Rules, laws and commandments within Christianity.
How they actually affect Christians.
Very different when compared with Judaism and Islam.
It is recommended that readers should first get a quick overview of Christianity by accessing the article “Christianity explained”, in this section of the website.
This particular article begins by explaining the ‘context’ of rules, laws and commandments within Christianity. That is how they fit ‘together’ and ‘into our beautiful religion’.
It then describes how Christians basically know right from wrong. Lastly, it presents Christian views on the cost of disobedience or wrongdoing, i.e. committing ‘sin’; when breaking rules etc.
It is necessary, before going on, to highlight issues in that context mentioned above. Within Christianity, there are two major factors relating to how God deals with us in regard to our wrongdoings (sins). Firstly there are the ‘rules, laws and commandments’ themselves, that were laid down for our guidance. That is for an understanding of what God expects of us in life.
The second factor is ‘grace’, a term that refers to God’s unconditional love for all humankind and his forgiving nature. By and large, Christians believe that our Lord God in the ‘person of Jesus‘ died on the cross, through God’s grace, to pay the price of our sins. (Grace is more fully explained in the article, “Justified and saved by grace.”)
2. UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT
Let us take a good look then at how rules, laws and commandments PLUS God’s grace fit into Christianity.
2.1 Obeying the rules
Now … even though Jesus has paid for whatever sins we Christians commit in life, through his death on the cross, we cannot just ignore our ‘obligations under the law’ as it is called.
On the other hand, we also need to understand clearly that the law within Christianity is not to be just followed blindly with a view to being ‘saved‘ (eternal life after physical death). That is ‘behaving ourselves’ in life does not mean we automatically go to heaven after death … and I will explain about that shortly.
However all Christian church groups/ denominations expect that each of us Christians must make a real attempt to repent (turn away) from our sinful ways. That is to change ourselves for the better, whenever we knowingly ‘slide’ into wrongdoing.
2.2 How it all fits together
Summarising our core Christian beliefs then:
- Faith in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour essentially comes first, in relation to being saved (going to Heaven after physical death). This translates to accepting that both Jesus is God, and he died on the cross to pay for our sins through God’s grace. If we accept that through faith, then we are ‘saved’.
- Importance is applied to the ‘law’ within Christianity none-the-less.
- Our Lord wants, more than anything else, for each of us to have a deep, meaningful personal relationship with him.
He wants each of us to ‘walk closely to him through life’. The Bible guides us on that journey (explained under Heading 3). If we do engage with the Lord in life like that, then the risk of sin (wrongdoing) within our lives is so much smaller.
3. ESTABLISHING THE LAW
Within Christianity, ‘knowing right from wrong’ is not as simple as accepting every rule or command within the entire Bible. Of course, standards given to us by Jesus throughout the Gospels of the New Testament should be followed. However, many laws contained within the Old Testament, e.g. what we may or may not eat, are not seen as important. (But, all Old Testament laws are still very important to Jews, and are a 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. laws that certainly have ‘relevance’ to all Christians. God’s directions to us, in the Old Testament, 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 (including his wife).
So, beginner Christians can, for a start, look to the Ten Commandments as a basic guide to ‘right and wrong’, just as Jews do. (Islam has its own laws which also includes the basis of the Ten Commandments.)
3.2 Jesus’ special Two Commandments
Jesus did however offer us ‘two’ perfect commandments.
He was asked, in a ‘trick question’ (an act of entrapment), which of the Ten Commandments did he consider the most important. He gave 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 DO love God and all humankind we will NOT break any 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 own behaviour.
Comparisons between the “ten” and the “two”
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 ‘obsessions’ with power, wealth or material things, together with bad habits/ addictions or any other ‘all important’ desire 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 not commit any wrongdoing that arises from not applying neighbourly ‘love’. Remember, the word ‘love’ in the Bible – in relation to our fellow humans – may be interpreted as to ‘deeply care about’.
Jesus explains we must ‘look deeper’
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 mean breaking it.
As to Commandment seven (adultery), Jesus also mentioned that 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 true for a wife who lusts after any man other than her husband.
The New Testament (Jesus bits of the Bible) provides many such strong messages about our relationships, both with other people and God. It has taken a couple of thousand years of theological study to ‘unravel’ the deep messages contained within what often appear to be simple statements in the Bible. Jesus’ parables, within the Gospels, in particular almost always carry underlying messages about improving our human behaviour.
St Paul gave us an explanation about ‘love of neighbours’ and its relevance to the law:
Love does no harm to its neighbour.
Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Applying it to our daily lives!
Let’s look for other possible poor behaviour towards our fellow humans ‘in this day and age’.
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 seriously overprice goods or services for sale, or to perform ‘shonky’ dealings with others. It can be seen too that being lazy at work is really theft. I mean that performing little of value in return for our salary or wage is actually stealing. Such behaviour towards those we ‘love’ is not appropriate Christian behaviour.
There are further examples, that spring to my mind, of breaking Jesus’ second commandment. It is not right, as such, to stand back idly in silence while the innocent in our society, or even in foreign lands, are unjustly harmed.
Also, we really have to think about the effect that our decisions, actions and attitudes have on other people? We always need to think how would we like to be affected in that way by someone else? This sort of potential wrongdoing is not even covered by one of the original Ten Commandments.
And so we can go on. When we think about it, there are many examples of everyday actions, thought of as okay by many people in society, that clearly defy Jesus’ two commandments of love. Although they seem to be simple, those two commandments indeed give us a very special ‘new way’ of looking at God’s expectations of us.
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 plus years ago. The reasons for this opinion are also offered in “Christianity explained” and other following articles that support it, particularly “The Holy Trinity”.
Look, Christian Bible-based beliefs are probably better supported by ancient ‘documented history‘, including from secular (non religious) sources, than any other religion. That does at least encourage us to accept the Bible, and its explanations, as the ‘real deal’.
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 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 far as our relationships with other human beings are concerned, it’s all about living, loving, giving and forgiving!
After Jesus’ death, St Paul again provided us with much clarity on Jesus’ guidance. In his epistles (letters) to early Christians, St Paul highlighted that although Jesus did not give us a long list of laws, it did not mean we could just do ‘our own thing’.
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, have 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, or turn away, from our sinful ways. We must try to change ourselves for the better, whenever we knowingly slide into wrongdoing.
But, there is some disagreement throughout the greater Christian Church on the finer details of what we need to do. That is, to be completely freed from the cost of sin. And I mean in regard to both our ‘life after death’ and our present ‘day-to-day lives’.
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/ everlasting life in Heaven after physical death. That is whether they will all be ‘saved’, despite the level of sins committed by them.
Protestants, who make up a big 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 she or he to willfully reject their faith (i.e. completely walk away from it). 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.
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). ‘Maybe’ meaning there is no afterlife awaiting them in heaven. 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 (i.e. let off) from that sin by a priest. That is if the priest ‘interjects’ on their behalf to God to ensure their forgiveness.
So Catholics require continued ‘absolution’ of those sins which are ‘deemed’ serious (e.g. mortal), through detailed confession to a priest. In turn that will ensure they gain that place in Heaven after physical death. However, sins of an even higher level may lead to total damnation (permanent death) that cannot even be absolved. These are termed terminal (deadly) sins.
Firstly, it is not my place to judge every verse used by Catholic theologians to support the list of mortal or terminal sins etc. But Galations 5:19-21 is certainly one of the more powerful examples in the New Testament that influences their thinking. From my point of view as a Protestant, such people referred to in that verse (written by St 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. Such people may well have to seriously repent; positively alter their lives and genuinely ‘restart’ 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 personalities (i.e. based on our genetics) 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 (i.e. when when we try to ‘change our ways’).
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 affects our relationship with God in this life.
You know, obedience to God’s will which includes avoiding sin ultimately DOES lead 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 ever 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 loving relationship with him.
More of this line of thought is presented in the website’s very first article, “Can I really believe in God?”.