall not covert your neighbour’s possessions … wife … etc.
So, beginner Christians can, for a start, look to the Ten Commandments as the basis of ‘right and wrong’, just as Jews do. (Islam has its own laws which also encompass the basis of the Ten Commandments.)
3.2 Jesus’ special Two Commandments
Jesus did however offer us two perfect commandments to replace the old ten. So we Christians do have to look a bit deeper into right and wrong as a result.
He was asked, in a ‘trick question’ (an act of entrapment), which of the Ten Commandments did he consider the most important. He provided much more than expected by offering his own two commandments of ‘love’. Firstly he gave this rule, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Then continuing, Jesus added, “Love your neighbour as yourself” [Matthew 22:24-37].
As he inferred, if we love God and all humankind we would not commit any breaches of the Ten Commandments.
However, because Jesus did ‘summarise’ those old laws in the way he did, Christians are led to look deeper into their behaviour. It is no longer a matter of just applying the Ten Commandments to their lives.
Even the first of the Ten Commandments, “no gods before me” and the second, “not make for yourself an idol” are superseded by Jesus’ first commandment. To Christian thought, anything that becomes more important to us than God is a false god or idol. Some maybe unexpected examples are a real lust for power, wealth or material things, together with bad habits/ addictions or any other genuine obsession for that matter. No, if we love God with all our heart, soul and mind, we cannot allow ourselves to love any of those things more than him!
With regard to Jesus’ second commandment, we should refrain from any wrongdoing at all that arises from ignoring the application of neighbourly ‘love’. Remember, the word ‘love’ in the Bible – in relation to our fellow humans – may be interpreted as ‘to deeply care about’ rather than as we apply the word today, i.e. a deeper or more significant emotion reserved for those who are very close to us personally.
Jesus himself gave us examples of how his second commandment (‘love your neighbour’) superseded some of the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments. With regard to Commandment six (murder), Jesus explained in Matthew 5:21-23 – within his famous “Sermon on the Mount” – that even anger towards a brother (i.e. violent thoughts) can constitute a breach of this commandment.
As to Commandment seven (adultery), Jesus singled that out in his sermon (Matthew 5:27-30). In his words, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. We, as husbands, have betrayed our wives’ love in effect by thinking in this manner. Of course this is just as applicable for a wife who lusts after any man other than her husband.
Commandment eight (stealing), as yet another example, is also superseded by Jesus’ second commandment. It is not only wrong to just plain steal, it is also wrong to misrepresent or grossly overprice goods or services for sale, or to perform any kind of ‘shonky’ dealings with others. With thought it can be seen that even ‘bludging’ at work (a poor work ethic) is really theft. I mean that performing little of value in return for one’s salary or wage is actually stealing. Such behaviour towards those we ‘love’ is not appropriate Christian behaviour.
There are further examples, that spring to mind, of breaking Jesus’ second commandment. It not right to to stand back idly in silence while the innocent in our society, or in foreign lands, are unjustly harmed. Also, we really have to think about the impact that our decisions, actions and attitudes have on other people? We always need to think how would we like to be impacted in that way by someone else? This sort of potential wrongdoing is not even covered by one of the original Ten Commandments.
Jesus’ profound messages
And so we can go on. When we think about it, there are many good examples of everyday actions, considered acceptable by many people in society, that clearly defy Jesus’ two commandments of love. Although they seem to be simple, those two commandments indeed deliver a profoundly new way of looking at God’s expectations of us.
Of course the New Testament (Jesus bits of the Bible) provides many such profound messages about our relationships, both with other people and God. It has taken a couple of thousand years of theological study to accurately unravel the deep messages contained within what often appear to be simple statements. Jesus’ parables, within the Gospels, in particular almost always carry embedded messages of truth.
3.3 Jesus, our guide for life
It is clear to most of us Christians that Jesus was the human face of God. He was indeed alive, as a fellow human being, amongst us 2,000 years ago. The reasons for this opinion are offered in “Christianity explained” and those articles that support it, particularly “Jesus as ‘God the Son’” and “The Holy Trinity”. Look, Christian beliefs are probably better supported by ancient ‘documented history‘, including from secular (non religious) sources, than any other religion.
And Jesus’ actions during his life on Earth are to be closely studied by Christians for guidance. Indeed, we have only to read of those actions in the New Testament (the Jesus bits) of the Bible to know exactly how we should lead our own lives. He gave clear examples of how we should structure life: what should be important to us.
As Christians we believe that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.” [Galations 5:22-23]. These attributes should be applied in all of our relationships with all people who we interact with in our daily lives.
Essentially, Jesus didn’t lay down more laws for us to dogmatically follow. No … he largely led by example, showing us how it should be done: to place others before ourselves, to not judge others, be ready to forgive those who do wrong towards us etc. In the main, he again provided us with powerful guidance on how to live a life based on the principle of love.
But, he did make some points of order very clear! Mistreating children for example was absolutely ruled out.
After Jesus’ death, the apostle Paul also provided us with much clarity on Jesus’ guidance. In his epistles (letters) to early Christians, Paul highlighted that although Jesus did not give us a mile long list of laws, it did not mean we could just do ‘our own thing’. No, we are to live life with due reverence to God’s love for us; to follow Jesus’ example and the principles demonstrated there; to ever increase the depth of our relationship with God.
4. THE COST OF SIN TO CHRISTIANS
The details so far in this article, by and large, are accepted by the major Christian denominations. Essentially, the wrongdoings of those of us who accept Jesus as Lord and saviour, has been paid for through his death. He died to save us from the cost of our own sins.
Again, all denominations also expect that each of us Christians must make a real attempt to repent from our sinful ways. We must try to change ourselves for the better, whenever we knowingly backslide into wrongdoing.
But, there is some disagreement throughout the greater Christian Church on the finer details of what we need to do to be completely free from the cost of sin.
4.1 Effect of sin on life after death
There is some difference of opinion, amongst denominations, regarding whether all Christians will automatically gain eternal life in Heaven after physical death. That is whether they will all be ‘saved’, irregardless of the types of sins committed by them.
Protestants, who make up a significant proportion of the greater Christian Church, largely believe that they will be saved regardless of their sins. They essentially believe that once a person has been saved through the ‘grace of God’, after accepting Jesus as Lord and Saviour, they are guaranteed a place in Heaven.
Most Protestants believe that the only way to damnation for a believer is for he or she to mindfully reject their faith. Some Protestant theologians consider however that those of us who do make it to Heaven, may not enjoy equal conditions or rewards there. Our closeness to God in Heaven may well bear a resemblance to our closeness to him in this life. And if we are close to him in our relationship, we should freely follow his will (including doing what is right and proper).
On the other hand, Catholics in the West, who make up another large proportion of the worldwide Christian Church, believe that serious sin, some of which they refer to as ‘mortal sin’, threatens a believer’s relationship with God (possible damnation). Catholic theologians have reached this conclusion from interpretations of particular verses in the New Testament of the Bible.
The Catholic Church has established a list of sins, although not complete, which fit this category. However, those Catholics who have actually committed mortal sin can be absolved from that sin by a priest. That is if the priest interjects on their behalf to God to ensure forgiveness.
So Catholics require continued ‘absolution’ of those sins which are deemed serious (e.g. mortal), via detailed confession to a priest. In turn that will ensure they gain that place in Heaven after physical death. Sins of an even higher level may possibly lead to total damnation (permanent death) that cannot even be absolved.
Firstly, it is not my place to judge every verse used by Catholic theologians to support the list of mortal sins etc. But Galations 5:19-21 is certainly one of the more powerful examples in the New Testament that influence their thinking. From my point of view as a Protestant, such people referred to in that verse (written by the apostle Paul) may well have reduced their relationship with God to a sham. In effect they may have knowingly rejected their faith by living such a sinful and self-centred life as described there. They may well have to seriously repent; positively alter their lives and genuinely recommence their personal relationship with God.
Remember God is the Boss
Bear in mind though that what I have written above does not challenge the loving nature of God, and the impact that will have on our individual salvation. God makes the ultimate decisions in this respect.
He loves us despite our weaknesses, which often stem from ingrained personality traits that can be hard for us to control. (And I speak from experience here). He lovingly meets us, in the person of the Holy Spirit, in our day to day struggles … assisting and strengthening our resolve.
4.2 Effect of sin on our day-to-day lives
But the simple truth is that sin does weaken our relationship with God. And indeed it threatens our faith, through a distancing of his place within our day-to-day thinking etc.
Lingering feelings of guilt on our part, after committing sin, also makes us feel less than worthy to engage with God. That is we ‘lay low’ and again distance ourselves from him as a result. The Bible (e.g. Psalm 66:17-20, John 9:31) also makes it clear that God will limit his support to us in this life when we wilfully and continually commit sin. In essence then, as a minimum, sin negatively impacts our relationship with God in this life.
Obedience to God’s will, which includes avoiding sin, ultimately leads to the greatest contentment with life. And of course, the closer we walk with God the more we recognise his presence in our lives, which equals stronger faith. That is, it all becomes self proving. Above all else, such a life leads us to fulfil the Lord’s greatest desire for us, i.e. to have a deep one-on-one personal relationship with him. More of this line of thought is presented in the website’s very first article, “How to believe in God”.
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