Many Christians think that the God of the Old Testament was a harsh God, a God of wrath, a God of strict rules. This same perspective says that in the New Testament, God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ is a God of grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. But in reality, taken as a whole, both the Old and New Testament scriptures reveal God to be the same yesterday, today and forever.
Malachi 3:6 tells us that YHWH God does not change. Numbers 23:19 tells us that God is not like humans, changing over time: "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind." Like his Father, Hebrews 13:8 tells us that, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."
Earlier, Hebrews tells us that Jesus is "the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature" (1:3), and Colossians tells us that Jesus "is the image of the invisible God," and that "by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him" (1:15, 16). Colossians also tells us that in Jesus, "all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (1:19), which is why Jesus himself could respond to his disciples when they asked him to show them the Father, "if you have seen me, you have seen the Father" (see Jn. 14) and why Jesus could say "I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10:30).
The Father is not the harsh one and the Son the gentle one. They are two persons of the same God. The Father and Son have the same holy character, the same justice, love, anger, mercy, etc. Jesus is not a kinder, gentler revelation of God. It is Jesus who will one day judge all the earth, sending those who reject him to condemnation (Matt. 25:31-46). The God of the Old Testament is not a cranky, judgemental God who is just looking for a good excuse to smite someone with fire. The Scriptures tell us that he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Num. 14:18; Ps. 86:15). Taken together, the Scriptures teach us that God the Father and God the Son are two persons of the same eternal triune God, and that they are alike in holiness, justice, wrath, mercy, grace, judgment and love.
So, what about the ten commandments? If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, are these commandments still relevant? Are they still an accurate revelation of God's character given to his people to live out in imitation of him and obedience toward him?
There is obviously much more to say, and there are aspects of this issue which are too lengthy to explore in a relatively short blog post. For now, keeping Jesus's words from the Matthew 5:17-20 in our minds (that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it), let's see some instances where the New Testament writers, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God (who also is one with the Father and Son), speak to the church about the Ten Commandments in the New Covenant life of God's people.
1. Exodus 20:1-3 - “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.’”
“For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus.” - 1 Timothy 2:5
2. Exodus 20:4-6 - “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” - 1 John 5:21
3. Exodus 20:7 - “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” - Ephesians 4:29
4. Exodus 20:8-11 - “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience .” - Hebrews 4:9-11
5. Exodus 20:12 - “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.”
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honour your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’” - Ephesians 6:1-2
6. Exodus 20:13 - “You shall not murder.”
“Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” - 1 John 3:15
7. Exodus 20:14 - “You shall not commit adultery.”
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, not thieves, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” - 1 Corinthians 6:9
8. Exodus 20:15 - “You shall not steal.”
“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” - Ephesians 4:28
9. Exodus 20:16 - “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”
“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices” - Colossians 3:9
10. Exodus 20:17 - “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife., or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.”
“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” - Ephesians 5:3