More Than Burdensome Rules

By Art Lindsley

A relief of Moses hangs in the Chamber of the US House of Representatives. This makes sense, given the fact that our nation’s legal system draws heavily from the moral principles found in Old Testament law. The writings of Moses are still clearly relevant in our civil laws.

But if we are saved by grace through Jesus Christ, can the moral law of the Old Testament really teach us anything about our role as Christians in the church, the workplace, and the market?

The Law Helps Us to Love

Jesus argued that if someone wanted to know what it was to love, he needed to look at the law.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus to identify the greatest commandment, he responded that it was to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. He continued that the second one was to “love your neighbor as yourself.”He concluded by saying that “on these commandments depend the whole law and the Prophets.”

The Apostle Paul in Romans 13:8 says, “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

It follows that it is wrong to commit adultery, steal, lie, or murder, etc., because those things are the opposite of love.

It’s Not Enough to Follow the Letter of the Law

With regard to the Ten Commandments in particular, we can say that a negative prohibition such as “Thou shalt not steal” means more than just staying away from the crime itself.

For example, one secular writer argued that Jesus was a bad ethicist because he said that anger was as bad as murder. This, however, is a misunderstanding of what Jesus said.

Certainly, murder has more massive consequences on the community than anger because it destroys someone who might have been a father, mother, son, daughter, brother, or sister. Yet anger is the root that can produce murder, and the law prohibits the root as well as the fruit of the deed.

Jesus’ teaching shows need to admit that sins like murder begin in the hearts of individuals.

Applying the Law to Our Lives

All of our ethical responsibilities come down to duty and desire. While one can teach duty—what we ought to do—it is much more difficult to instill a desire to do one’s duty. This is why lists of the Ten Commandments are not enough. Lists of rules are rarely inspiring.

Once believers are established in God’s grace, knowing that they are truly forgiven and regenerated by God’s spirit, then they will develop a desire to do their duty.

People certainly are not saved by obedience to the law; rather, Christ extends grace to those who believe on him.

Yet the law can still establish principles for each individual’s conscience, enabling him or her to make wise ethical decisions in personal and public life. In my next post, I will show how each of the Ten Commandments applies to individuals and societies today.

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Art Lindsley, Ph.D. is vice president of theological initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics ( and author of C.S. Lewis’s Case for ChristTrue Truth, Love: The Ultimate Apologetic, and co-author with R.C. Sproul and John Gerstner of Classical Apologetics.

The Institute for Faith, Work & Economics™ (IFWE) is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) Christian research organization committed to promoting biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society.