Do we, Christians, have to follow the commandments of the Old Testament, like the Ten Commandments?
This is a question that I get asked regularly as a minister. It’s a question that I ask myself regularly when I read the scriptures, particularly the gospels. On the one hand, we find a young man who asks Jesus what he must do to be saved, and Jesus begins by seemingly telling him to keep the commandments (meaning the Old Testament commandments.) This story can be found in Mark 10 and Luke 18. On the other hand, Jesus regularly healed and fed people on the Sabbath, thereby violating one of the Ten Commandments (as was the case in my reading today from John 5). According to the gospel of Mark, Jesus said very early in his ministry, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath ” (Mark 2:27) as a way of justifying his decision to work on the Sabbath. Further, Jesus seems to have been suggesting that following the commandments to love God and love other people would pretty much be enough to do God’s will.
These words from Jesus in different situations seem to be contradictory; at the same time we are supposed to “sin no more” and be somewhat confused about what it means to sin (after all, in Jesus’ time, sinning meant breaking the commandments.)
As it turns out, we know from the book of Acts that the early Church faced this very same dilemma. Jesus was attracting Gentile (non-Jewish) followers, who knew little, if anything, about the commandments (and so weren’t following them) but wanted to follow Jesus. Some of the Jewish Christians claimed these Gentiles could not be saved unless they followed the Jewish commandments/laws. A council was called in Jerusalem to discuss the matter, and the events of the council are described in Acts 15. Ultimately, the apostles and elders at the council decided that since Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to those who followed the commandments and those who didn’t follow the commandments, it is not necessary for Gentile Christians to follow the commandments (except for a select few.)
That’s pretty much the final word on the subject in the scriptures, as far as I can tell. But…what do you think? Are we supposed to follow the Old Testament commandments? Which ones? Why?