There are two things about the commandments of God that most Christians don’t understand. First of all, obedience to the commandments is not about “being perfect,” but it’s about loving God enough to be obedient. Many Christians say they “cannot obey the commandments,” even though God says, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach” (Deuteronomy 30:11, NIV). So is God wrong or are they? There is no where in all of the Old Testament where God says if you obey all the commandments, then you will be perfect. It simply is not there.
God knew the people He was giving His commandments to were not perfect. If He expected perfection, He would not have allowed for divorce, nor would He have allowed people to make up their observance of the Passover, if they could not make it to Jerusalem on time; nor would He have given them the “cities of refuge,” where people could go for safety if they had accidentally killed someone. And most definitely, He would not have given them the priesthood, the temple, and the various sacrifices for atonement. The fact that He did all of this means He did not expect people to be “perfect,” but He did expect them to love Him enough to be obedient.
For those who say that we cannot obey the commandments, please explain to me the lives of Zacherias and Elizabeth. In Luke 1:5-6.
“There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacherias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and the ordinances of the Lord blameless.”
Did you see what Scripture says about them? “They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and the ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Were they perfect? No, but they both loved God and they kept His commandments. And it was their love for Him expressed through their obedience to His commandments, which is what what God wanted and expects of each of us. As a result of this, they were “righteous before God” and as far as the commandments go, they were “blameless.”
So for those Christians who say the commandments cannot be kept, explain Zacharias and Elizabeth. It seems to me the evidence is there that it can be done. Does this mean that God is only interested in us following a bunch of rules? Absolutely not! Just like your human parents, if you told them that you loved them, but then turned around and disobeyed everything they told you to do, then they would question whether or not you truly loved them. In the same way, we cannot tell God we love Him, and then turn around and diobey His commandments, and not expect Him to question our love for Him.
God says over and over again in His word, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” The commandments are not about being perfect, but about God giving us a way to express our love for Him. The real question is, Do we love God enough to obey His commandments, or is the real reason we’re following God is because we don’t want to go to Hell? Is our commitment to Him motivated out of love or out of fear?
Secondly, most Christians don’t seem to understand that obedience to the commandments has nothing to do about getting to heaven. There is not one promise anywhere in the Old Testament that says if we obey the commandments, then when we die, we get to go to heaven. Check all the blessings for obedience in Deuteronomy 28:1-14, for example, or Joshua 1:8 or Psalm 1:1-3, and there is not ONE single promise anywhere that deals with the afterlife. ALL of the promises deal with our lives here NOW during our lifetimes. So where do we get this ridiculous idea that if we keep all the commandments, then “God will have to take us to heaven”? I don’t know who came up with that one, but it sure is not based on the Bible.
In fact, we are told in the Bible,
“Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me ALL THE DAYS THEY LIVE ON THE EARTH, and that they may teach their children.” (Deuteronomy 4:10; emphasis mine)
As this verse demonstrates, the commandments deal with our lives here on earth, not about what happens to us after we die. Consequently, the commandments have NEVER EVER been about getting people to heaven, they were given to us by God, as a gift of His love and grace, to teach us about Him and His ways, so we could learn to imitate Him, as well as learn how to love one another, and to have a long and fulfilling life down here on earth. In teaching us about Him and His ways, He also taught us what are not His ways (i.e., sin), so we could avoid those things and learn to be more like Him and have a better life.
In the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus taught that,
“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)
Notice that both those who “annul” even “the least of these commandments” and “teaches others” to do the same, as well as those who keep “and teaches them” are in the kingdom of heaven. Our level of observance does not determine our entry into the kingdom, but it does determine our future status within His kingdom.
In light of all this, I believe it’s important for me to say, I don’t obey God because “I have to,” I do it because I love God, I love His Word, and I want to put a smile on His face. It doesn’t matter to me that I don’t need to obey the commandments to get saved (i.e., to go to heaven); the question of my salvation has already been settled for me. The only question I have is how do I put a smile on my Heavenly Father’s face? And the answer I have repeatedly found in the Bible is “Fear (reverance and love) God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
So we in the church need to quit using “we’re not perfect,” as an excuse for our disobedience, as well as dropping this erroneous idea that in the Old Testament they were “saved by the Law.” People have NEVER EVER been “saved” or entered into a relationship with God as a result of their obedience to the commandments. A relationship with God has ALWAYS been by faith through grace, from the garden of Eden to the end of time. So let’s start teaching what’s in the whole Bible, not just parts, and begin to walk in obedience to His commandments, as opposed to expecting God to look away every time we choose to live life our own way instead of doing things His way.