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Which laws / commandments must we obey according to Jesus / New Testament?

law

We are not supposed to live in lawlessness

There have always been commandments to obey:

  • Between the time – from Adam and Moses
  • Between the time – from Moses to Jesus (the Jewish law)
  • Between the time – from Jesus to present

The moral laws which applied from the very beginning still apply – maybe apart from the commandment to not eat of the forbidden fruit, something we cannot even do due to no access. Nevertheless, numerous Christians tend to believe we are somehow free from the burden of having to obey God because Jesus died on the cross and resurrected, and because of the idea that he ”took our sins on himself” and died instead of us. The Bible however tells us that we are slaves to the one we obey, so if we obey sin we are slaves to sin and not free at all. We are still risking God’s wrath.

What does Jesus say?

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus lists the following things which we must do to get eternal life:

  1. not murder
  2. not commit adultery
  3. not steal
  4. not bear false witness 
  5. honour your father and mother
  6. love your neighbour as yourself

Matt. 19:16 And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?17 And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.18 He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,19 Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

In the gospel of Mark he has a slightly different order, and he adds ”defraud not”, and skips ”love your neighbour as yourself”.  This of course does not mean that the authors are in disagreement even if they highlight different things. To love God and our neighbor as ourselves is self-evident and the foundation of the Jewish faith. In the gospel of Luke, we can again see the same five commandments (similar as in Matthew and Mark), but also Luke seems to assume that loving God and our neighbor is self-evident for a Jew and this foundation does not even need to be mentioned.

We also know from the rest of the story that the young man continued talking to Jesus, and claimed he had kept all those commandments from youth (true or false?). What else did he lack? Well, Jesus said that if he wanted to be ”perfect”, then he should sell all that he had and give to the poor, which would give him a treasure in heaven. He also said to the young man to follow him. We cannot be sure what sort of ”perfect” Jesus is talking about here. In Matt. 5:48 we are requested to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, but it is also possible to be perfect in other ways, such as physically perfect (which evidently Matt. 5:48 does not refer to). If the young ruler would accomplish the perfection that Jesus was talking about here, he could expect ”a treasure in heaven”. Is obeying the mentioned commandments necessary to ”get eternal life” while getting rid of the other obstacle (selling possessions which distract from God) necessary if we want to be perfect and get an extra treasure in heaven? Jesus does indicate that it is very hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of God, so if possessions hinder us to focus on God then they might also hinder us to get eternal life. It is safe to assume that Jesus could not have meant that the young man must get rid of 100% of all his belongings, because not even Jesus and his disciples accomplished that. We know of great many people in the Bible who also had many possessions, but who were also fully committed to God. Jesus probably sensed that this young man had many possessions enticing him, and therefore phrased himself the way he did. For this man the many possessions seemed to be holding him back, and he likely placed his possessions before God.

In the gospel of Mark the story is similar, but it adds the information that Jesus loved this young man. Jesus felt that this young man lacked one thing, and again it was the many possessions which were in the way. Jesus did not say it was impossible for the young man to be saved, but for many rich people it seems a lot harder.

Mark. 10:17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

According to Luke (assuming it is the same young man), we get the information that he is a ruler (ἄρχων, Strong’s 758)

Luke 18:18 And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?19 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? none is good, save one, that is, God.20 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother.21 And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up.22 Now when Jesus heard these things, he said unto him, Yet lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.23 And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.

Some might say Jesus mentioned the above commandments while the Mosaic law (as per the old testament) still applied since he had not yet died on the cross and resurrected, but again the moral laws still apply. Sin will continue to separate us from God, and Satan will always be wrong for suggesting the opposite (that sin will not lead to death).

One commandment covers all of the commandments

Jesus of course mentions other examples of things we must ”do” to get eternal life, but those things can all be wrapped up in ”Love God before everything else, and love one another”. If we obey this one commandment, we automatically obey all the rest.

Luke 10:25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?26 He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.

Matt. 22:36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.38 This is the first and great commandment.39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Mark. 12:28 And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?29 And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.31 And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.32 And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he:33 And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.34 And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.

Rom. 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

Ja. 2:8 If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well

Jesus specifically tells his disciples (and all of us) to go out and teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever he has commanded them. 

Matt. 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

James advice about which laws gentiles should obeylaw of God

Below we can read that James does not feel that they should trouble the gentiles when it comes to which laws which should apply for them when it comes to the Jewish law, except that they should abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. ”Immorality” (πορνείας/porneias, Strong’s 4202) can also have the meaning of ”fornication”. (According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon πορνεία can be used metaphorically referring to the worship of idols and/or the defilement of idolatry as incurred by eating the sacrifices offered to idols).

Clearly James, Paul and the other disciples did not claim that gentiles are exempted from obeying any commandments at all. They are specifically talking about the Jewish law in relation to new gentile Christians. Apart from the moral law (the commandments which have always applied ever since Adam, and which Jesus repeats above), James proposes that the only Mosaic laws which they should also obey are to abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from fornication (probably with the meaning as per the Greek lexicon above). They do not list murder, adultery, theft, etc, because they are included in the moral commandments and it is self-evident that Jews and gentiles alike must continue to avoid such things until the end of times.

Acts 15:13 And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: 14 Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:16 ‘After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;I will rebuild its ruins,And I will set it up;17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the Lord who does all these things.’18 “Known to God from eternity are all His works.19 Therefore I judge that we should NOT TROUBLE those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, 20 but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality*, from things strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (NKJV)

Acts 21:18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. — 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; 21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.—   24 Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. 25 But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, EXCEPT that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.” (NKJV)