Can Jesus Keep the Ten Commandments?
Can Jesus keep the Ten Commandments?
That may sound like a rather bizarre question, but it is actually at the very center of the problem that most Christians have in reconciling their external life with the internal principles of God's government as outlined in the Bible.
Most people that I know believe that Jesus lived a perfect life. They would agree that Jesus was sinless as the Bible clearly teaches and that He never committed a wrong act or mistreated anyone or indulged in any form of sin while He lived on this earth. Most do not have an argument when it comes to Jesus' life Himself. But when the question turns to their own life, their own choices when faced with temptations and their own motives and relationships, suddenly they seem to adopt a completely different set of beliefs about what it means to be a Christian – a follower of Christ.
Nearly every Christian that I meet has some strong opinions about their inability to live life as Jesus lived it. Either that or they have such strident beliefs about perfectionism that their own spirit is poisoned with bitterness and hostility toward anyone who doesn't subscribe to the same narrow theological fanaticism that they promote.
It is starting to become apparent to me that all of us are largely missing one of the most important aspects of what it really means to live as a true Christian. Recently I wrote about putting Christ back into Christianity, and this is one of the issues that is most misunderstood by Christians today. We like to talk about God and Jesus, love and even obedience; we are even willing to spend enormous amounts of money and effort investing in all sorts of Christian-appearing activities and paraphernalia and align ourselves with groups that claim to follow the teachings of Jesus. But when you ask about the reality of living out the life outlined in the Ten Commandments in their lives consistently, suddenly they come up with all sorts of disquieting answers and excuses and references to being human and how humans are simply not strong enough to live a perfect life.
This first group of people generally then move in the discussion toward some mix of righteousness and weakness which revolves around a cycle of sinning, repenting, seeking forgiveness and promising to do better only to go back around the same circle again and again and again. They talk about the gospel as the wonderful news of God's forgiveness for sins – and that is absolutely true as far as it goes. But that is not the complete gospel as taught by Jesus and expanded upon throughout the New Testament and even revealed in much of the Old Testament. The true gospel does not stop with just revealing the amazing love and forgiveness of God toward sinners. Jesus plainly did not come to save people in sin and take them to heaven as practicing sinners as a reward for acknowledging Him as the one who died for them.
"She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)
Then there is the other class of Christians that are more strident about this issue than the majority. This is the kind that I grew up around and that has caused me a great deal of confusion for much of my life until I began to learn the real truth about the gospel for myself. These Christians believe and teach that while humans are indeed too weak to keep the Ten Commandments by themselves, that with enough struggle and enough prayers to God for strength and with careful attention, training and diligence, that it really is possible and even imperative for humans to achieve perfection, and that to fail to do so will end a person up in hell.
There are more problems with the logic behind this kind of thinking than I care to address right here. But I want to touch on a few of them. To start with, the language used and the religious terms have all been highly synthesized, altered somewhat and narrowly defined to fit the circular thinking necessary to follow the logic of these teachings. Most of this theology is filled with legalism and self-focus and largely ignores the condition of a person's spirit and atmosphere or influence on others. To a large extent, very little true grace is seen in their lives and their treatment of others, particularly those who disagree with them religiously. And the great emphasis in their lives is on the external symptoms of what they define as sin – the transgression of the law.
All of this seems to sound very pious, religious and appears to fit the Bible as they are very eager to string texts together to prove their positions. Parts of their logic are even shared with other more lenient Christians and many denominations appear to be made up of various degrees of mixture between “liberal” and “conservative” theology which are the labels attached to these two opposing views of how to live as a Christian.
I have observed that some churches seem to have more emphasis on talking about a relationship with Jesus than others. As far as I can tell, many seem to limit this relationship to the realm of receiving forgiveness for the obvious sins that they commit or for making themselves experience emotional highs during times of celebration and worship. I am certainly not implying that all of these things are wrong. There is a woeful lack of true celebration of God's goodness, love and kindness toward us in all of our churches and I am learning that the only way our lives can be changed is through coming closer and closer to knowing Jesus on a very personal and intimate level and entering deeper into true worship.
However, for many there seems to come a limit as to how involved and personal they will allow Jesus to enter into their life. When it comes to certain areas of sin that they particularly enjoy, that give them much pleasure or that seem very tenacious and difficult to overcome, many Christians resort to adopting the “grace” approach and claim that God's love and grace will not be so harsh as to keep them out of heaven because of their inability to eliminate every last sin in their lives. They camp around the fact of God's forgiveness alone and refuse to see the many clear evidences of God's intention to continue His work in them and reproduce His character in them to completeness.
On the other hand, I have observed that generally the more fanatical groups in Christianity view a relationship with God at best as something that will simply develop after their life is improved enough to be more acceptable in the eyes of heaven. Or maybe this relationship is the one where a person is constantly begging God to make them stronger so they can resist every last temptation and be perfectly righteous to prepare themselves to go to heaven. Either way, their focus in life is more on their external behaviors and God's strict demands (along with an increasing number of rules of their own making) rather than on having a heart-based relationship of intimacy with the heart of God. They usually view this latter idea with great suspicion at best and often declare that all this relationship business is actually a heresy designed to divert attention from the real work of perfecting character in preparation for going to heaven.
As might be expected, these two opposing views of Christianity tend to irritate and aggravate each other continually. As they observe the weaknesses and shortcomings in the lives and teachings of the other side, they tend to go to an even more extreme opposite position in their own thinking and beliefs which causes both sides to move farther away from God's true plan of salvation. I have observed this for many years and have wrestled with trying to understand what is really true about all of this for a long time. God has been very kind to me and has been showing me many things that have helped to make sense of all the confusing teachings on both sides of these issues. But more importantly He has been speaking to my own heart and training me to pay attention to the condition of my spirit and reminding me of the importance of having my spirit come into synchronization with His Spirit as I allow Him to bring more light and truth into both my heart and mind.
But the issue remains – how far is a Christian follower of Jesus expected to go in reproducing the character of God in their own life? How important is it that we take the ten words of God seriously as delivered to humanity on Mt. Sinai 4000 years ago and that still resonate loudly around the world yet today? Is God a soft-touch grandfather type who will overlook our sins and the ways we indulge our selfish desires as long as we fulfill certain religious obligations? Or is He a very demanding, harsh or even arbitrary dictator looking for any excuse to shut people out of His presence if He finds some secret sin they have failed to eliminate from their life?
I am learning that the focus and spirit of both sides in this issue is part of the core problem. The real question is not about whether we are able to develop an externally “perfect” life that replicates what we think Jesus demonstrated or whether God is willing to overlook defects in our character if we can impress Him enough in other areas of our life. The real question is the one posed at the very beginning – is Jesus able to keep the Ten Commandments right now?
What many fail to understand is that the Ten Commandments are simply a description of what God is like and what the lives of His true followers will look like as they allow Him to be their personal Savior and redeemer. What most people fail to notice is the words of God just before what we generally label as the first commandment. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Exodus 20:2)
Far from being conflicting issues in how to live the true Christian life, keeping the commandments of God and having a relationship with Jesus Christ are actually the two sides of the same coin that is necessary to understand and experience what true Christianity is all about. The Ten Commandments are a description of the perfect character of Jesus Himself. To imply that God cannot act like Himself is an absurdity. Most don't have a problem with accepting that. So why wouldn't it follow that if a person allows Jesus to take up residence in their heart at the most intimate level and surrender to Him full authority in their spirit, that the living presence of Jesus in the life cannot again demonstrate the character of God as outlined in the commandments?
What it really condenses down to as I see it, is whether we are willing to believe that Jesus can live out His life within a Christian or whether He is handicapped when it comes to acting like Himself once He comes into our heart. If Jesus could live a perfect life as a human being maintaining a constant relationship with His Father and acting consistently like God in every situation and relationship, then why can't we believe that He can do it over and over again in the lives of anyone who will allow Him full access to their life?
He who believes in the Son has eternal life. (John 3:36)