I have engaged people in discussions about the Mosaic law in the Christian life on many occasions. One direction the discussion can go is that someone quotes back the writings of John, the beloved disciple. Jesus told the disciples “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). God has given his people commandments, and if we love him, if we follow him, we will keep these commandments. John’s first epistle is also a place many point to. “Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” (1 John 2:4-5) But, which commandments? When we encounter the word, does it always mean the commands of the Mosaic Covenant, or always encompass every commandment we find in Scripture? It is rare to meet a Christian who insists we need to keep every commandment God has spoken. They don’t insist we need to appear 3 times a year in Jerusalem to celebrate the set feasts of the Lord. There is now no temple, no tabernacle, but those were ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant. Similarly, nearly everyone sets aside the dietary laws found throughout the law, although these are certainly among the commandments given by God.
Not every commandment applies, then. The reasons for this are sound, too. They were commandments given to the nation of Israel alone, not to Christians, and they belong to the Old Covenant. Where most people draw the line is the Ten Commandments, insisting that these are the ones we’re still on the hook for.
But when Jesus speaks to the disciples, prior to what he says in chapter 14, he has told them this:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)
Here, then, is what is truly new with Jesus. The commandments of the Old Covenant included loving one’s neighbor, even loving the stranger, but not loving one’s enemies. And we, because of our sin and rebellion against God, are his enemies. Had anyone loved as Jesus loved, even to the giving of one’s life for an enemy? No one.
It is thus inadequate to look at the Johannine language and insist that what Jesus was talking about was that we keep the Ten Commandments. For they, too, belong to the Old Covenant, the covenant with Israel. As good and right and holy as the Ten are, they are not the new commandment, and they don’t go as far as Jesus calls us to go in giving us His commandments. One can indeed proof-text one’s way to a position that keeping God’s commandments is keeping the Ten Commandments, but it isn’t a very cogent position to take. For example, some will cite this:
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” 1 John 3:21.
God has given use his commandments, and it’s pretty plain we need to keep them.
But read on:
“And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” 1 John 3:22.
It is not the Decalogue or the Sabbath or other commands of the Old Covenant that John puts before believers, but we are again back to the gospel command that we both believe in the name—the authority—of Jesus, and we love one another.
All commands are not equal.This is nothing other than the progress of salvation history; that what prevailed in the Old Covenant no longer prevails in the New. That is, we as New Covenant believers are not called upon to live by and under the commands of the Old Covenant. The new citizenship we have in Christ, our heavenly citizenship, means that we have a higher calling. A calling not inconsistent with the holiness called for under the Old Covenant, but one in fact that exceeds it.