Were the Ten Commandments Nailed to the Cross ?
By Herbert W. Armstrong
Are Christians saved by faith without obedience to God's law? Does grace do away with the law? Are the Ten Commandments the "law of Moses"? Here's the truth about this pivotal question!
JOHN DOE is a Canadian subject. He was born, let us say, in Canada, and has resided since boyhood in Vancouver, B.C.
But now, because of a recent marriage to an American, John Doe wishes to become a citizen of the United States. He has been impressed with the country.
Mr. Doe, we will say, endeavors to attain this new citizenship by studying the laws of our country, and rigidly setting himself to obey them.
Our point is this: Can John Doe, merely by observing the LAWS of our land, become a citizen here? The question seems foolish. The answer is obvious. He cannot.
But it illustrates the point. A man does not become an accepted citizen in Christ's Kingdom merely because that man lives within the law and rigidly observes it.
Does grace abolish the LAW?
The law, in other words, is not the means through which sinners of the worldly kingdom of Satan become converted into citizens of the spiritual Kingdom of Christ.
If John Doe is to become a U.S. citizen, he must undergo a certain prescribed process. This will include laying aside his allegiance to Canada, pledging his allegiance to the government of the United States, accepting ours as HIS government and taking out certain papers. And that is the manner in which a person must become a Christian. Before he becomes a Christian, he is a subject of a different kingdom - the kingdom of this world - ruled over by Satan, who is described in the Scriptures as "ruler of this world" (John 14:30). If a man, born of the flesh and a part of this world and of Satan's rule, desires to attach himself to Christ's Kingdom - the Kingdom of the spirit, and of the world to come - he must undergo a certain prescribed process. We call that process CONVERSION.
It includes acknowledgment and repentance of sins, acceptance of Jesus Christ as his new ruler or Savior, renouncing his allegiance to Satan's kingdom and pledging allegiance to Christ's Kingdom. Since he was begotten and born of the flesh and of this world, he is thus now "begotten again" of the spirit and of the world to come - to be born again at the resurrection.
Now let us suppose John Doe has moved down to California, fulfilled the required process and has become a citizen of the United States. Does that mean that Mr. Doe is exempt from obeying the laws of our land, merely because he has become a citizen?
Not at all! If the man is going to live here, be one of us and enjoy the BENEFITS of United States citizenship, he must obey our laws! And unless he does, he will find himself before a judge, who will pronounce his fate!
Conversion means obedience
When a man becomes a Christian, he receives great BENEFITS thereby, including everlasting life in the world to come. And now the question is: Can a man remain a Christian, and receive the blessings and benefits of Christian citizenship, while he disobeys the laws of the Kingdom?
Just a moment, some will say. Christ's Kingdom has no laws. Christ abolished the law, nailing it to the cross. We are now "under grace," and not "under the law." But let's examine that point very carefully.
Did you ever hear of a government being run without laws? Does it sound reasonable that the government Christ came to set up would be run in hit-and-miss fashion, WITHOUT ANY RULES OR LAWS? The Bible emphatically tells us that Christ's Kingdom has its laws, just as every civil government has its laws. It is time we understood what was nailed to the cross, and what is still binding upon us today.
God's basic LAW
The laws of Christ's Kingdom are 10 simple, fundamental, universal Commandments, written by the very finger of God upon tablets of stone!
And what a contrast the divinely written code is from our woefully inefficient man-made codes! A hopeless mess indeed has man made of his lawmaking efforts.
Contrast it to God's ability as a lawgiver. In 10 brief Commandments, so simple, so direct that a small child can understand and memorize the whole code, God gave all mankind a COMPLETE law that covers the whole duty of man toward, first, his Creator, and second, his fellowman.
So fundamental and universal - God's laws apply alike to the most sophisticated metropolitan civilization, and the most wild and barbarous jungle civilization.
They are, by their very nature, eternal, and never could become obsolete or out-of-date. No MAN COULD WRITE SUCH A LAW. This law is NOT the law of Moses, but the law of God.
Most assuredly, as we shall see presently from the Scriptures, Christ's Kingdom has its laws. And unless Christians, the begotten citizens of His Kingdom, are willing to obey the laws of the Kingdom they have professed to enter, they, like our friend John Doe, will find themselves before the Judge, who, at the judgment day, will pronounce their fate! Remember, then:
The law is not in any sense the means through which a man obtains salvation. We do not obtain salvation through the law - we observe the law through the process of conversion. It is failure to understand this important distinction that is the cause of much misunderstanding upon the whole question.
The facts are these: Both those who maintain the Ten Commandments, God's law, are immutable and still binding upon Christians today, and those who assert this law was nailed to the cross, can quote much Scripture in an effort to prove their different contentions. Why this apparent contradiction in the Bible?
The Scriptures do not contradict in any instance. The Mosaic law WAS nailed to the cross! Faith, the atonement, the gift of the Holy Spirit, DID take the place of, and therefore abolish, the old Mosaic law. That law was a law of physical ordinances, ceremonies and sacrifices that were "added" because of sin and as a reminder of sin (Gal. 3:19).
But the Ten Commandments are an entirely different, separate and distinct law. The Commandments are spiritual principles that define sin. Moses' laws were sacrificial and ceremonial.
Both laws were given by God, but they were given in entirely different manners, and for entirely different purposes.
The Ten Commandments were God's basic spiritual law from the beginning. It was sin to transgress its points from Adam to Moses. Death is the penalty of sin and "death reigned from Adam to Moses" (Rom. 5:14, 6:23).
The law of Moses was not added until the days of Moses. In his day the Ten Commandments were merely repeated because the children of Israel had forgotten God's spiritual law - just as the world today has forgotten it.
Let us now examine briefly the history of the law and of the real meaning of salvation. Let us stand off and visualize the subject from a distance, in its entirety, rather than having our viewpoint muddled by a too close familiarity with any one point or passage.
Salvation NOT offered under Old Covenant
It may come as a surprise to you, but spiritual and eternal salvation was never offered under the Old Covenant to the nation Israel as a whole. The only promises were material and fleshly - for the present age. They were promised national dominance, power and wealth. But they were not promised eternal life.
The law of physical works - the law of Moses - was not given as a means of salvation, BUT AS A REMINDER THAT THEY NEEDED SALVATION. There has been one and only one means of salvation - through faith. No one has ever been or can ever be saved through the works or rituals and ceremonies of the law.
During Old Testament times only the prophets and a faithful few obtained a promise of eternal salvation. They looked forward to the shed blood of Christ, just as we look back to it. But the people as a nation were given the rituals of Moses to begin to develop within them a habit of obedience to God's spiritual law - the Ten Commandments.
The shedding of the blood of a lamb was a reminder that Christ would come to shed His blood to pay for our sins. Notice Hebrews 10:1-4:
"For the law" - of Moses - "... can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? .. . But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. FOR IT IS NOT POSSIBLE THAT THE BLOOD OF BULLS AND GOATS COULD TAKE AWAY SINS."
How plain! Salvation was not through the works of the law. Paul's whole argument throughout the New Testament was against the teaching of Judaism that salvation could be gained without faith in Christ, but through the works - the hard physical labor of offering sacrifices - of the law of Moses.
The Ten Commandments never contained ordinances prescribing sacrifices. They are an entirely separate and distinct law.
The Mosaic ordinances were, in other words, substitutes and shadows for the reality of Christ's atonement and the Holy Spirit. They were wholly subordinate to the spiritual law of God. Paul warned the Galatians that whoever sought to be justified by the works of the law - whoever sought salvation through animal sacrifices - was rejecting the sacrifice of Christ.
It is important that we understand here that Judaism is not the teaching of the Old Testament but an interpretation of it. Judaism is a mixture of the ordinances of the Old Testament with the false doctrines of the Jewish elders. While in Persian and Greek captivity, the Jews were influenced by the pagan idea that salvation could be gained through penance - through giving a physical sacrifice to pay for sins, through enduring the hard physical labor of offering animal sacrifices. The pagans thought that God would be pleased by human suffering - that salvation came through denying ourselves the right and honorable pleasures of life.
The Jews took over this idea and applied it to the sacrifices that Moses had commanded merely as a reminder of sin.
The Ten Commandments define RIGHT from WRONG
Let us, first, clearly understand just what the law of God is, and what it means.
No one will say that Christians today are to continue in sin. But how can sin be avoided, unless defined? WHAT is SIN? John tells us - and John wrote this definition of sin about A.D. 90, in the very closing days of apostolic times. Turn to I John 3:4, and you will read that "SIN is THE TRANSGRESSION OF THE LAW."
WHAT law? It could not be the Mosaic sacrificial and ordinance law. That could never define sin. It is, of necessity, God's law - the spiritual law. Thus, about A.D. 90, the apostle John established the fact that God's law was not, in that late day, abolished - for an abolished law could never be the definition of sin!
In A.D. 56, Paul made it clear that the definition of sin is the transgression of the law. In Romans 4:15, he says, "Where there is no law there is no transgression," and he amplified this in the seventh chapter, seventh verse: "I would not have known sin, except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, 'You shall not covet.'" Here Paul makes clear WHICH law defines sin. It is the Ten Commandments - the law that includes "You shall not covet."
Paul could not have written that, had the law been abolished.
And certainly he did not consider it abolished when he wrote, in the 12th verse of chapter 7, "Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good." And the idea that the Ten Commandments were abolished is emphatically rejected in Romans 3:31 - written in A.D. 56, long after the crucifixion! - "DO WE THEN MAKE VOID THE LAW THROUGH FAITH? CERTAINLY NOT! On the contrary, WE ESTABLISH THE LAW."
In Romans 8:4, Paul, in making it plain that the New Testament Church is to fulfill the righteousness of the law - that is, right doing ordained by the law - says: "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." It is THROUGH the Spirit that Christians are to observe the law, and not through Mosaic ordinances, which were abolished.
Still later, in A.D. 60, writing to the Ephesians, Paul said: "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with promise: that it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth" (Eph. 6:1-3). Thus another of the Commandments is named, preached and represented as offering a promise if observed, by the apostle Paul in A.D. 60. Paul could not have written that had the law been abolished.
That ought to establish the fact that the apostles did not abolish the Ten Commandments, or understand them to be abolished. But, on the other hand, the apostles did understand that the typical rituals - the physical "works" of the law of Moses - were nailed to the cross!
Now let us examine one special passage, to see whether it contradicts those already quoted.
We will examine Acts 15:23-24. It says: "The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, 'You must be circumcised and keep the law' - to whom we gave no such commandment."
Certainly here is one law that was not in effect. But WHICH law? Why, as the passage says, the law of physical ordinances - the law that included circumcision! The 22nd verse indicates the message quoted was written by Paul and Barnabas, and it was written in A.D. 49 - years before its coauthor, Paul, distinctly wrote that the Ten Commandment law was NOT void.
Certainly the Mosaic laws of ordinances and sacrifices were nailed to the cross and abolished. The reason for this is quite evident. Christ's example, faith and sacrifice and the Holy Spirit gave us a far superior aid and help and atonement. There could be no further possible need of that law of ordinances and sacrifices. That is REASONABLE.
But can you think of any REASON under the sun for doing away with the law that defines sin - the law that establishes our relation to God and to our fellow-men? Can you think of any sane reason for abolishing the law that says "You shall have no other gods before me" - "You shall not kill" - "You shall not commit adultery" - "You shall not steal" - "You shall not covet"? Are THOSE laws out-of-date, obsolete, unnecessary?
No, there is no sane REASON for abolishing them, and there is nowhere in the Bible a passage of Scripture that says THOSE laws were abolished.
The laws abolished were the carnal, physical laws associated with sacrifices and offerings, which were reminders of sin to teach the habit of obedience. Now we have the Spirit of God to enable us to form the habit of obedience.
As Paul said, "For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the DOERS OF THE LAW will be justified" (Rom. 2:13).
Salvation, like national citizenship, is a free gift, BUT IT GOES ONLY TO THOSE WHO ARE WILLING TO BE LAW-ABIDING MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.