Does the New Covenant Abolish the Commandments?
The Bible tells us that Christ came as the Mediator of a better covenant (Hebrews 8:6). The popular belief that the New Covenant abolishes God's law reflects a misunderstanding of both covenants. God tells us that He altered the original covenant and made "a better covenant, which was established on better promises" (verse 6). But it was not established on different laws. The law stayed the same.
There was, however, a weakness, or fault, in the original covenant. That fault was with the people, not with the law. "Because finding fault with them, He says: 'Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah'" (verse 8). It was because the people "did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD" (verse 9).
In the Old Covenant, God wrote the law on tablets of stone. It was external, not part of the thinking and motives of the people. It was in their literature but not in their hearts. In the New Covenant, God writes the law in the minds and hearts of His people (Hebrews 8:10; Jeremiah 31:33-34).
To enable people to internalize His law—to love it and obey it eagerly and willingly—God makes this promise: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them" (Ezekiel 36:26-27). God's Spirit enables His people to obey His laws!
People lacking the Holy Spirit are incapable of wholehearted obedience. Why? "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7-8).
This is why the Old Covenant and the New Covenant differ. Paul explains that "what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh" God has accomplished by sending Jesus, who overcame the flesh and "condemned sin [lawlessness] in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Romans 8:3-4; see also 1 John 3:4).
The International Critical Commentary, in reference to Romans 8:4, says: "God's purpose in 'condemning' sin was that His law's requirement might be fulfilled in us, that is, that His law might be established in the sense of at last being truly and sincerely obeyed—the fulfillment of the promises of Jer[emiah] 31:33 and Ezek[iel] 36:26.1."
In a footnote to Jeremiah 31:33-34 the commentary explains that this passage "is often misunderstood as a promise of a new law to take the place of the old or else as a promise of a religion without law at all. But the new thing promised in v. 33 is, in fact, neither a new law nor freedom from law, but a sincere inward desire and determination on the part of God's people to obey the law already given to them . . ."
The following passages in the New Testament confirm, either explicitly or by example, that Jesus and the apostles viewed the Ten Commandments necessary for true Christian living.
First Commandment: Matthew 4:10; 22:37-38.
Second Commandment: 1 John 5:21; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 10:7, 14; Ephesians 5:5.
Third Commandment: Matthew 5:33-34; 7:21-23; Luke 11:2; 1 Timothy 6:1.
Fourth Commandment: Luke 4:16; Acts 13:14, 42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4; Hebrews 4:4, 9.
Fifth Commandment: Matthew 15:3-6; 19:17-19; Ephesians 6:2-3.
Sixth Commandment: Matthew 5:21-22; 19:17-18; Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:19-21; James 2:10-12.
Seventh Commandment: Matthew 5:27-28; 19:17-18; Romans 13:9; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 10:8; Ephesians 5:5; Galatians 5:19-21; James 2:10-12.
Eighth Commandment: Matthew 19:17-18; Romans 13:9; Ephesians 4:28.
Ninth Commandment: Matthew 19:17-18; Romans 13:9; Colossians 3:9; Ephesians 4:25.
Tenth Commandment: Luke 12:15; Romans 7:7; 13:9; Ephesians 5:3, 5.
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